W. Joseph Campbell

Archive for the ‘Furnish the war’ Category

Accepting the Dicken-Garcia Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Journalism History

In Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths on November 12, 2011 at 7:49 am

I was honored yesterday to receive the Hazel Dicken-Garcia Award for Distinguished Scholarship in Journalism History, an honor given by the organizers of the annual Symposium on 19th Century Press, the Civil War, and Free Expression, a conference convened in Chattanooga.

The award recognizes my work in journalism history, including the books Getting It Wrong, The Year That Defined American Journalism, and Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies.

The award’s namesake, Hazel Dicken-Garcia, is a retired journalism historian at the University of Minnesota who wrote Journalistic Standards in Nineteenth Century America and is regarded as one of the field’s leading lights.

In accepting the award, which is administered by David B. Sachsman of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, I spoke about the importance of myth-busting in media history. I told the conference-goers that “the health and integrity of the field, at least in part, rides on historians’ fulfilling an obligation to bust myths, to seek to set straight the historical record to the extent that’s possible.

“After all,” I added, “to bust myths is to wage war against simplistic and reductive explanations — and to recognize and insist upon the complexity of the historical record.”

I also spoke about my research into media-driven myths, those prominent, well-known stories about and/or by the news media that are widely believed and often retold but which, under scrutiny, prove to be apocryphal or wildly exaggerated.

I noted that media  myths can be thought of as the junk food of journalism – tasty and alluring, perhaps, but not terribly nutritious, and not terribly healthy.

“Media myths,” I said, “are inescapably media-centric; as such, they tend to distort our understanding of the history, roles, and functions of journalism in American society; media myths typically confer on the news media far more power and influence than they necessarily wield.”

Media myths, I added, “often spring from the timeless appeal to distill and simplify, the appeal of condensed, readily digestible historical accounts that are easily grasped, and a delight to retell.”

As examples, I discussed the famous tale about William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow at the end of the 19th century to “furnish the war” with Spain and a Civil War-era quotation attributed to Chicago newspaper editor Wilbur F. Storey, who supposedly told a correspondent to  “telegraph fully all news; and when there is no news, send rumors.”

Both tales, I noted, are based on very thin documentation. Both have serious evidentiary problems.

Hearst’s purported vow was supposedly made in an exchange of telegrams with the artist Frederic Remington, on assignment for Hearst’s New York Journal in early 1897 to draw sketches of the Cuban rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.

I noted in my talk how it would have made no sense for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” when war — the Cuban rebellion — was the very reason he sent Remington to Cuba.

Hearst

Not only that, but the telegrams supposedly exchanged by Hearst and Remington have never turned up; Hearst denied ever making such a vow, and Remington apparently never publicly discussed the matter.

“It’s almost certain that no such telegrams were ever sent,” I said.

The “send rumors” anecdote from the Civil War era is likewise improbable — although undeniably appealing and relevant even today.

“The quotation not only suggests journalism’s inclination to compromise ethics in the gathering of news,” I said, but “it speaks also to the profession’s unending appetite for rumor, gossip, and hearsay.”

The anecdote revolves around instructions supposedly sent in 1864 by Wilbur F. Storey, editor of the Chicago Times, to a correspondent near Nashville, Franc B. Wilkie.

The lone source for Storey’s supposed instructions Wilkie’s memoir,  Personal Reminiscence, which was published in 1891. That was 27 years after the instructions supposedly were sent.

Not only that, but by 1891, Storey had been dead seven years.

I noted that among the reasons for doubting that Storey ever sent such instructions is that they would have been superfluous. It would have made no sense for Storey to have told Wilkie to “send rumors” because the Chicago Times — like many newspapers during the Civil War — routinely printed rumors about battles, about troop movements, and about political developments — and identified them as rumor.

It would have been an unnecessary message, to advise a seasoned correspondent like Wilkie to “send rumors.”

“Simply put,”  I said, “Wilkie would have required no reminder from Storey to ‘telegraph fully all news; and when there is no news, send rumors.'”

I closed my remarks by saying that debunking media myths is  reminder “to be wary about conclusiveness.”

