W. Joseph Campbell

Archive for the ‘Furnish the war’ Category

‘Not Likely Sent’ article about Hearst’s ‘vow’ a top 50 selection in AEJMC flagship journal

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Newspapers, Quotes, Spanish-American War, Yellow Journalism on August 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm

AEJMC, the journalism educators organization, announced yesterday the 50 top articles to have appeared in its flagship journal — and among the selections was “Not Likely Sent,” my 2000 myth-busting study about William Randolph Hearst and his purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain.

Hearst

“Not Likely Sent” was published in the summer 2000 issue of the peer-reviewed Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly.

The article challenged as implausible the often-retold anecdote about Hearst’s supposed exchange of telegrams with the artist Frederic Remington, in which Hearst is said to have declared:

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

Remington at the time of purported exchange was in Cuba, on assignment for Hearst’s New York Journal. Remington spent six days on the island in January 1897, preparing sketches to illustrate aspects of the Cuban insurrection against Spain’s colonial rule.

Among the reasons for dismissing the famous anecdote — which has been invoked over the decades by scores of journalists and historians — is Hearst’s denial, and the implausibility of the supposed exchange.

That is, Spanish censors who controlled all incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic surely would have intercepted and called attention to Hearst’s message to Remington, had it been sent.

I also pointed out in “Not Likely Sent” that Hearst’s supposed vow ran counter “to the Journals editorial positions in January 1897. The newspaper in editorials at the time expected the collapse of the Spanish war effort and resulting independence for Cuban insurgents. The Journal was neither anticipating nor campaigning for U.S. military intervention to end the conflict.”

The Cuban rebellion, however, ground on and became a stalemate. In April 1898, the United States entered the conflict, principally to end a human rights disaster that was festering in Cuba.

The editor of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Daniel Riffe, said in a statement that selecting the journal’s top 50 articles was “a piece of research in itself.” The process included tapping the advice of his predecessors as editor, as well as consulting citation guides and Google Scholar.

“I finally assembled a list of 50 articles that I hope our members agree have been influential in our field,” Riffe said.

The top 50 articles were selected and announced as part of the centennial celebration of AEJMC — the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

Predecessor titles of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly were Journalism Quarterly and The Journalism Bulletin.

An elaboration of “Not Likely Sent” appeared as a chapter in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies. Separately, a chapter in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, described how Hearst’s purported vow came to be embedded in the lore of American journalism.

Despite the repeated debunkings, however, the anecdote about “furnish the war” lives on — a timeless, pithy, and easily recalled example of the news media at their supposed worst.

As I wrote in the article:

“The Remington-Hearst anecdote is indeed ‘a beautiful story,’ a succinct and delicious tale, one rich in hubris and in swaggering recklessness. It is, however, a story altogether dubious and misleading.

“It suggests a power that the press, including Hearst’s Journal, did not possess, that of propelling the country into a war that it did not want.”

WJC

Recent or related:

Renewing the Hearst-Remington association in a $200,000 grant

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Quotes, Spanish-American War on July 8, 2012 at 10:10 am

The most tenacious myth in American journalism tells of a purported exchange of telegrams in January 1897 between  newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and the artist Frederic Remington.

Remington

Supposedly, in answering Remington’s telegram, Hearst vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain, which broke out 15 months later, in April 1898.

Despite repeated efforts to debunk it, the tale about Hearst’s reckless vow lives on — a story just too delicious to be discarded.

So I found intriguing the news the other day that the Hearst Foundations — which Hearst set up in the 1940s — have agreed to a $200,000 grant to the Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, N.Y.

Most of the money, $150,000, is to put toward extensive restoration work on the museum’s main building, which dates to 1810. The remainder, $50,000, is for educational purposes, if matched by the museum before year’s end.

Hearst

The grant — the foundations’ second to the Remington museum since 2009 — represents a reminder and a renewal of sorts of the long ago Hearst-Remington association.

