W. Joseph Campbell

‘Furnish the war’ lives on, and on

In Furnish the war, Media myths on November 9, 2009 at 10:22 am

The  media-driven myth of William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is as delicious as it is tenacious.

The myth is cited in the “E-bits” column in the November 2009 issue of The Digital Journalist. The columnist writes: “The godfather of yellow journalism, Hearst purportedly said to an illustrator he sent to cover a revolution that wasn’t happening in 1898, ‘You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.'”

It’s a story almost too good not to be true, almost too delicious to be false.

But it’s almost certainly apocryphal. As I write in the forthcoming Getting It Wrong,  the story lives on despite a nearly complete absence of supporting documentation. It lives on even though the telegram that supposedly contained Hearst’s vow has never turned up. It lives on even though Hearst denied ever sending such a message.

It lives on despite an irreconcilable internal inconsistency: It would have been absurd for Hearst to vow to “furnish the war” because war—specifically, the Cuban rebellion against Spain’s colonial rule—was the very reason Hearst sent the illustrator, Frederic Remington, to Cuba in the first place. Remington was in Cuba in early 1897, at a time when anyone reading U.S. newspapers would have been well aware that Cuba was a theater of a nasty war. By then, Spain had sent nearly 200,000 soldiers in a failed attempt to put down the rebellion, which in 1898 gave rise to the Spanish-American War.

Hearst’s famous vow has achieved unique status as an all-purpose anecdote, useful in illustrating any number of media sins and shortcomings. It has been invoked to illustrate the media’s willingness to compromise impartiality, promote political agendas, and indulge in sensationalism. It has been used, more broadly, to suggest the media’s capacity to inject malign influence into international affairs.

And it’s as tenacious as any media-driven myth.

WJC

About these ads
  1. [...] long-lived but almost certainly apocryphal remark attributed to William Randolph Hearst, “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war,” comes readily to [...]

  2. [...] tenacity of one of the most famous media myths—the purported vow of William Randolph Hearst to “furnish the war” with [...]

  3. [...] Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is such a delicious and tenacious media-driven myth that it’s hardly [...]

  4. [...] tale of William Randolph Hearst’s supposed vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is a telling example. So is the notion that Walter Cronkite’s downbeat report in [...]

  5. [...] was the enduring anecdote about William Randolph Hearst’s supposed vow to “furnish the war” with Spain. That one’s been retold many, many since it first appeared in print in [...]

  6. [...] certainly the case with the hoary tale of William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the [...]

  7. [...] myth–the myth of the purported vow of New York newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst to provide the war with Spain at the end of the 19th [...]

  8. [...] is a delicious tale. Like the dubious story about William Randolph Hearst’s vowing to “furnish the war” with Spain, it’s just too good not to be [...]

  9. [...] that sense, it’s evocative of William Randolph Hearst’s often-quoted vow to “furnish the war” with [...]

  10. [...] Journalism on April 3, 2010 at 9:05 am William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 1890s may be the anecdote most often told in American journalism. [...]

  11. [...] to media mythmaking came in a scene that paraphrased Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th [...]

  12. [...] Hearst’s purported vow, telegraphed to the artist Frederic Remington in Cuba, to “furnish the war” with Spain. Hearst denied making such a statement. The telegram containing his purported [...]

  13. [...] every time I watch the scene that paraphrases William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow “to furnish the war” with [...]

  14. [...] one of the hardiest myths in American journalism–William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain, at the end of the 19th [...]

  15. [...] media myths–the anecdote about William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th [...]

  16. [...] addressed include the Remington-Hearst/furnish the war anecdote; the War of the Worlds/mass hysteria myth, and the “Cronkite [...]

  17. [...] opening chapter,  which revisits William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 19th century, is available [...]

  18. [...] a variety of media-driven myths, including William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain; the so-called “Cronkite moment” that supposedly altered President [...]

  19. [...] myth surrounding the famous anecdote about William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century, the dubious notion that Orson Welles’ 1938 [...]

  20. [...] the Myths, Defining the Legacies. A slice of the myth–that notion that Hearst vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain–is discussed in a chapter my new book, Getting It [...]

  21. [...] book repeated the hoary anecdote about Hearst’s vowing to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 19th century–one of the media-driven myths that I debunk in [...]

  22. [...] in Getting It Wrong, including those of William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain; the 1938 radio dramatization of the War of the Worlds which supposedly sowed [...]

  23. [...] the book’s first chapter, the myth of William Randolph Hearst’s infamous vow to “furnish the war” with [...]

  24. [...] is, the “furnish the war” tale is almost certainly [...]

  25. [...] more impressive, perhaps, is that the anecdote endures despite the near-complete absence of supporting documentation. [...]

  26. [...] further note in Getting It Wrong that the tale about Hearst’s vow lives on “despite a nearly complete absence of supporting documentation. It lives on even though the [...]

