W. Joseph Campbell

‘Famously rumored’: Hearst and his reputed vow

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on July 22, 2010 at 9:26 am

Media-driven myths are propelled by many forces, among them the reality that the tales sometimes are just too good, too delicious, to check out.

Hearst's Evening Journal, April 1898

So it was with a commentary posted yesterday at the “Unleashed” blog of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The commentary invoked the well-known and often-repeated anecdote about William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain, stating:

“Hearst is famously rumored to have declared in writing to artist Frederic Remington: ‘I’ll furnish the war,’ referring, of course, to the Spanish-American War in 1898, henceforth referred to as ‘Mr Hearst’s War’….”

“Famously rumored,” eh? A flimsy construct, that, for making a point or building an argument.

It takes but a few minutes spent online to find evidence that the Hearstian vow is almost certainly a media-driven myth–a dubious, improbable tale masquerading as fact.

Chapter One in Getting It Wrong, my new book debunking 10 prominent media-driven myths, takes up and dismantles the Hearstian vow, and that chapter is readily accessible online.

Still, it’s clear that the anecdote’s simplistic directness have helped make it resistant to debunking. As I note in Getting It Wrong, media myths that can be reduced to a memorably pithy phrase are most likely to withstand debunking.

So it is with “furnish the war.”

The anecdote also is impressively flexible. It is useful, I write, “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.”

Even more impressive, perhaps, is that the anecdote endures despite the near-complete absence of supporting documentation.


“It lives on,” I write in Getting It Wrong, “even though the telegrams supposedly exchanged by Remington and Hearst have never turned up. It lives on even though Hearst denied ever sending such a message. It 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 that Cuba was a theater of a nasty war.”

Hearst assigned Remington to Cuba 15 months before the Spanish-American War broke out. In early 1897, no one, including Hearst, could have known the United States would take up arms against Spain over Cuba.



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  2. […] same holds for the purported vow of William Randolph Hearst to “furnish the war” with […]

  3. […] The “furnish-the-war” anecdote about Hearst is dubious in many respects, I said, adding: […]

  4. […] by applying a measure of skepticism to pithy, telling quotes such as [William Randolph] Hearst’s vow to ‘furnish the war‘ and even to euphonic phrases such as ‘bra […]

  5. […] vow such as Hearst’s to ‘furnish the war‘ surely would have been intercepted and publicized by Spanish authorities as a clear-cut […]

  6. […] too, is the presumed effect of the “Cronkite Moment” which, like the story about Hearst’s famous vow, is “succinct, savory, and easily remembered.”  It reputedly demonstrates the potency […]

  7. […] leading practitioner of yellow journalism, William Randolph Hearst, turned his newspapers into a platform for his mostly unfulfilled political objectives. He […]

  8. […] tale about William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century is an excellent example. It’s been around […]

  9. […] ‘Famously rumored’: Hearst and his reputed vow […]

  10. […] ‘Famously rumored’: Hearst and his reputed vow […]

  11. […] more, pledging to “furnish the war” would have made no sense, given the context. Hearst’s telegram was supposedly sent to […]

  12. […] 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. […]

  13. […] ‘Famously rumored’: Hearst and his reputed vow […]

  14. […] ‘Famously rumored’: Hearst and his reputed vow […]

  15. […] it may be beyond the Internet’s power ever  to dismantle. (See also, William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain; the supposed “Cronkite Moment” of 1968, […]

  16. […] quip. (It also sounds almost too perfect to be true — not unlike, say, William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain or Lyndon B. Johnson’s supposed epiphany on the […]

  17. […] of American journalism’s most persistent myths – William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish” or otherwise bring about war with Spain in the late 1890s — has made a fresh appearance, this time in remarks by radio […]

  18. […] the “light rinse” quip. It also sounds a bit too perfect — not unlike, say, William Randolph Hearst’s purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain or Lyndon B. Johnson’s supposed epiphany on the Vietnam War: […]

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