ON THIS DAY...
January 13, 1898
ONE HUNDRED and 20 years ago, French newspaper L’Aurore published one of the most famous front page headlines in history – “J’Accuse...!” It was from a 4,000-word open letter to French President Félix Faure written by novelist Émile Zola. It may have been one of the few newspaper articles in history where the intention was to get sued for libel.
Zola was incensed by the treatment of Alfred Dreyfus, an officer accused of treason by the French army. He was serving life on Devil’s Island after being convicted in 1894 of spying for Germany. The evidence, heard by closed court martial, centred on a document said to be written by Dreyfus. He was convicted despite scant evidence that he was the author, and much suggesting he wasn’t. More than a dozen witnesses testified to his patriotism.
Dreyfus was Jewish and, at the time, France was rife with anti-Semitism. In his letter, Zola