W. Joseph Campbell

‘Furnish the war,’ en espagnol

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Spanish-American War on December 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

Hearst, under the pen of Homer Davenport, 1896

William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is such a delicious and tenacious media-driven myth that it’s hardly surprising it has crossed over to other languages.

Spanish among them.

Just the other day, the online publication elmercuriodigital.es posted a commentary that invoked the Hearst quote. It read in part:

“El dibujante, Frederic Remington, telegrafió a su jefe pidiéndole autorización para regresar, pues no había ninguna guerra, y por lo tanto no había nada para cubrir. ‘Todo en calma. No habrá guerra’, dijo Remington. La respuesta del empresario periodístico fue célebre: ‘Le ruego que se quede. Proporcione ilustraciones, yo proporcionaré la guerra’.”

The passage recounts the essential portion of the anecdote, that the artist Frederic Remington, on assignment to Cuba for Hearst’s New York Journal, supposedly found “everything … quiet” and, in a cable to Hearst, asked permission to return.

In reply, as the myth has it, Hearst told Remington: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

As I write in my forthcoming book, Getting It Wrong:

“Hearst’s famous vow to ‘furnish the war’ has achieved unique status as an adaptable, hardy, 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.”

It lives on, I further write, “despite a nearly complete absence of supporting documentation.

“It lives on even though telegrams supposedly exchanged by Remington and Hearst have never turned up. It lives on even though Hearst denied ever sending such a message.”

And it lives on despite an irreconcilable internal inconsistency. Hearst had assigned Remington and the correspondent Richard Harding Davis to Cuba at the end of 1896. After several delays, they arrived in January 1897 — 15 months before the start of the Spanish-American War.

Anyone reading U.S. newspapers in early 1897 would have been well aware that Cuba was the theater of a nasty war, a rebellion against Spain’s armed forces which, by the time Remington and Davis arrived, had reached island-wide proportion.

So it would have been incongruous and inconceivable for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” when war was the very reason he sent Remington and Davis to Cuba in the first place.

WJC

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“Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”[i]


[i] See Creelman, On the Great Highway, 177–178.

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