The opening chapter of Getting It Wrong, my forthcoming work debunking 10 prominent media-driven myths, is available at the Web site for the book sponsored by the publisher, University of California Press.
Chapter One is titled “‘I’ll furnish the war’” and examines 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 century.
As I write in Chapter One:
“Like many media-driven myths, it is succinct, savory, and easily remembered. It is almost too good not to be true. Not surprisingly, Hearst’s vow to ‘furnish the war’ has made its way into countless textbooks of journalism. It has figured in innumerable discussions about Hearst and about the news media and war. It has been repeated over the years by no small number of journalists, scholars, and critics of the news media such as Ben Bagdikian, Helen Thomas, Nicholas Lemann, and the late David Halberstam.”
I further write:
“Interestingly, the anecdote lives on despite a nearly complete absence of supporting documentation. … It lives on even though Hearst denied ever sending such a message.”
The sole original source for the now-famous anecdote was a slim memoir, On the Great Highway, written by James Creelman and published in 1901.
I note in Getting It Wrong that Creelman’s taste for hyperbole represents one of many solid reasons for doubting “that Hearst ever vowed ‘to furnish the war.’ Creelman’s record of exaggeration offers compelling reason to challenge the anecdote’s authenticity.”
I refer to the anecdote “Creelman’s singular contribution to American journalism” and note how it “feeds popular mistrust of the news media and promotes the improbable notion the media are powerful and dangerous forces, so powerful they can even bring on a war.”