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“You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war:” Revisiting the War of 1898

In his book On the Great Highway: The Wanderings and Adventures of a Special

Correspondent, James Creelman wrote:

Some time before the destruction of the battleship Maine in the harbor of Havana, the New York Journal sent Frederic Remington, the distinguished artist, to Cuba. He was instructed to remainthere until the war began; for “yellow journalism” had an eye for the future.

Presently Mr. Remington sent this telegram from Havana:—

“W.R. Hearst, New York Journal, N.Y.:
“Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.

“Remington.”This was the reply:—

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


The proprietor of the Journal was true to his word, and to-day the gilded arms of Spain, torn from the front of the palace in Santiago de Cuba, hang in his office in Printing House Square, a lump of melted silver, taken from the smoking deck of the shattered Spanish flagship, serves as his paper weight, and the bullet-pierced headquarters flag of the Eastern army of Cuba—gratefully presented to him in the field by General Garcia—adorns his wall.

By the time he wrote the book, Creelman had been a correspondent for the New YorkJournal and the San Francisco Examiner for half a decade. He was by then William RandolphHearst’s most dependable, most trustworthy, most trusted reporter.

Creelman’s subjects in this excerpt—Hearst and Remington—were prominent public men of the day. There is no reason to doubt that he reported the anecdote as Hearst had related it to him. But, like other true stories, it might have improved with age as Hearst retold it.

(Hearst might have cadged his “furnish . . . pictures/furnish . . . war” couplet. Referring to a different conflict brewing afar, the August 31, 1897, Evening Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, had quipped: “If the Ameer of Afghanistan proclaims a holy war, he will find that hewill furnish the war and that British bullets will furnish the holies.”)

Unless fresh documentation turns up in the future, there’s no way to know whether theclause that claimed Remington “was instructed to remain there until the war began” representedCreelman’s mistaken presumption or Hearst’s rhetorical flourish. Either way, it conflated or exaggerated Hearst’s assignment to Remington, but not implausibly in the context of the time. Hearst might have asked Remington to stay longer than the previously agreed term because his reporter and illustrator had failed to rendezvous with Cuban insurgents as originally planned.

Creelman’s book was published in October 1901. In interviews published three months earlier he had included the story about Hearst’s telegram to Remington. His publisher’s advance publicity alluded to it.

Several of the book’s mostly positive reviewers quoted parts of the passage or mentioned it. A long November 24 review by Max O’Rell (Léon Paul Blouet) in Hearst’s Examiner did not refer to it specifically, but concluded, “I took the book and never laid it aside until I had finished it. In my mind it is a book to be read and re-read, a book to keep in the library; truthful, manly, thrilling, instructive, and, above all—what a book of this sort should be—honest.”

No contemporaneous reports that I have read raised doubts about Creelman’s veracity, though some poked fun at his vanity. Yet in recent years a small but stubborn cohort of critics has condemned his account of the Remington-Hearst exchange as a fabrication, and has maligned writers who told the story straight. My objective here is to retrieve the kernel of truth from the chaff of denialist deception, mischief, and misdirection.

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