Paul Revere’s Fake News

Paul Revere Engraving

“Fake news”, “yellow journalism”, “propaganda” – whatever you like to call it – the practice of distorting and embellishing facts to suit a political agenda and inflaming sentiment- is not new. It’s been around a long time. Paul Revere did this engraving within weeks of the so-called Boston Massacre, depicting British troops firing on innocent standby citizens.

It caused outrage.

The truth was more complicated. John Adams defended the soldiers in court. The judge acquitted the redcoats of murder but found two guilty of manslaughter and sentenced them to a brand on their hands. It started with children throwing rocks at the soldiers. A mob formed, shouting epithets and hitting the troops with snowballs, clubs, and more projectiles until a soldier fired without orders into the crowd, quickly joined by other soldiers. Revere and others did not publicize the provocation on the Colonial side.

Even with eyewitnesses who knew better, the Incident on King Street, as the British called it, rapidly became known as a Massacre. The first volley killed three and wounded eight. Of the wounded, two died later. The harassing mob had grown to 300-400.

You could argue that the picture and the distortion changed history.

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