History, I said, “is neither static nor infallible. … There’s plenty of room for skepticism, plenty of room for testing assumptions — for applying tests of evidence and logic to well-known tales and dominant narratives.”

WJC

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Where do they get this stuff?

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War, Yellow Journalism on September 24, 2011 at 5:06 am

William Randolph Hearst almost surely never vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain, and his newspapers of the late 19th century were much more than rumor-mongering sheets.

Hearst: Never made the vow

None of this is particularly new, though.

The tale about “furnish the war” was debunked as a media myth years ago, for example.

And Hearst’s leading biographer, David Nasaw, noted in his authoritative 2000 work, The Chief, that “Hearst and his staff improved on their product” day by day in the late 1890s.

“Their headlines,” Nasaw wrote, “were more provocative than anyone else’s, their drawings more lifelike … the writing throughout the paper outstanding, if, at times, a bit long-winded. Equally important in attracting new readers, the paper’s layout was excellent, with text and drawing breaking through columns to create new full-page landscapes….”

So it’s a bit baffling just where the exaggerated and cartoonish characterizations about Hearst come from. When they are cited, they’re usually accompanied by little or no sourcing information — as was the case in a commentary posted yesterday at the Technorati news site.

The commentary asserted:

“Media magnate William Randolph Heart once quipped, ‘You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.’ As the father of yellow journalism, he was well known for providing his stories as a game of Telephone, repeating a rumor of a rumor of a rumor. It made him billions, and lowered the discourse of media to this day.”

I revisit the tale about “furnish the war” in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, noting that it was first recounted in a memoir published in 1901 by James Creelman, a portly, Canadian-born journalist prone to pomposity and exaggeration.

Creelman

Creelman, I write, “never explained how he learned about the anecdote” about Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war.” Creelman offered no citation for it in his memoir, On the Great Highway.

According to Creelman, Hearst’s vow was contained in an exchange of telegrams with the artist Frederic Remington, who went to Cuba in early 1897 to draw sketches for Hearst’s newspapers about the rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.

The Cuba rebellion gave rise 15 months later to the Spanish-American War.

At the time Remington was in Cuba, Creelman was in Madrid, which means he had no first-hand knowledge of the purported exchange of telegrams.

I point out in Getting It Wrong that the artifacts — the telegrams supposedly exchanged by Remington and Hearst — have never turned up and that Hearst denied ever having sent such a message.

What’s more, I write, the anecdote “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 Remington to Cuba in the first place.”

Interestingly, Creelman recounted Hearst’s purported vow not as a rebuke but, I write, “as a compliment, to commend Hearst and the activist, anticipatory ‘yellow journalism’ that he had pioneered in New York City.”

The anecdote was, to Creelman, illustrative of the power and potential of what Hearst championed as the “journalism of action” — the journalism that gets things done.

It was journalism with a social conscience.

Hearst’s leading newspaper, the New York Journal, insisted in editorials that a newspaper’s duty should not be “confined to exhortation.” Rather, newspapers had an obligation to inject themselves into public life, to right the wrongs that government could not or would not address.

So Hearstian journalism of the late 19th century was scarcely a game of “telephone,” of rumor piled upon rumor.

Why is all this significant?

Because the anecdote about “furnish the war” is often presented as evidence that Hearst did foment the conflict with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

Which is nonsense.

The reasons why the United States went to war in 1898 are far more profound and complex than the supposed manipulative powers of Hearst and his newspapers.

WJC

That’s not what Zhou meant

In Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on August 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

Nixon and Zhou, 1972

In 1972, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai told President Richard M. Nixon that it was “too early to say” what would be the implications of political upheaval in France.

It’s long been thought that Zhou was referring to the French Revolution that began in 1789 — that Zhou was taking a decidedly wise, sagacious, and patient view of history.

But in reality, according to a former U.S. diplomat who was present at the discussion in China, Zhou was referring to the more recent turmoil that had shaken France in 1968.

Still, the conventional interpretation — the Zhou was thinking in centuries, not in mere years — is so appealing that it lives on, as was suggested by a commentary posted yesterday by the English-language Moscow Times newspaper.

