When muskets defended the editorial page

Much has changed in the national discourse since a pro-war rabble two centuries ago tore down a Baltimore newspaper building, besieged the paper’s editor, and later broke into the city jail to attack him yet again.

But while legal and conventional structures have been erected to protect a robust free press, the baying mob hasn’t exactly gone away, according to Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, and Rep. Josh Cutler of Duxbury, author of the new book Mobtown Massacre: Alexander Hanson and the Baltimore Newspaper War of 1812.

The two appeared on the Codcast to talk about the violence that followed Alexander Hanson’s decision to publish an anti-war editorial, and to then double-down with another screed after political opponents tore down his newspaper building.

“I was struck on many occasions with the parallels today,” said Cutler. “We owe some of the liberties that we see today because folks like that literally put their lives on the line to defend the freedom of the press.”

The first American to die in defense of a free press was General James Lingan, a veteran of the American Revolution who helped to defend Hanson. He was slain after the mob busted into the city jail to attack the publisher and his compatriots.

Today, those unhinged by what they read generally (but not always) take to the keyboard rather than literally assailing people in their homes or on the streets.

“We have social media, which has given an incredible platform,” said Silverman. “While we might not be using cannons or muskets, we’re certainly using information or misinformation to attack the credibility of that news story, that editorial, tarnish the reputations, perhaps, of those who wrote it.”

One other big change is that government has stepped up to protect the freedom of speech, or at least to ensure the safety of those creating the speech. The mayor of Baltimore in 1812 was feckless in Cutler’s telling, and unable to enforce the First Amendment on his city’s streets.

“In some circumstances, you see the government being more proactive and preventing that kind of violence and stepping in – almost to a fault,” said Silverman. On the whole, the media is in a much better place today than it was 200 years ago, Silverman said.

There is also a chilling and sad coincidence that drives home the fact that despite the additional safeguards, merely practicing journalism can invite real violence even today.

Rob Hiaasen, writing for the Baltimore Sun in 1996, related the circumstances of Lingan’s death in an article about a monument in the old general’s honor. Last year, Hiaasen and three of his colleagues at the Capital Gazette were murdered, allegedly by a man with a history of bizarre behavior and harassment of the newspaper’s journalists.



A Berkshire Eagle editorial slams Gov. Charlie Baker for refusing to release all of the $30 million appropriated by the Legislature to offset cuts in federal fuel aid.

Foster parents complain about the lack of communication from the Department of Children and Families. Legislation pending on Beacon Hill would address the problem by, among other things, creating a foster parent bill of rights. (MassLive)

Christopher Jay of the Massachusetts Family Institute offers what he considers the real facts about the ban on conversion therapy, which is likely to be challenged in court. (CommonWealth)


Sen. Edward Kennedy has backed off from his plans to depart the Lowell City Council once he has participated in a vote expected in late May, and more recently said he will “kind of see just how busy it is” and decide whether to resign from the council in the next few months. (Lowell Sun)

Developers have proposed a 70-unit, market-rate, mixed-use housing development near the commuter rail in Rockport. (Gloucester Daily Times)

A study of Framingham’s trees finds they provide economic benefits valued at $400,000 per year. (MetroWest Daily News)

Fall River city officials say that an unpermitted renovation to an electrical system most likely sparked a fire this month killing an 88-year-old Korean War veteran. (Herald News)


First turmoil, then tears, as the world watched in real time the massive fire that engulfed the iconic Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, which stands as much more than only a monument to Christian faith. (New York Times) French President Emmanuel Macron vowed to rebuild the church, and millions of euros in outside donations have already been pledged. (BBC News). A Taunton couple describes watching the church burn before their eyes. (Brockton Enterprise)


Bill Weld, the former Massachusetts governor and Libertarian candidate for vice president, made his Republican candidacy for the presidency official. (MassLive)

Elizabeth Warren vows to restore protections for federal lands that have been relaxed by the Trump administration. (Boston Globe)

Congressman Seth Moulton, who will decide by the end of the month whether he will run for president, said Democrats need to be “tough” to take on President Trump, and they should “move quickly past” Trump’s statements without totally ignoring him. (WBUR)

The Brockton Enterprise publishes an in-depth photo essay on City Councilor Jean Bradley Derenoncourt, who is running for mayor of Brockton.

