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Is False News New? Or Was Ben Franklin Stabbed?

Fake news, false information masquerading as news for the purpose of persuasion or intimidation, has been with us for centuries. In the American Revolution, readers in February of 1778 were alarmed to read of the stabbing of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin, one of the country’s most illustrious citizens, a world-famous scientist and inventor, was serving as America’s minister to France, when the Boston Gazette reported he had been “assassinated in his Bed-Chamber,” at the instigation of Lord Stormont, the British ambassador to France. “The Villain left him for dead; but one of the Doctor’s Ribs prevented the Stab from being instantly fatal….” Abigail Adams, whose husband John was on his way to serve in France, wrote to her correspondent Congressman James Lovell to express her horror at the event and her fear for her husband. The truth, that the stabbing never happened, did not come out for at least a month.

Abigail Adams to James Lovell, March 1, 1778. Adams Papers Digital Edition, Massachusetts Historical Society,

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