The commentary, which considered the significance of the attempted coup in the former Soviet Union in August 1991, began this way:

“Chinese leader Zhou Enlai may have been correct when he told U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972 that it was too early to determine the impact of the French Revolution, but 20 years is usually enough to assess the importance of most historical events.”

The commentary may be quite correct about a 20-year interval being sufficient for assessing historical events.

But the characterization about Zhou’s comment is off-target, in light of recollections offered in June by Charles W.  (Chas) Freeman Jr., a retired diplomat who was interpreter for Nixon on his famous 1972 trip to China.

The Financial Times of London was first to report about the revised interpretation of Zhou’s comment. The newspaper quoted Freeman’s remarks at a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., that the Chinese leader was referring to the events of 1968.

Freeman, in a subsequent interview with me, described Zhou’s comment as “one of those convenient misunderstandings that never gets corrected,” noting that “it conveniently bolstered a stereotype … about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts.”

The misconstrued comment fit nicely with “what people wanted to hear and believe,” Freeman said, “so it took” hold.  And is not infrequently repeated.

Freeman said it was “absolutely clear” from the context of the discussion that Zhou’s “too early to say” remark was in reference to upheaval of 1968, not the years of turmoil that began in 1789.

Freeman described Zhou’s remark as “a classic of the genre of a constantly repeated misunderstanding that has taken on a life of its own.”

In that way, it’s akin to other deliciously irresistible quotations that are just too neat and too tidy to be true — a topic I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, which addresses and debunks 10 prominent media-driven myths.

One of the too-perfect-to-be-true quotations I discuss is the vow attributed to William Randolph Hearst, who purportedly pledged to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 19th century.

The Hearstian vow suggests the depths to which journalists can stoop — to agitate for a war the country otherwise would not fight. That’s a reason for the tenacity of the purported Hearst quote. It reveals journalists at their most depraved.

But the purported vow, however well-known, is surely apocryphal.

Hearst denied having sent such a message, and the artifact — the telegram conveying the vow — has never turned up.

What’s more, pledging to “furnish the war” would have made no sense, given the context. Hearst’s telegram was supposedly sent to an artist, Frederic Remington, who was in Cuba to draw sketches of the rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.

It’s illogical that Hearst would have vowed to “furnish the war” when war — the Cuban rebellion — was the reason he sent Remington to the island in the first place.

WJC

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60 years after his death, media myth towers around Hearst

In Anniversaries, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on August 15, 2011 at 4:35 am

The BBC over the weekend marked the 60th anniversary of the death of William Randolph Hearst by posting a piece I wrote about the mythology surrounding the often-scorned media tycoon of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Hearst: Routinely scorned

Hearst, I wrote, “lives on 60 years after his death as the mythical bogeyman of American journalism, the personification of the field’s most egregious impulses,” and the inspiration for the epithet “yellow journalism.”

I discussed the hardy media myths that Hearst famously vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain and then made good on the pledge.

“The towering mythology that envelopes Hearst,” I noted, “began to take hold long before his death on 14 August 1951.

“The lore dates to the late 1930s and the first in a succession of wretched biographies about Hearst.

“Among them was Imperial Hearst, a truculent work that excoriated Hearst’s increasingly conservative politics and resurrected the ‘furnish the war’ myth.”

Even more important to the mythology around Hearst, I wrote, was Orson Welles’ cinematic masterpiece, Citizen Kane.

“The movie was based loosely on Hearst’s life and times, and received mostly mixed reviews when it was released in 1941,” I noted, adding:

“Hearst did try to have the film killed, which served to enhance its latent appeal. Kane was rediscovered in the 1960s and ultimately gained deserved recognition as a classic.”

I noted that a rollicking scene in Kane “borrows from and paraphrases the ‘furnish the war’ anecdote, which further helped to implant the myth in the popular consciousness.”

Hearst was a ready target for the contempt of his peers and rivals because of inherited wealth enabled him to enter journalism at the top — as publisher of the San Francisco Examiner and, later in the 19th century, the New York Journal.