In early 1897, Remington and the writer Richard Harding Davis arrived in Cuba on assignment from Hearst’s New York Journal to cover the rebellion against Spanish colonial rule, the conflict that gave rise to the Spanish-American War.

It was a coup for the Journal to have lined up talent such as Remington and Davis, who were paid handsomely for what was to be a month-long assignment.

It was during that assignment when the purported exchange of the telegrams supposedly took place — an exchange described by neither Hearst nor Remington, but by James Creelman, a Hearst correspondent who was in Madrid at the time.

The tale of Hearst’s vow is almost surely apocryphal, for reasons I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong.

Among the reasons (typically overlooked) is that Hearst denied having sent such a message. Remington, apparently, never discussed the anecdote, which Creelman recounted, without documentation, in a memoir published in 1901.

Further reason for doubting the tale is that Spanish authorities controlled incoming and outgoing telegraphic traffic from Havana. They surely would have intercepted and called attention to Hearst’s incendiary message to Remington, had it been sent.

Additionally, the anecdote rests on irreconcilable illogic. As I write in Getting It Wrong, 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. By then, the Cuban rebellion had reached island-wide proportion and not a single province had been pacified by Spain’s armed forces.”

Hearst’s Journal gave prominent display to Remington’s sketches beginning in late January 1897, following the artist’s return to New York after a stay in Cuba of just six days.

The Journal gushed over Remington’s work, introducing his sketches with extravagant headlines such as:

“War Sketches Gathered in the Field by Frederic Remington; The Gifted Artist, Visiting Cuba Especially for the Journal, Describes with Pen and Pencil Characters That Are Making the War Famous and Infamous.”

Remington, though, grumbled that his work did not reproduce well in Hearst’s newspaper.

The artist returned to Cuba for Hearst in June 1898, to cover the Cuban campaign of the Spanish-American War. He did not distinguish himself.

Overweight and ailing, Remington suffered in the Cuban summer. He seldom was near the front and became what biographers Peggy and Harold Samuels termed “the chronicler of the battle’s rear.”

Remington died in 1909. The museum devoted to his work was established in Ogdensburg in 1923.

The museum’s executive director, Ed LaVarnway, said by phone yesterday that the Hearst Foundations’ grants to the museum weren’t made in recognition of the late 19th century association between Hearst and Remington.

But Hearst representatives knew about those connections and about the anecdote about the purported exchange of telegrams, he said.

Vital to securing the latest grant, LaVarnway noted, was Gilbert C. Maurer, a Hearst Foundations director and a benefactor of St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., Remington’s hometown. Canton is 18 miles from Ogdensburg.

He “was in the museum’s corner,” LaVarnway said of Maurer, formerly the chief operating officer of Hearst Corp., which William Randolph Hearst established 125 years ago.

WJC

Recent or related:

Those ‘warmongering’ papers of William Randolph Hearst

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War, Yellow Journalism on May 1, 2012 at 5:35 am

The first major engagement of the Spanish-American War took place 114 years ago today — in the Philippines, where U.S. warships attacked and destroyed a Spanish naval squadron in Manila Bay.

Warmonger?

The battle was a thoroughly unexpected development in a conflict fought over Spain’s harsh rule of Cuba, a conflict often but inaccurately blamed on the yellow press of William Randolph Hearst.

A commentary in the Tennessean newspaper took up that hoary myth the other day and added for good measure the apocryphal tale of Hearst’s having vowed to bring on the war.

The commentary said of Hearst:

“His most infamous manipulation was the warmongering his papers did in pushing the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. He sent artist Frederick Remington to Cuba to cover the native uprising against Spain. Remington reportedly cabled Hearst that there was no war in Cuba. Hearst responded, ‘You get me the pictures; I’ll get you the war.’ He was true to his word.”

