"Extremely readable... Burns' vigorous narrative is rich in genuinely engaging anecdote ...He so clearly appreciates history's sweep."
"The history here is familiar, but the attack is unusual... full of lovely little nuggets... breezy and generally readable."
"Gives discredit where discredit is due... Mr. Burns, a facile writer, delivers history with flair and vividness."
Considering the many noble accomplishments of early American culture, Burns observes, the levels of vulgarity and partisanship in colonial newspapers should strike modern readers as shocking. Given the ideological jousting taking place on talk radio and in the blogosphere today, he may be overstating the case, and at times the condemnation feels as if it's laid on a bit thick, but Burns's historical examples of journalistic excess-rabid language, character assassination, even outright fabrication-never bore. From the sniping feuds among Boston's first papers to sex scandals involving Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, the snappy patter gives clear indication of how much Burns, a Fox News anchor and accomplished historian (The Spirits of America), relishes telling his story. With so much attention on the Founding Fathers in recent years, many sections, like those on Ben Franklin's early publishing career and the intense rivalry between Jefferson and Hamilton, each of whom underwrote a paper to propagate his point of view, will be familiar. For every recognizable anecdote, however, Burns weaves in fresh elements like the vicious feud between publisher James Franklin (Ben's older brother) and Cotton Mather over smallpox inoculation, keeping the entertainment levels high. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Some of today's talk radio hosts appear to have descended in a direct line from America's earliest journalists. Many of the nation's first newspapers were established by passionate political men who strongly advocated their positions. Burns (host, Fox News Channel; The Spirits of America: A Social History of Alcohol) explores the role newspapers played in the founding of the country. Early newspapers did not purport to be objective or even to value impartiality. Burns draws on primary sources to contrast what was printed with what actually happened. He shows how skillfully Sam Adams manipulated truth in the Boston Gazette, stirring up resentment against the British and planning and hosting one of the most famous tea parties in history. Washington's administration perfected the news leak. Newspapers were vicious in their attacks. In the first truly contested presidential election (Jefferson v. Adams), Jefferson was described in the press as an infidel, an atheist, a libertine, and a spendthrift among other things. Some papers even reported rumors that he had died. Burns also traces the beginnings of politicians, conversely, making use of the press. Making excellent use of secondary and primary resources, Burns places his study in the context of existing journalism history. His colorful account of the men of the press and their coverage of the birth of the nation will be of interest to both public and academic libraries with journalism and American history collections.-Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
From Boston's first four-page News-Letter (1690) to the death of George Washington (1799): a quick, illuminating history of the rise of American journalism. It began in primordial slime-and stayed pretty slimy for its first century, writes Burns (The Spirits of America, 2003, etc.), host of Fox News-Watch. Anyone who has ever read American newspapers from the colonial and Revolutionary periods knows they were not at all fair and balanced. They were never intended to be, the author declares; they were proudly, patently partisan and often deeply vituperative and mendacious. Burns begins in Boston, where America's first papers were born, then moves to Philadelphia with Benjamin Franklin (whose family-no surprise-is prominent in the story, as are members of the Adams clan). The author summarizes the 1735 libel trial of John Peter Zenger and examines the role of the press before and during the Revolutionary War. He introduces significant, though not necessarily admirable, journalists like James Rivington, John Fenno, James Thomson Callendar, Benjamin Franklin Bache (Ben's grandson) and William Cobbett. He describes poet Philip Freneau's editorship of the National Gazette and limns the reactions of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers to the often vicious portrayals of them in the press. (Callendar was the first to print the rumors about Jefferson and Sally Hemings.) Burns also examines the sobering effects of the 1798 Sedition Act, which suppressed editorial criticism of the U.S. president. Unfortunately, his narration and exposition are not always equal to his subject. The author uses too many tertiary quotes and often fails to provide textualattribution, so that readers must go to the endnotes to identify the source of a contemporary comment. He also has an annoying habit of quoting rather than paraphrasing scholars, as if he were a student fearful that his fastidious professor might allege plagiarism. Important, informative, amusing, surprising and even cautionary-a pity it's not more gracefully told.