Hearst’s quixotic personality also made his a target of media mythmaking. I quoted David Nasaw’s fine biography of Hearst, The Chief, which noted:

“William Randolph Hearst was a huge man with a tiny voice; a shy man who was most comfortable in crowds; a war hawk in Cuba and Mexico but a pacifist in Europe; an autocratic boss who could not fire people; a devoted husband who lived with his mistress; a Californian who spent half his life in the East.”

It’s little wonder then why Hearst was, and remains, the object of so much myth and misunderstanding.

He also used his newspapers as platforms for pursuing his mostly unfulfilled political ambitions — which further accounts for the mythology, which further explains why he became a lightning rod for enduring scorn.

Hearst ran for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency in 1904, but fell well short. Later, he ran for governor of New York and mayor of New York City, and lost.

By 1910 or so, Hearst’s political ambitions were, I noted, mostly spent.

And now, 60 years after his death, the mythology surrounding Hearst is so firmly entrenched so as never to be expunged.

WJC

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Media myth infiltrates NYTimes ‘Learning Network’

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, New York Times, Spanish-American War on August 13, 2011 at 12:06 am

The New York Times’ Learning  Network” blog declares says it provides “teaching and learning materials and ideas” based on the newspaper’s archival content.

Its entry yesterday was pegged to the 113th anniversary of the effective end of the Spanish-American War — and offered up a hoary media myth in discussing newspaper coverage of the conflict.

The Times item stated:

Support for the Spanish-American War was stirred by sensationalist accounts of Spanish wrongdoing in the newspapers of [William] Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer; according to legend, Hearst told an illustrator covering the war, ‘You furnish the pictures and I will furnish the war.'”

It’s highly debatable whether much support for the war was generated by the newspapers of Hearst and Pulitzer. There is considerable evidence to suggest that their newspapers had little if any agenda-setting effect on the administration of President William McKinley on the question of going to war with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

And it’s virtually certain that Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” is apocryphal.

As I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the anecdote about “furnish the war” is a hardy media myth that lives on despite concerted attempts to dismantle and debunk it.

The vow supposedly was contained in a telegram sent to the artist, Frederic Remington, who was in Cuba on assignment for Hearst’s New York Journal. Remington and the correspondent Richard Harding Davis were there to cover the rebellion against Spain’s harsh colonial rule — a rebellion that gave rise in 1898 to the Spanish-American War.

Remington and Davis reached Havana in early January 1897; Remington stayed just six days.

Before leaving for New York by passenger steamer, Remington supposedly cabled Hearst, stating:

“Everything is quiet. There will be no war. I wish to return.”

Hearst is said to have replied:

Please remain. You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war.”

But Remington didn’t remain in Cuba.

He promptly returned to New York, where his sketches received prominent display in Hearst’s Journal. They appeared beneath such flattering headlines as:

“Cuban War Sketches Gathered in the Field by Frederic Remington; The Gifted Artist, Visiting Cuba Especially for the Journal.”

That’s scarcely the kind of tribute Hearst would have given a wayward artist who ignored instructions to “remain” in Cuba.

I further note in Getting It Wrong that the myth about Hearst’s vow “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 Remington to Cuba in the first place.”

Anyone reading U.S. newspapers in early 1897 “would have been well aware,” I point out, “that Cuba was a theater of a nasty war” of rebellion.

Not only that, but the artifacts — the telegrams reputedly exchanged by Remington and Hearst — have never surfaced. Spanish censors closely monitored incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic in Havana and they surely would have intercepted and called attention to Hearst’s incendiary message, had it been sent.

For those and other reasons, the tale about the Remington-Hearst exchange is surely apocryphal — a myth too often presented as fact.

The “Learning Network” isn’t off the hook by couching its reference to the purported Remington-Hearst exchange as “legend.” If the blog had doubts about the veracity of Heart’s purported vow, then it ought not have mentioned it in the first place.

WJC

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India high court order invokes phony Watergate line

In Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on August 2, 2011 at 9:48 am

Two Supreme Court judges in India last month turned to Watergate’s most famous made-up line in ordering an investigation into large sums of money believed stashed in banks abroad.

