A few weeks after Billy's death, the story of Claggart and Billy was reported in a naval chronicle. The account claimed that Claggart learned of a plot aboard the ship and reported the plot's ringleader, Billy Budd, who then "vindictively stabbed" Claggart. The story emphasizes "the extreme depravity" of Billy and describes Claggart as "respectable and discreet." The narrator says that this is the only record of the events of this story.
Despite its authority as a supposedly truthful news outlet, this naval chronicle ends up reporting a false version of Billy's story. Yet, if even official reports are susceptible to the proliferation of rumors among sailors, how are we to evaluate the accuracy of the narrator's own tale? And if the newspaper report unjustly vilified Billy, might this narrator's have unjustly vilified Claggart. Should a reader truly believe that Billy was all good and Claggart all evil? Or might Claggart have been more complicated, wrongly but honestly suspecting Billy, for instance?