Telling America’s Story

The United States Information Agency did not long survive the Cold War it helped wage. But today the lessons it taught us may be more useful than ever.

Fifty years ago this summer the Eisenhower administration created a unique federal agency, one that most Americans never even knew about. Its name was the United States Information Agency; the reason for its obscurity was that by congressional fiat, it could not distribute its products and services within the United States. Read more »

Fair Comment

Americans don’t hesitate to say anything they please about a public performance. But the right to do so wasn’t established until the Cherry Sisters sued a critic who didn’t like their appalling vaudeville act.

The year 1896 found Oscar Hammerstein in trouble. He was in debt, and the acts he had brought to Broadway weren’t doing well. He was desperate. “I’ve tried the best,” he is reported to have said. “Now I’ll try the worst.” So he sent for the Cherry Sisters. Effie, Addie, Jessie, Lizzie, and Ella Cherry clearly were the worst act of the day. They couldn’t dance, and they couldn’t sing. In fact, they couldn’t do anything at all. Except draw crowds. Read more »

The Case of John Peter Zenger

The law was against the poor printer. The governor wanted his scalp. His attorneys were disbarred. Could anything save him—and free speech?

On the morning of August 4, 1735, a cross section of New York’s ten thousand citizens clustered outside the city hall at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets. English and Dutch, men of all classes and trades, waited and argued tensely. Carts bounced over the paving blocks. The midsummer morning light slanted down on white sails in the harbor and on the spire of Trinity Church a block away.Read more »