Given the freedom Brian Dempsey has had to spend campaign funds even after he opted against seeking re-election to pursue a lobbying career, there should be some more limits on how political funds can be spent, the Eagle-Tribune editorializes.


Jack Sullivan, a former reporter with CommonWealth, makes the case for manufactured homes as a way to produce affordable housing without subsidies. (CommonWealth)

The strike against Stop & Shop by 31,000 workers could be the last stand of unionized supermarket employees in a sector that is undergoing rapid change and facing huge pressure. (Boston Globe)


A Globe editorial applauds Boston’s recent announcement that it will guarantee a preschool slot to all four-year-olds in the city by 2025.

Elizabeth McKernan, who is pursuing a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, says each student needs customized school and community supports. (CommonWealth)

The Salem School Committee met in private for more than three hours to discuss Superintendent Margarita Ruiz, who has been criticized following an abrupt turnover in leadership of the high school. (Salem News)

Quincy City Council President Brad Croall and City Councilor-at-large Anne Mahoney are hosting a forum Thursday to discuss the student loan debt crisis. Student loan balances have more than doubled in the last decade, according to a recent report by the Federal Reserve. (Patriot Ledger)

A deadline for securing $44.3 million in state reimbursement for a new Dennis-Yarmouth regional middle school has been extended, but efforts to update the district’s regional agreement have hit a stumbling block that could spell disaster for the project. (Cape Cod Times)

Officials in South Shore towns are assessing early start times for middle and high school students, and how the lack of sleep could be impacting their health. (Patriot Ledger)


Suzin Bartley, executive director of the Children’s Trust, says the best way to remedy the foster care crisis is investing in ways to halt child abuse. (CommonWealth)

The state is adding nearly 400 long-term treatment slots for those suffering from addiction and mental illness. (Boston Globe)


With Uber and Lyft trips to the airport continuing to rise at a rapid pace, Massport officials say they intend to move forward with their aggressive anti-congestion plan. (CommonWealth)

Don’t blame Uber and Lyft for all of Boston’s congestion, says Christina Fisher of TechNet.iorg, which counts Uber and Lyft as members. (CommonWealth)

Support grows for a congestion pricing scheme in Greater Boston. (Boston Herald)

Pension costs at the MBTA, where one of every three retirees last year was under 55, are straining the agency. (Boston Globe)

Hit and run crashes in Connecticut dropped 9 percent between 2016 and 2018, and some attribute that to a recent law enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. (WGBH)


Rekindling the age-old debate in Massachusetts, Stephen Dodge of the Massachusetts Petroleum Institute says we need more renewables and natural gas. (CommonWealth)

Edward N. Krapels, the president and CEO of Anbaric, urges the region’s power grid operator to study how a rapid buildup of the offshore wind industry would affect New England energy prices and fuel security. (CommonWealth)


Prosecutors say the spa where Robert Kraft is alleged to have bought sex services was a run-of the mill prostitution operation and not engaged in human trafficking, an admission that some legal observers say could help defense efforts to have video surveillance evidence thrown out. (Boston Globe) Joan Vennochi says recasting the episodes captured on video as “basically pornography” — the term used by one of Kraft’s lawyers in seeking to suppress release of the recordings — now qualifies as a sort of victory for the billionaire NFL owner. (Boston Globe)


Here’s a rundown of the winners of the Pulitzer Prize. (Poynter)

Digital First Media tells US Sen. Chuck Schumer that it would “right-size overhead costs” at the Gannett Co. chain if its unsolicited bid for the newspaper company succeeds. Digital First owns the Boston Herald and Lowell Sun in Massachusetts. (USA Today)

The Beat the Press panel parceled out blame for The Boston Globe’s decision to publish and then un-publish a column by Luke O’Neil. The bulk of the criticism fell on the newspaper’s failure to properly edit the piece, which Jon Keller described as “middle-school level analysis” from an otherwise talented writer. (WGBH)