1897 American journalism’s exceptional year Journalism History 29, (4) Winter 2004

‘Wonderfully able & attractive’

Schudson’s dichotomy, moreover, fails to recognize the ascendancy of the New York Journa, which in 1897 became America’s most compelling newspaper. Even Pulitzer conceded its exceptionality. Invoking “Geranium,” his code name for the Journal, Pulitzer told the World’s business manager, Don C. Seitz, in a letter in December 1897: “I personally think Geranium a wonderfully able & attractive and popular paper, perhaps the ablest in the one vital sense, of managing to be talked about; of attracting attention; of constantly furnishing something which will compel people wherever they meet, whether in the drawing room, or in the poor house, elevated car or dinner table, to talk about something in that paper. That is the sort of brains the World needs. Pardon me for saying also, that with all its faults, which I should not like to copy—though they have been exaggerated—it is a newspaper.”120


It was a surprising acknowledgement by Pulitzer, who usually was dismissive in characterizing the Journal. Yet his argument was unassailable: The Journal had become the country’s boldest, most energetic, most-talked-about newspaper. Its impressive string of successes in 1897 began in the spring with coverage of the brief war between Greece and Turkey war for control of Crete. The Journal offered what it termed “a veritable kinetoscope picture of the scene of war,” publishing reports from no fewer than a dozen correspondents121—including two women122 and Stephen Crane, author of Red Badge of Courage.123 In June 1897, the Journal arranged for Mark Twain to report from London on Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee.124 The association with Twain allowed the Journal to puncture rumors about the writer’s supposedly failing health and to publish his famous though often-distorted comment: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”125


The Journal’s crowded year was not without embarrassing lapses, such as the newspaper’s erroneous, graphically illustrated report in February 1897 about the strip-search of a Cuban woman aboard U.S. passenger steamer. 126 The article was written by Richard Harding Davis, who reported that Spanish authorities boarded the steamer, the Olivette , as it prepared to leave Havana and searched several passengers for contraband. Among the passengers was a young Cuban woman named Clemencia Arango, whose brother was a leader in the insurgency against Spanish rule.127 Davis’ article was ambiguous about who had conducted the search, but an accompanying illustration by the Frederic Remington depicted leering, male detectives clustered around a naked woman.128

The World punctured the Journal’s sensational report, quoting Arango as denying that men had strip-searched her. That task, she said, had fallen to a matron, or “inspectress.”129 Davis, in a letter to the World, blamed Remington for having drawn “an imaginary picture” and insisted his dispatch had not said that men had conducted the search.130 In any event, the discredited the strip-search story underscored for critics a sense that the Journal was unreliable and prone to publishing “fakes” and other thinly documented reports.



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120. Joseph Pulitzer, letter to Don C. Seitz, Dec. 23, 1897, Pulitzer papers, Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Washington, D.C. Emphasis in the original.

121. See “The Journal’s War Correspondence,” New York Journal, April 30, 1897. Some correspondents evidently were local residents who filed only occasionally. Even so, the lengths to which the Journal covered the Greece-Turkey conflict anticipated the intensity of its reporting from Cuba during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

122. One of the female correspondents was Stephen Crane’s companion, Cora Howorth Stewart, who wrote under the byline “Imogene Carter.” See Michael Robertson, Stephen Crane, Journalism, and the Making of Modern American Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), 142.

123. One of Crane’s dispatches, critical of the Greeks, was published under the headline, “The Blue Badge of Cowardice.” See Stephen Crane, “The Blue Badge of Cowardice,” New York Journal, May 12, 1897.

124. Mark Twain, “The Great Jubilee As Described by the Journal’s Special Writers,” New York Journal, June 23, 1897. Other bylines from London on the Journal’s front page that day included those of Julian Ralph, Frank Marshall White, and the drama critic Alan Dale.

125. Frank Marshall White, “Mark Twain Amused,” New York Journal, June 2, 1897. See also, Louis J. Budd, “Color Him Curious About Yellow Journalism: Mark Twain and the New York City Press,” Journal of Popular Culture 15 (1981): 32.

126. Richard Harding Davis, “Does Our Flag Shield Women?” New York Journal, Feb. 12, 1897. Davis’ report was mistaken in doubting Spain’s authority to conduct searches of U.S.-flagged vessels in Havana harbor.

127. “Tale of a Fair Exile: Senorita Arango’s Own Story of the Olivette ‘Search Outrage,’” New York World, Feb. 15, 1897.

128. Remington drew the illustration based on Davis’ report, which was ambiguous about whether male detectives were present during the search. The illustration appeared on page 2 of the New York Journal on Feb. 12, 1897.

129. “Tale of a Fair Exile,” Feb. 15, 1897. Arango stated in the World’s report that she had not been “ill-treated, except [for] the humiliation of being stripped by a strange woman.” Arango was unequivocal in saying that “no men were admitted into the rooms nor could they have seen into them.”

130. Richard Harding Davis, “Mr. Davis Explains: The ‘Olivette Search Outrage’ Is Now Made Clear,” New York World , Feb. 17, 1897.