  27. [...] news, in the United States and abroad, of William Randolph Hearst’s mythical vow to “furnish the war” with [...]

  28. [...] same holds for the purported vow of William Randolph Hearst to “furnish the war” with [...]

  29. [...] at the Wharton School invoked my research into William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain, saying that I’ve cast “doubt” on the often-repeated [...]

  30. [...] in that they begin with a discussion of William Randolph Hearst’s famous vow to “furnish the war” with Spain and end with a look at the exaggerated, over-the-top coverage of Hurricane [...]

  31. [...] the “furnish the war” tale is almost certainly apocryphal, as I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 [...]

  32. [...] Hearst’s famous vow is examined in Chapter One in Getting It Wrong. [...]

  33. [...] telling case in point is the line often attributed to William Randolph Hearst: “You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” He supposedly was referring to war with Spain in the late 19th [...]

  34. [...] ‘Furnish the war lives on, and on’ [...]

  35. [...] of different sources. Sometimes these are stores that are just too good to be checked out. Like, William Randolph Hearst [and his famous vow], “You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.” That [...]

  36. [...] abroad–among them, the mythical Cronkite Moment, the Murrow-McCarthy tale, the famous “furnish the war” vow attributed to William Randolph Hearst. And, of course, the heroic-journalist myth, [...]

  37. [...] also suggested then that the famous vow attributed to William Randolph Hearst–”You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the [...]

  38. [...] Wrong, Hearst almost surely never vowed to bring on the Spanish-American War of 1898, although that hardy myth is often invoked and readily [...]

  39. [...] it occurred, the legendary but unlikely exchange of telegrams between William Randolph Hearst and the artist Frederic Remington–in which [...]

  40. [...] of American journalism’s most tenacious myths — the purported vow of William Randolph Hearst to “furnish the war” with [...]

  41. [...] I write in my myth-debunking book Getting It Wrong, the Hearstian vow “has been invoked to illustrate the media’s willingness to compromise impartiality, promote [...]

  42. [...] news media that masquerade as factual — include William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” and the so-called “Cronkite Moment” of [...]

  43. [...] so, “furnish the war” lives on — hardy, robust, and apparently only slightly dented for all the debunking broadsides hurled [...]

  44. [...] they almost are too good to take time to check out. The tale about Hearst’s vowing to “furnish the war” certainly falls into this category. It shouldn’t be at all difficult to locate [...]

  45. [...] many media-driven myths,” I write, the purported Hearstian vow “is succinct, savory, and easily remembered. It is almost too good not to be true.” As [...]

  46. [...] the tale lives on, as an appealing yet exceedingly simplified explanation about the causes of the Spanish-American [...]

  47. [...] tale is almost surely apocryphal for reasons that include Hearst’s denial and the improbable context in which his message supposedly was [...]

  48. [...] ‘Furnish the war’ lives on, and on [...]

  49. [...] not to be true. It’s in the class of William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain: It’s a quotation that really ought to [...]

  50. [...] it’s virtually certain that Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” is [...]

  51. [...] Hearstian vow suggests the depths to which journalists can stoop — to agitate for a war the country [...]

  52. [...] despite a near-total absence of supporting documentation. It lives on even though cable containing Hearst’s purported vow has never turned [...]

  53. [...] tale about “furnish the war” was debunked as a media myth years ago, for [...]

  54. [...] the “panic broadcast” occupies an extraordinary place in American media history; it lives on as the radio show that caused fright and terror beyond [...]

  55. [...] many media-driven myths,” I further note, the purported Hearstian vow “is succinct, savory, and easily [...]

  56. [...] conventional interpretation of Zhou’s “too early” comment lives on because it suggests that Chinese leaders are inclined to a long and patient view of [...]

  57. [...] moreover, is illogical on its face: It would have made no sense for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” because war — the rebellion against Spanish rule — was the reason he sent [...]

  58. [...] But despite the compelling evidence arrayed against it, the vow attributed to Hearst lives on, and on. [...]

  59. [...] A commentary in the Tennessean newspaper took up that hoary myth the other day and added for good measure the apocryphal tale of Hearst’s having vowed to bring on the war. [...]

  60. [...] most tenacious myth in American journalism tells of a purported exchange of telegrams in January 1897 between  newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and the artist Frederic [...]

  61. [...] the repeated debunkings, however, the anecdote about “furnish the war” lives on — a timeless, pithy, and easily recalled example of the news media at their supposed [...]

  62. [...] anecdote is undocumented and utterly dubious, but it was presented at face value in the biography Citizen Hearst. It is an irresistible tale [...]

  63. […] made “furnish the war” a far more engaging tale, and ensured that it would live on and on. And ready to be pressed into the service of […]

  64. […] media myth of William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” with Spain has proved irresistible in a number of […]

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,694 other followers

%d bloggers like this: