W. Joseph Campbell

Read Chapter One: ‘Furnish the war’

In Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on April 23, 2010 at 10:07 am

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.”

Getting It Wrong will be out this summer. It is set in a Sabon typeface, which is quite handsome.


  1. […] anecdote is revisited, and dismantled, in the first chapter of Getting It […]

  2. […] Getting It Wrong will be published this summer by University of California Press. Chapter One may be read here. […]

  3. […] I discuss in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 media-driven myths, the reasons for doubting the […]

  4. […] A in the lineup of evidence that supposedly fingers Hearst as a war-monger is his own vow to “furnish the war” with […]

  5. […] also suggested then that the famous vow attributed to William Randolph Hearst–”You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war“–may be more famous in journalism than “Yes, […]

  6. […] tidy often are too perfect to be true.” William Randolph Hearst’s pithy vow to “furnish the war” with Spain is a particularly telling […]

  7. […] 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 […]

  8. […] 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. […]

  9. […] Atlantic correspondent James Fallows invokes the mythical tale about William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late […]

  10. […] the war” with Spain in the late 19th century is a zombie-like bogus quote: Despite thorough and repeated debunking, it never […]

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