The judges in their order cited the made-up line as if it had been genuine advice from a high-level source to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post  during the newspaper’s investigation of the Watergate scandal.

The line is “follow the money” — and it had no role whatsoever in the Watergate scandal.

Follow the money” was never uttered by Woodward’s stealthy source, who was code-named “Deep Throat.”

The line appears nowhere in the All the President’s Men, the book Woodward and Carl Bernstein wrote about their Watergate reporting for the Post.

Nor did the passage appear in any Watergate-related news article or editorial in the Post before June 1981 — nearly seven years after the scandal reached its denouement with President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Follow the money” was written into the screenplay of All the President’s Men, the 1976 movie based on Woodward and Bernstein’s book.

Many people and many news outlets over the years have cited “follow the money” as if it were real, as if it had been advice to Woodward that really worked.

Just last week, for example, a column in London’s high-brow Financial Times newspaper described “follow the money” as the “mantra” of Watergate. And a column posted at Huffington Post a couple of weeks ago also repeated “follow the money” as if it had been vital guidance to uncovering Watergate.

But finding its way into a high court order probably represents a first for “follow the money.”

As noted in a Bloomberg news service report yesterday, the two judges — B. Sudershan Reddy and S.S. Singh Nijjar — invoked “follow the money” at the outset of the order they released early last month.

Credulously, the judges wrote:

“‘Follow the money’ was the short and simple advice given by the secret informant, within the American Government, to Bob Woodward, the journalist from Washington Post, in aid of his investigations of the Watergate Hotel break in.”

So how is it that such errors are made? What explains the impressive reach and popularity of this appealing but contrived statement?

A partial explanation is that “follow the money” seems just too good, too delicious, 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 true.

And as I point out in my media myth-busting book, Getting It Wrong:

“To thwart media myths, journalists can start by applying a measure of skepticism to pithy, telling quotes such as Hearst’s vow to ‘furnish the war.’ … Turns of phrase that sound too neat and tidy often are too perfect to be true.”

The popularity of “follow the money” goes beyond appealing pithiness and is rooted in the dramatic quality of All the President’s Men, the most-watched movie ever made about Watergate.

The “Deep Throat” character was played in All the President’s Men by the actor Hal Holbrook, who turned in a marvelous performance.

In a late-night scene in a darkened parking garage, the shadowy, raspy-voiced Holbrook told the Woodward character (played by Robert Redford):

“I have to do this my way. You tell me what you know, and I’ll confirm. I’ll keep you in the right direction, if I can, but that’s all.

“Just follow the money.”

Holbrook delivered the line with such quiet insistence that it truly seemed to offer a way through the labyrinth of the Watergate scandal. And the popularity of the movie carried “follow the money” into the vernacular.

But such guidance, had it really been offered to Woodward, would have taken the reporter only so far. Watergate, after all, was much broader than the improper use of campaign monies.

Nixon was toppled not by heroic journalists who followed a money trail, but by irrefutable evidence captured on audiotapes that he had ordered the cover up Watergate’s signal crime, the break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in June 1972.

WJC

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More media myths from CounterPunch

In Bay of Pigs, Debunking, Furnish the war, Jessica Lynch, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on July 24, 2011 at 8:30 am

CounterPunch touts itself as “America’s best political newsletter.”

It’s building a reputation for indulging in media-driven myths, too.

Since mid-March, essays posted at CounterPunch have:

CounterPunch has indulged yet again in media myth, in a commentary in its weekend edition about Rupert Murdoch’s troubled media empire.

CounterPunch claimed the tough old media mogul has “surpassed William Randolph Hearst,” press baron of the 19th and early 20th centuries, “in practicing yellow journalism.”

The commentary invoked the hoary media myth about Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain.

According to CounterPunch, Hearst said: “Get me the photos and I’ll get you the war.”

That was, CounterPunch added, “Hearst’s 1898 dictum to help start the Spanish-American War.”

Provocative tale. But it’s pure media myth.

