Rupert Murdoch’s much-anticipated hearing yesterday before a Parliament committee was hardly very dramatic — save for the assault on the tough old media mogul by a chucklehead wielding a shaving cream-pie.
The hearing, which centered around the misconduct of journalists formerly in Murdoch’s employ, was more farce and tedium than high-noon encounter that threatened Murdoch’s far-reaching media empire.
Murdoch, who is 80 and clearly doddering, even won a measure of sympathy as victim of the none-too-bright shaving cream-pie attack.
Stehlik likened Murdoch to Hearst and Charles Foster Kane, the fictional media baron in Citizen Kane, the 1941 movie loosely based on Hearst’s life.
“Kane, Hearst and Murdoch … share a political activism which pretends to help the media-consuming masses while, in reality, mostly helped their own privileged class,” Stehlik declared, before invoking the “furnish the war” myth as if it were genuine.
“Hearst,” he said, “told artist Frederic Remington, who was in Cuba, to send dispatches about the war. Remington sent Hearst a telegram saying there was no war in Cuba. Hearst famously told Remington to just provide him the pictures, and he would furnish the war.”
“Press lord Rupert Murdoch isn’t accused of doing anything some of his notorious forebears wouldn’t have attempted given the technology. ‘You supply the pictures and I’ll supply the war,’ William Randolph Hearst is said to have instructed his Cuba correspondents as he ginned up circulation on the eve of the Spanish-American War.”
If Hearst had made the vow, it wouldn’t have been “on the eve of the Spanish-American War,” as Talton wrote in his column for the Seattle Times. It would have been in January 1897 — 15 months before the war began.
That was when Remington arrived in Havana, on a brief assignment for Hearst’s New York Journal to draw sketches of the Cuban rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.
Remington soon tired of the assignment and, the myth has it, cabled Hearst, stating:
“Everything is quiet. There will be no war. I wish to return.”
Hearst, in New York, supposedly replied by stating:
“Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”
The anecdote’s sole original source was a blustering, cigar-chomping journalist named James Creelman, who recounted the tale in his 1901 memoir, On the Great Highway.
Creelman, though, did not explain how he heard about the Remington-Hearst exchange. It couldn’t have been first hand because at the time Remington was in Cuba, Creelman was in Spain, on assignment for the Journal.
That means Creelman could only have learned about the tale second-hand or, as is more likely, just made it up.
Significantly, the context of the supposed Remington-Hearst exchange makes no sense.
I write in Getting It Wrong that “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 Remington to Cuba in the first place.”
The rebellion was a vicious conflict that began in early 1895; by early 1897, it had reached islandwide proportion. As such, the rebellion attracted much attention in U.S. newspapers, including those published by Hearst.
So what may prompt pundits to turn credulously and not infrequently to the anecdote about Hearst and his supposed wickedness?
Because it’s arguably the most deliciously evil tale in journalism history, a tale that reveals Hearst’s ruthlessness and his warmongering. It’s a tale about journalism at its most sinister and malign, a tale wrapped in a dark and arrogant pledge to bring on a war the country otherwise wouldn’t have fought.
And these days, it’s a handy if indirect way of tarring Murdoch, by associating him with Hearst in the exclusive club of vile and villainous media magnates.
Recent and related:
- BBC calls Hearst vow apocryphal, uses it anyway
- Read Chapter One: ‘Furnish the war’
- ‘Furnish the war’ lives on, and on
- Getting it right about ‘yellow journalism’
- Getting it right about Hearst, his newspapers, and war
- Invoking media myths to score points
- On media myths and the ‘golden age’ fallacy
- Every good historian a mythbuster
- Puncturing media myths: A case for modest media influence
- ‘Getting It Wrong’ wins SPJ award for Research about Journalism