No serious historian embraces the notion that Hearst’s newspapers were decisive or much of a factor at all in the U.S. declaration of war against Spain in April 1898. That is a simplistic explanation about a war that was fought largely on humanitarian grounds — those of ending Spain’s long and harsh rule of Cuba.

As often is the case when such mediacentric claims are advanced, the commentary in the Tennessean left wholly unaddressed the method or mechanism by which the content of Hearst’s newspapers — he published three in 1898 —  was transformed into military action.

Three was, in fact, no such mechanism.

As I pointed out in my 2001 book, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies, top officials in the administration of President William McKinley largely disregarded the content of the Hearst press. They certainly didn’t turn to it for policy guidance.

“If the yellow press did foment the war,” I wrote in Yellow Journalism, “researchers should be able to find some hint of, some reference to, that influence in the personal papers and the reminiscences of policymakers of the time.

“But neither the diary entries of Cabinet officers nor the contemporaneous private exchanges among American diplomats indicate that the yellow newspapers exerted any influence at all. When it was discussed within the McKinley administration, the yellow press was dismissed as a nuisance or scoffed at as a complicating factor.”

Advocates of the mediacentric interpretation of the Spanish-American War invariably cite — as the Tennessean did — the tale about Hearst’s vowing to furnish the war. It’s their Exhibit A.

While colorful, the tale of the purported Hearstian vow is a media-driven myth, one of the hardiest in American journalism.

It’s more than 110-years-old; during that time, no compelling evidence has ever emerged to support or document the tale.

Hearst denied making such a vow, which he purportedly sent in a telegram to Remington, an artist on assignment to Spanish-ruled Cuba in early 1897 for Hearst’s New York Journal.

The telegram to Remington has never surfaced. And Remington apparently never discussed the tale, which was first recounted in 1901, in a brief, unsourced passage in memoir by James Creelman, a blowhard journalist known for frequent exaggeration.

Creelman

Perhaps the most compelling reason for doubting Creelman’s undocumented account rests on an irreconcilable internal inconsistency.

As I write in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, 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.”

WJC

Recent and related:

James Fallows and ‘furnish the war’: Indulging in a media myth

In 1897, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on March 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

Young Hearst

In deploring “carefree talk” about pre-emptively bombing Iran’s nuclear installations, Atlantic correspondent James Fallows invokes the mythical tale about William Randolph Hearst’s vow to “furnish the war” with Spain in the late 1890s.

The “furnish the war” anecdote can be just too delicious to resist, as Fallows demonstrates in a rambling commentary posted yesterday at the Atlantic online site.

In it, Fallows writes that “only twice before in my memory, and maybe thrice in American history, has there been as much carefree talk about war and unprovoked strikes as we’ve had concerning Iran in recent months ….

“The twice in my experience were: during the runup to the invasion of Iraq in 2002, and in the ‘bomb ’em back to the stone age’ moments of the early Vietnam era.

“The time that even I don’t remember was the ‘you furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war’ yellow journalism drumbeat before the war with Spain in 1898. This is not good company for today’s fevered discussion to join.”

The line, “you furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war,” was attributed to Hearst more than 110 years ago. But as decades passed, no compelling evidence ever emerged to support or document the tale.

Indeed, it’s often overlooked that Hearst denied making such vow, which he purportedly included in a telegram to the artist Frederic Remington, who was on assignment to Spanish-ruled Cuba in early 1897 for Hearst’s New York Journal.

The telegram to Remington has never surfaced. And Remington apparently never discussed the anecdote, which was recounted first in 1901, in a brief passage in memoir by James Creelman, a blowhard journalist known for frequent exaggeration.

Creelman did not explain how he learned of the “furnish the war” tale which, as I describe in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, is almost surely apocryphal.

Not only does story live on despite the absence of supporting documentation; it lives on despite an irreconcilable internal inconsistency.

That is, it would have been absurd 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.