Hearst’s vow is almost surely apocryphal, for reasons I discuss in my myth-busting book, Getting It Wrong, which came out last year.

Among the reasons:  The telegram that supposedly contained Hearst’s vow — a cable sent to artist Frederic Remington, on assignment to Cuba — has never turned up.

More significantly, as I point out Getting It Wrong, the anecdote about Hearst’s purported vow suffers from “an irreconcilable internal inconsistency.”

That is, it would have been absurd and illogical for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” because war — specifically, the Cuban rebellion against Spain’s colonial rule — was the reason he sent Remington to Cuba in the first place.

In addition, the Spanish colonial authorities who ruled Cuba closely controlled and censored incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic: They surely would have intercepted and called attention to Hearst’s incendiary telegram, had it been sent.

But in fact, there was, as I write in Getting It Wrong, no chance that telegrams would have flowed freely between Remington in Cuba and Hearst in New York.

So “furnish the war” (or, “provide the war”) wasn’t at all Hearst’s “dictum to help start the Spanish-American War.”

That Hearst helped bring on the war with Spain is a media myth, too.

It’s a myth dismantled in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies, in which I pointed out that the yellow press of Hearst and his rival, Joseph Pulitzer, “is not to blame for the Spanish-American-War.

“It did not force — it could not have forced — the United States into hostilities with Spain over Cuba in 1898.

“The conflict was, rather, the result of a convergence of forces far beyond the control or direct influence of even the most aggressive of the yellow newspapers, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.”

The proximate cause of the war was the humanitarian crisis created by Spain’s bungled attempts to quell a rebellion that had begun in Cuba in 1895 and had spread across the island by 1897, when Remington arrived in Havana on assignment for Hearst.

WJC

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Tarring Murdoch with Hearst’s evil ‘vow’ to ‘furnish the war’

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on July 20, 2011 at 8:28 am

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.

What was fairly remarkable was that in the hearing’s aftermath at least a couple of U.S. commentators turned credulously to a hoary media myth to make points about Murdoch’s supposedly evil ways.

Hearst: Made no vow

The media myth is the tale that press baron William Randolph Hearst, in an exchange of telegrams with the artist Frederic Remington, vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 19th century.

I describe in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, why that tale is almost surely apocryphal for reasons that include Hearst’s denial and the improbable context in which his message supposedly was sent.

One of the pundits invoking the media myth was Milos Stehlik, a commentator on WBEZ, an FM radio station in Chicago.

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.”

Meanwhile in Seattle, Jon Talton, a newspaper columnist on economic issues, posted a commentary that began this way:

“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.

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post

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BBC calls Hearst vow apocryphal, quotes it anyway

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War, Yellow Journalism on July 15, 2011 at 10:28 am

Apocryphal but still quotable.

That’s how Britain’s venerable broadcaster, the BBC, treated the mythical anecdote about media titan William Randolph Hearst and his purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 19th century.

In an article posted online yesterday, the BBC described Hearst as the “definitive [news] baron” and declared:

“He’s credited with the invention of tabloid journalism in the 1890s when his New York Journal began a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. He also had a reputation as a warmonger.

“‘You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war,’ goes an apocryphal instruction he was supposed to have sent in a telegram to an illustrator in Havana.”

That’s right, the line is apocryphal. What, then, is the point in using it? As a none-too-clever, back-handed way of buttressing the dubious notion that Hearst and his newspapers were capable of fomenting a war?

That’s sloppy journalism from a leading international news organization.

As I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is a particularly tenacious media-driven myth — a prominent but dubious tale about journalism that masquerades as factual.

I note that the tale about Hearst’s vow “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.”

Hearst: Didn't say it

Reasons for doubting the presumptive Hearstian vow are many, I point out in Getting It Wrong, and include the fact that the telegram in which Hearst supposedly made the statement — in an exchange with the artist Frederic Remington, on assignment to Cuba — has never turned up.

Plus, Hearst denied making such a vow.

