One hundred years ago this fall, a then-prominent journalist named James
Creelman published a book of reminiscences called "On the Great Highway:
The Wanderings and Adventures of a Special Correspondent." It was a
self-congratulatory work replete with undocumented passages--one of
which was to become perhaps the best-known anecdote in American
The anecdote was about artist Frederic Remington and his assignment
to Cuba for William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. Remington and
Richard Harding Davis went to Cuba in January 1897 to cover the uprising
against Spanish colonial rule, an insurrection that ultimately gave rise
to the Spanish-American War.
According to Creelman's account, Remington soon wanted to return home
and sent Hearst a telegram from Havana, saying: "Everything is quiet.
There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return."
Hearst supposedly replied: "Please remain. You furnish the pictures,
and I'll furnish the war."
Because it so neatly captures conceit, arrogance and journalistic
power, the anecdote has proved timeless. It has appeared in scores of
books about journalism. It has been taught in innumerable high school
and college classrooms.
But the exchange almost certainly is apocryphal.
Reasons for doubting Creelman's anecdote are many. They go beyond
Hearst's denial, made in 1907 and repeated in the autobiography of one
of his sons. They go beyond the fact that the telegrams Creelman
described have never surfaced.
• Creelman wasn't in Cuba at the time of the purported exchange; he was
in Europe, reporting for the Journal. He could only have received the
• The contents of the purported telegrams are contradicted by the
islandwide rebellion in Cuba in 1897. The Cuban insurrection, begun in
1895, had forced Spain to send 200,000 soldiers to the island.
• Hearst's supposed pledge to "furnish the war" is at odds with his
newspaper's editorial stance in January 1897, which anticipated the
imminent collapse of the Spanish war effort. Spain, the Journal said,
"has practically already lost her magnificent colony." The Journal was
not urging U.S. military intervention in Cuba.
• It is improbable that the telegraphic exchange Creelman described
would have cleared the strict Spanish censors in Havana.
• Despite Hearst's purported instruction to remain, Remington left
Havana in mid-January 1897. Upon his return, the Journal prominently
displayed Remington's Cuban sketches across its pages--not the kind of
treatment that Hearst likely would have shown a disobedient
Creelman, moreover, misrepresented the terms of Remington's
assignment to Cuba. He wrote that it was open-ended, that the artist had
been "instructed to remain there until the war began." In truth,
Remington and Davis had agreed to go to Cuba for one month. Remington
ended up staying about a week. Davis--whom Creelman failed to mention as
having accompanied Remington--was in Cuba about a month.
Searches of Remington's papers produced no reference to his purported
exchange with Hearst. But the correspondence of Davis, the most
prominent American war reporter of the time, offers telling evidence
that the exchange never happened.
In one letter, Davis said Remington left because he had "all the
material he needs for sketches and for illustrating my stories." In a
more expansive letter, Davis said he asked Remington to leave because
Davis disliked "traveling in pairs."
So why does all this still matter?
Often and erroneously, the Spanish-American War has been termed "Mr.
Hearst's War." And Creelman's 100-year-old anecdote has served as
Exhibit A for that mistaken but undying belief. Debunking the anecdote
serves, moreover, as a cautionary reminder about stories that sound too
good to be true.
Edited by Jill Rosen