Cuba in early 1897 was the theater of a nasty war. By then, Spain had dispatched nearly 200,000 troops in a failed attempt to put down the rebellion, which gave rise in 1898 to the Spanish-American War.

Spanish authorities controlled and censured international cable traffic to and from Cuba. They surely would have intercepted — and called attention to — Hearst’s bellicose message, had it been sent. There is little chance the cable would have moved unimpeded from Hearst in New York to Remington in Cuba.

But despite the compelling evidence arrayed against it, the vow attributed to Hearst lives on, and on.

That’s because it has, as I write in Getting It Wrong, “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.”

Which is what Fallows does.

WJC

Recent and related:

Sketches published 115 years ago undercut a tenacious media myth

In 1897, Anniversaries, Debunking, Furnish the war, Media myths, Spanish-American War on January 24, 2012 at 5:25 am

On assignment for Hearst

The artist Frederic Remington was back from Havana just a few days when on January 24, 1897, William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal began publishing his sketches of the Cuban rebellion against Spanish colonial rule.

Remington later confided that he didn’t think much of the Journal’s reproduction techniques. But the newspaper played up Remington’s artwork, publishing them beneath an extravagant headline that read:

“Cuban War Sketches Gathered in the Field by Frederic Remington; The Gifted Artist, Visiting Cuba Especially for the Journal, Describes with Pen and Pencil Characters That Are Making the War Famous and Infamous.”

The prominent display given the sketches, and the Journal’s flattering references to the artist, serve to undercut a tenacious and prominent media-driven myth, an anecdote that ranks as one of the most popular in American journalism.

And that is the hoary tale that Hearst, in a telegraphic exchange with Remington, vowed to “furnish the war” with Spain.

As I discuss in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, the exchange, if it happened, would have occurred on or about January 17, 1897, when Remington was preparing to leave Cuba and return to New York.

Hearst had sent Remington and the correspondent Richard Harding Davis to Cuba to report on the rebellion against Spanish rule, a vicious conflict that gave rise in 1898 to the Spanish-American War.

Remington and Davis didn’t get along and parted ways after only a few days in Cuba. According to legend, Remington before leaving sent a cable to Hearst that said:

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

In reply, Hearst supposedly told Remington:

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

Remington left anyway, taking the passenger steamer Seneca to New York, arriving January 21, 1897. His Cuba sketches began appearing in the Journal 115 years ago today.

So how do those sketches help debunk the tale about Hearst’s vow “furnish the war”?

As I discuss in Getting It Wrong, the sketches “depict unmistakable (if unremarkable) scenes of a rebellion — a scouting party of Spanish cavalry with rifles at the ready; a cluster of Cuban non-combatants trussed and bound and being herded into Spanish lines; a scruffy Cuban rebel kneeling to fire at a small Spanish fort; a knot of Spanish soldiers dressing a comrade’s leg wound.”

Their subject matter effectively disputes the notion that Remington had found “everything … quiet” in Cuba.

Remington, 'gifted artist'

That the sketches were accompanied by glowing references to Remington as a “gifted artist” indicates that Hearst was not angry with Remington as he surely would have been had the artist left Cuba after being told “please remain.”

Indeed, it is difficult to believe Hearst would have been so generous in his compliments and ordered such prominent display of Remington’s work had the artist in fact disregarded Hearst’s instructions to stay in Cuba.

“Far from being irritated and displeased with Remington,” I write in Getting It Wrong, “Hearst was delighted with his work. He recalled years later that Remington and Richard Harding Davis, the celebrated writer who traveled to Cuba with the artist, ‘did their work admirably and aroused much indignation among Americans’ about Spanish rule of the island.”

The sole source of the “furnish the war” anecdote was James Creelman, who in January 1897 was neither with Hearst in New York nor with Remington in Cuba. Creelman then was in Spain, as the Journal’s “special commissioner,” or correspondent, on the Continent.

