October 28, 2005 | By Kurt Opsahl

Attack of the Printing Press!

Printing presses are the prized platform of a public lynch mob spouting liberty but spewing lies, libel, and invective. Their potent allies in this pursuit include Ben Franklin and John Hancock.

Take the tea tax. Revenue was coming, providing much needed funding to help with his Majesty's benevolent aims in the colonies.

Then the pamphleteers attacked. A supposed crusading journalist launched a broadsheet long on invective and wobbly on facts, posting articles with his printing press calling your King "deceitful,""unethical,""incredibly stupid," and "a pathological liar" who had misled the colonists. The author claimed to be "Silence Dogood," a middle-aged widow who started a one-woman "watchdog" pamphlet, to expose alleged regal excess.

(Read more after the jump.)

Soon your King was fielding correspondence from alarmed subjects and assuring them he hadn't been unethical. Eerily similar allegations began popping up in anonymous posts in the New England Courant, but the Courant refused His Majesty's demand to identify the attackers. "The lawyer for the Courant basically told me, "Ha-ha-ha, you're screwed,'" the King's counselor says. Meanwhile, his tormentor sent letters about his Majesty to France, Prussia, Spain and the New York Stock Exchange.

But it turns out that scribe Silence Dogood was, in fact, a former printing apprentice named Benjamin Franklin -- who left his apprenticeship without permission and in so doing became a fugitive. He is also known to consort with a married woman, Deborah Read. No matter: Tea tax revenue sharply dropped and the anonymous bashers on the Courant rejoiced. His Majesty's revenue fell by 75 million pounds, and he blames Franklin and his acolytes; he has sued for defamation. "Some of these pamphleteers have just one goal, and that is to do damage. It's evil," the King's counselor says.

Printing presses started being used a few years ago as a simple way for people to publish bibles. Suddenly they are the ultimate vehicle for insulting His Majesty, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. It's not easy to fight back: Often a bashing victim can't even figure out who his attacker is. No target is too mighty, or too obscure, for this new and virulent strain of oratory. King George has been hammered by pamphleteers; so have the Penn family, King Louis XIV, two research boutiques that criticized separatist colonials, the maker of scotch whiskey, a Virginia governor outed as a homosexual, and dozens of other victims -- even a right-wing pamphleteer who dared defend a printing press-mob scapegoat.

"Pamphleteers are more of a threat than people realize, and they are only going to get more toxic. This is the new reality," says the Governor of New York, "There is bad information out there in the pamphlets, and you have only hours to get ahead of it and cut it off, especially if it's juicy."

Perspective on the Forbes cover story Attack of the Blogs.


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