Not only that, but the anecdote lives on lives on despite what I call “an irreconcilable internal inconsistency.” That is, it would have been absurd for Hearst to vow to “furnish the war” because war— specifically, the Cuban rebellion against Spanish colonial rule— was the reason he sent Remington to Cuba in the first place.

The artist was in Cuba for just six days in January 1897. By that time, the Cuban rebellion — a war for political independence — had reached islandwide proportions. “Anyone reading U.S. newspapers in early 1897 would have been well aware that Cuba was a theater of a nasty war,” I write in Getting It Wrong.

Given the context, Hearst’s purported vow is utterly illogical.

And to invoke the anecdote knowing that it’s apocryphal is little short of disingenuous.

The BBC’s reference to Hearst’s being “credited with the invention of tabloid journalism in the 1890s” also is questionable.

Hearst’s style of flamboyant journalism certainly helped inspire the epithetyellow journalism,” but he was no father of tabloid journalism.

If anything, Hearst was a latecomer to that genre.

As David Nasaw wrote in The Chief, his admirably even-handed biography of Hearst, the press baron didn’t embrace the tabloid until the 1920s “because he was not comfortable with the format.

“He  had no interest in publishing a picture newspaper that had little room for political coverage, columns, cartoons, and the editorials he cared so much about.”

WJC

Many thanks to Instapundit
Glenn Reynolds for linking to this post.

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Those delicious but phony quotes ‘that refuse to die’

In Cinematic treatments, Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Murrow-McCarthy myth, Spanish-American War, Washington Post, Watergate myth on June 25, 2011 at 10:31 am

Craig Silverman, author of Regret the Error, posted an intriguing column yesterday about appealing but dubious quotations that journalists seem especially prone to cite, noting that such famous lines “often turn out to be manufactured or inexact representations.”

It’s an important reminder, given the endless popularity of quotations that are neat, tidy, and irresistibly delicious. As I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, “Turns of phrase that sound too neat and tidy often are too perfect to be true.”

Plouffe: Not so 'queasy'?

Silverman’s column, titled “Misquotes that refuse to die,” was centered around a comment attributed in 2009 to David Plouffe, Barrack Obama’s campaign manager in 2008.

Plouffe supposedly said he felt a bit “queasy” about the prospect of Obama’s facing Jon Huntsman, the Republican former Utah governor, in the presidential election in 2012.

“Plouffe never said it,” Silverman wrote, describing how the queasy line took on life of its own.

Journalists can be particularly susceptible to such succinct “little gems,” as Silverman put it, because the gems are so effective in making a point or in distilling complexity.

Silverman’s column noted two famous, dubious quotes that I dismantle in Getting It Wrong.

One of them is the comment misattributed to President Lyndon Johnson who,  in reaction to Walter Cronkite’s on-air assessment that the war in Vietnam was “mired in stalemate,” supposedly said:

“If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”

Or something to that effect.

Versions as to what Johnson supposedly said vary quite a lot — which can be a marker of a media myth. I also point out in Getting It Wrong that Johnson did not see the Cronkite report when it aired on CBS on February 27, 1968.

The other dubious quote discussed in Getting It Wrong and mentioned by Silverman is William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain.

Reasons for doubting the Hearstian vow are many, I write, and include the fact that the telegram in which Hearst supposedly made the statement has never turned up. Plus, Hearst denied making such a vow.

A number of other famous and delicious quotes favored by journalists likewise have proven to be false, made-up, or of mythical dimension; among them:

  • Too early to say.” It’s often said that Chinese premier Zhou Enlai offered the observation in 1972, as sage, far-sighted analysis about the effects of the French Revolution of 1789. But according to a retired American diplomat, Charles W.  (Chas) Freeman Jr., Zhou’s comment, which came during President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in February 1972, was about political turmoil in France in 1968. “I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment, except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype” about Chinese leaders taking an exceptionally long and patient view of history, Freeman said recently. Freeman was Nixon’s interpreter on the trip.

So what to do about these delicious but dubious and phony quotations?

Keep pounding away at them, calling them out for what they are, whenever they appear. That’s the only effective way of debunking.

But even then, thorough and utter debunking can be rare.

WJC

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