Gossip and the Founding Fathers

(Photo: david__jones)

(Photo: david__jones)

In light of our recent podcast “Everybody Gossips (and That’s a Good Thing),” we heard from David Head, an assistant professor of  history at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama:

I just listened to the podcast on gossip and as it happens my class on the early American republic will be reading the following article on political gossip for next week:

Joanne B. Freeman, “Slander, Poison, Whispers, and Fame: Jefferson’s ‘Anas’ and Political Gossip in the Early Republic,” Journal of the Early Republic, 15 (1995), 25-57.

Have you heard of it? Freeman shows that not only were the founders inveterate gossips but that gossip was crucial to the formation of political parties as like-minded founders, such as Jefferson and Madison, attempted to marshal support to protect themselves and the country from their enemies, such as Hamilton.

What fun it would have been to include this in our episode! Its thesis strengthens the point made in the podcast by Nick Denton of Gawker:

You know, what I think it is, what it is that people define…The lower-class people who are more associated with gossip is simply a matter of class prejudice. It’s simply a matter of saying the things that they talk about, the people that they talk about aren’t important. It doesn’t meet the standard or news so let’s call it gossip. It’s just fishwives, it’s fishwives chattering about their husbands or some infidelity. There’s no difference between that and power gossip, or money gossip, except that the people who decide what is news and what is gossip are the privileged people who look down on lower class. 

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  1. Chris M says:

    Has Nick Denton done any empirical research on this involving random samples as opposed to cherry picked samples? The rich vs. poor study actually seemed to rely on a random sample, although it was hard to tell from the brief description in the podcast. Also, the study showed that the rich gossiped less than the poor, not that the rich gossiped at rates approximating zero.

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