If you are a serious lover of history, you will enjoy Indelible Ink, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Richard Kluger. Indelible Ink examines the trial of John Peter Zenger, and the political environment surrounding it. Even after three grand juries refused to indict, Zenger was tried for criminal sedition for articles he printed.
Modern Americans take for granted the fact that we can voice our opinions about our elected and appointed leaders whenever we want. We expect a free press not only to keep us informed, but to hold our government accountable for its actions or inactions. It wasn’t always so. When we were still British colonies, our governors were appointed by King George III, who insisted that he had the divine right to rule. Therefore, to criticize one of his appointees, was to criticize the king; and to criticize the king was to criticize God.
Kluger says that his decision to write this book grew out of the Snowden affair and the ponderence of “news” on the Internet. Gone are the days when journalists were required to confirm a story with no less than three sources prior to publication. This book could be a lamentation of the un-confirmed “news” that goes viral, then often must be retracted. Too often the retraction never takes place. Also lamented is the decline in trust and the current bashing of today’s press.
The book opens with a discussion of today’s news media, but quickly moves to the historical topic. Only one of today’s media escapes criticism, whether it is the likes of MSNBC or FOX News, both of which preach what they believe the target audience wants to hear, or CNN, which is “…so wedded to non-partisanship, that all sides of a controversial story are treated equally regardless of merit”. The only one to escape negative criticism was PBS’s Frontline. Talk radio does not escape, as Kluger posits that its primary goal appears to be “…to close its listeners’ minds, not to open them to fresh ideas”. Public radio, however, is praised for doing exactly the opposite.
The August 4, 1735, acquittal of newspaper publisher Peter Zenger, accused of libel against the royal governor of the Colonies of New York and New Jersey, is the landmark case examined in Indelible Ink. Britain’s Star Chamber insisted that to maintain the peace throughout the British realm, the government must silence any voice of protest. Zenger’s paper, the New York Journal, was one of the first, if not the first newspaper in America to be created for the specific purpose of attacking (albeit truthfully) the corrupt governor and his cronies through inuendo and snide remarks without actually naming the person(s) being targeted. Indelible Ink examines the arrest and trial of Peter Zenger, but not without first laying a detailed description of the background that led to the creation of the newspaper and of Zenger’s arrest.
Indelible Ink will likely be eagerly devoured by the serious student, professor, or practioner of history, journalism, or law. I majored in history, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I expect Indelible Ink to become required reading in several departments of most colleges and universities. This book contains not only a history of journalism, but a plethora of historical information about the Colonies of New York and New Jersey, and shows, yet again, that corrupt politicians have been and will always be with us.
What Made This Book Reviewer Grumpy?
Only the knowledge that for a reader who is not a serious lover of history and historical research, the detail and description would be excruciating. As one who is quite fond of well-worded arguments, and historical research, even I grew impatient at times.