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ZENGER HOUSE

We’ve named our nonprofit organization after colonial editor John Peter Zenger. In the 1730s, his New York Weekly Journal reported that royal governor William Cosby was a thief and liar. Zenger was telling the truth, but under British law at that time truth was no defense: A journalist’s job was to do public relations for the king and his officials.

His New York Weekly Journal reported that royal governor William Cosby was a thief and liar. Zenger was telling the truth, but under British law at that time truth was no defense: A journalist’s job was to do public relations for the king and his officials.

Zenger’s defense in 1735 was that the Bible’s inspired authors had criticized greedy officials, so he should be allowed to do the same. Judges in red robes and white wigs were ready to convict him, but jurors appreciated his truth-telling and, despite what the law said, delivered a “not guilty” verdict. Royal officials decided not to provoke a riot. Zenger went free.

The upshot: Officials backed off from charging editors and writers for libel when they told the truth. Journalists began pointing out government error and oppression. During the next four decades press liberty opened the door to constructive revolution and the creation of the United States of America.

Meet the Founders of Zenger House

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