Creelman incorporated the anecdote about the Remington-Hearst exchange in a book of reminiscences, On the Great Highway, which was published in 1901. Creelman, a blustery, cigar-chomping egotist, did not say how he learned about the purported Remington-Hearst exchange, which he presumes to quote verbatim.

Hearst denied ever having sent such a message. Remington apparently never spoke about the supposed exchange.

The display Remington’s sketches received in Hearst’s Journal, and the newspaper’s compliments about the artist, are two of several compelling reasons for doubting the anecdote and treating it as a media myth.

Another reason is that the telegrams Remington and Hearst supposedly sent have never turned up.

The anecdote, moreover, is illogical on its face: It would have made no sense for Hearst to have vowed to “furnish the war” because war — the rebellion against Spanish rule — was the reason he sent Remington to Cuba in the first place.

WJC

Recent and related:

A thumbsucker commentary and the Zhou misinterpretation

In Cronkite Moment, Debunking, Furnish the war on December 2, 2011 at 12:49 am

A thumbsucker is what some American journalists call a self-indulgent article or commentary that tends to go on and on, usually about an obscure or time-worn topic.

At its online site yesterday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper posted a thumbsucker that ruminated about the close of historical periods, offering observations such as this:

“Bloodied soldiers didn’t stand around on the battlefield at Bosworth and immediately reflect that, though it had been a hard-fought day, at least the later Middle Ages had now ended.”

Obscure, perhaps, but not altogether uninteresting.

But what caught the eye of Media Myth Alert was the reference to the conventional but erroneous version of Zhou Enlai’s famous and often-quoted comment in 1972, that it was “too early” to assess the implications of the French Revolution.

That version is frequently offered as evidence of China’s sage, patient, and far-sighted ways. That’s rather how the Guardian thumbsucker-commentary referred to it, saying:

“If, as Zhou Enlai said, it is too soon to have a view of the French Revolution, then it is probably too soon to say if the [governing] coalition [in Britain] is a failed government.”

But Zhou was not referring to the French Revolution that began in 1789.

He was speaking about the political turmoil in France of 1968.

We know this from a retired U.S. diplomat, Charles W.  (Chas) Freeman Jr., who was present when Zhou made the comment during President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972.

Freeman, who was Nixon’s interpreter during the historic, weeklong trip, offered the revised interpretation almost six months ago at a panel discussion in Washington.  The discussion’s moderator was Richard McGregor, a journalist and China expert who wrote about Freeman’s comments for the Financial Times of London.

In a subsequent interview with me, Freeman elaborated on his recollection about Zhou’s comment, saying it probably was made over lunch or dinner, during a conversation about revolutions that had succeeded and failed. The discussion, Freeman said, touched on the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Hungarian uprising of 1956, both of which the Soviet Union crushed.

Freeman said it was “absolutely clear” from the context of the discussion that Zhou was speaking about 1968.

Just how Zhou’s remark came to be so dramatically misinterpreted, Freeman was unable to say.

“I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts,” Freeman said. “It was what people wanted to hear and believe, so it took” hold.

Stereotyping is but one hazard of dubious quotes like Zhou’s.

Dubious and misinterpreted quotes tend to are falsehoods masquerading as the truth — as suggested by the delicious but apocryphal tale about William Randolph Hearst and his purported vow to “furnish the war” with Spain at the end of the 19th century.

Dubious quotes also dishonor their purported authors — as in the comment often attributed to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Upon hearing newsman Walter Cronkite’s downbeat assessment about the war in Vietnam, Johnson supposedly said:

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

Or something to that effect.

But as I note in my latest book, Getting It Wrong, there’s no persuasive evidence that Johnson ever made such a comment.

Besides, he didn’t see Cronkite’s report about Vietnam when it aired in late February 1968.

So it’s very difficult to believe the president could have been much moved by a show he didn’t see.

Or that he would have uttered such a comment, if he had seen the program.

WJC

Recent and related:

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

Recent and related:

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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