Episode 375: Jordan E. Taylor, Misinformation Nation: Fake News in Early America

Over the past decade, we’ve heard a lot about “fake news” and “misinformation.” And as 2024 is an election year, it’s likely we’re going to hear these terms even more.

So what is the origin of misinformation in the American press? When did Americans decide that they needed to be concerned with figuring out whether the information they heard or read was truthful or fake?

Jordan E. Taylor joins us to find answers to these questions. Jordan is a historian who studies the history of media and the ways early Americans created, spread, and circulated news. He is also the author of the book Misinformation Nation: Foreign News and the Politics of Truth in Revolutionary America.‌

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

‌Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.‌

Episode Summary

Joining us for this episode is Jordan E. Taylor, a historian, editor, teacher, and digital humanist. He’s a scholar of the history of media, and his research expertise is in the history of news and its creation and transmission during the American Revolutionary era. He is also the Digital Projects Editor at Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.

During our exploration, Jordan reveals information about how early Americans received news; How newspaper printers chose what to print and how they came to print misinformation; Why early Americans were interested in and newspapers printed so much foreign news, and the impact the American Revolution had on early American news.‌

What You’ll Discover

  • ‌How early Americans got the news
  • How early Americans weighed different sources of news
  • How newspaper printers received the information they printed
  • How newspaper printers decided what to print
  • How trustworthy people thought newspapers were as a source of news
  • How the emergence of political parties impacted what news printers published
  • Why early Americans were interested in foreign news
  • Why early American newspapers publish so much foreign news
  • What made misinformation about foreign news difficult to correct
  • How the American Revolution impacted early American news
  • The idea that news has a role in political mobilization
  • Henri-Antoine Mézière
  • The legacy of the relationship between information, news, and politics in early America

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Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, how do you think the American Revolution would have progressed differently if British colonial newspapers had been overseen by the British government? Do you think the revolution would have happened or turned out differently if colonial governments or the imperial government had kept printers and the news that they printed in check during the 1760s and 1770s?

Questions, Comments, Suggestions

Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion?‌

Get in Touch! Send me an e-mail or leave a comment.


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