Tag Archives: muckrakers

ITPL Ep 034 featured image

Episode 034 The Zenger Trial and the Birth of the Free Press in America

With the mainstream news media under siege these days, and with some people – including one particularly powerful and influential person – denouncing it as so-called “fake news,” this seems like a good time to explore the history of a free press. Just consider how central the free press has been to American history. So many key moments in American history have derived from, or somehow involved, the freedom of the press.
* The abolitionist press and the eventual end of slavery.
* Muckrakers at the turn of the 20th century and the exposure of abuses by big business.
* The Pentagon Papers and the withdrawal of the US military from Vietnam.
* The Watergate investigation and the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

These are just a few examples of the vital role a free press has played in American history. And they raise the question: How did this idea of a free press get enshrined in the First Amendment? And how did it come to be seen as a fundamental principle of American democracy?

It’s a long and fascinating story, but it began with the arrest and prosecution of a little known New York newspaper publisher named Peter Zenger in 1735. And that’s the story we’ll focus on in this episode of In The Past Lane, the podcast about history and why it matters.
Among the many things we’ll discuss:

How the British defied “seditious libel” in the 18th century – and how American colonists began to develop a very different understanding of it.

The biography of Peter Zenger, the unknown printer at the center of the famous 1735 trial that bears his name.

How the 1735 trial of Peter Zenger popularized the idea of freedom of the press.

How the legacy and memory of the Zenger Trial led to the inclusion of freedom of the press in the 1st Amendment.

How Americans came to see a free press as essential to maintaining a healthy democracy.

Further Reading

Paul Finkelman, ed., A Brief Narrative of the Case and Tryal of John Peter Zenger: with Related Documents (Bedford, 2010)

Gail Jarrow, The Printer’s Trial: The Case of John Peter Zenger and the Fight for a Free Press (2006)

Richard Kluger, Indelible Ink: The Trials of John Peter Zenger and the Birth of America’s Free Press (2016)

Lyrissa Lidsky and Robert G. Wright, Freedom of the Press: A Reference Guide to the United States Constitution (2004)

Website: Federal Hall National Monument, New York (NPS) – permanent exhibition on the Zenger Trial.

Music for This Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Ketsa, “I Will Be There” (Free Music Archive)

Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

© Snoring Beagle International, 2017



Episode 011 Scandal! In American History

subscribe-buttonWho doesn’t love a good scandal (so long as it doesn’t involve them)? This week at In The Past Lane we examine the important — and often positive — role scandals have played in American history. Here’s the lineup:
1) a short segment on the role of scandals in US history
2) an interview with historian Daniel Czitrom about his new book, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016). We talk about the famous 1894 Lexow Commission investigation into allegations of widespread corruption involving the political machine Tammany Hall and the New York City Police Dept. Dan also draws important links to key issues confronting American society in 2016 – police violence and the origins of the so-called “blue wall of silence” and voting suppression efforts.
3) a look at the scandal in the meatpacking industry triggered by the publication in 1906 of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, The Jungle.

Episode 011 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of Scandals in American History

Daniel Czitrom book cover copy: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016)

Andy Hughes, A History of Political Scandals: Sex, Sleaze and Spin (2014)

George C. Kohn, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal (2001)

Laton McCartney, The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (Random House, 2009)

Mitchell Zuckoff, Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend (Random House, 2006)

Andrew Burt, “The 1826 Kidnapping, Allegedly by a Cabal of Freemasons, That Changed American Politics Forever,” Slate.com May 15, 2015

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

The Womb, “I Hope That It Hurts” (Free Music Archive)