The content of the purported exchange -- in particular, Hearst's supposed vow to "furnish the war" -- bears little correlation to events in Cuba at the time, or to coverage of those events by New York newspapers. It simply would have been incongruous for Hearst to have promised to "furnish" a war because he knew quite well that war had been waged in Cuba since early 1895. Indeed, the ongoing war was the very reason Hearst sent Remington and Davis to Cuba. The war also commanded the attention of Congress in late 1896. As Remington and Davis prepared to go to Cuba, the U.S. Senate was considering a resolution encouraging the lame duck Cleveland Administration to "use its friendly offices with the government of Spain to bring to a close the war between Spain and Cuba." 32
Moreover, the Journal and its rival newspapers in New York City routinely described the Cuban insurgency as a "war" and they gave prominence to reports about the fighting, low intensity though it often was.33 When Remington returned from Cuba, for example, the Journal reported that he had brought "from the scene of the war . . . a sketch book full of illustrations of characters, scenes and incidents, which are making the insurrection on the island so interesting to Americans."34
The New York Sun in early 1897 referred often to an ongoing "war of extermination"35 in Cuba. Like the Journal, the Sun assailed Weyler as a "Spanish savage" who "has made the island a place of slaughter . . . . The story of his deeds is such a one as mankind has not before heard for generations."36 The New York Tribune invoked similarities between the Cuban insurrection and the American Revolution,37 a not uncommon theme at the time. Even the New York Herald, a voice advocating diplomatic resolution to the Cuban insurrection, referred in January 1897 to the "destructive conflict in which neither side is able to vanquish the other by force."38
Davis was under no illusions, either, about the situation in Cuba."There is war here and no mistake," he wrote in a letter from Cuba in mid-January 1897, describing Weyler's reconcentration policy, "and all the people in the field have been ordered in to the fortified towns where they are starving and dying of disease[.]"39 Davis later compiled his dispatches from Cuba in a volume published late in 1897. The book was illustrated by Remington's sketches and was titled Cuba In War Time.40
Content of telegrams is at odds with Journal editorials
Editorials in Hearst's Journal in early 1897 expressed and reiterated the view that the Cuban rebels would ultimately defeat Spain in Cuba. At the time, the Journal's editorials about Cuba were not bellicose; the newspaper was not campaigning for U.S. military intervention to end the conflict.41 Rather, the editorials reflected a view that Spain was unable to sustain much longer its war effort in Cuba. As such, Hearst's purported reply to Remington -- "I'll furnish the war" -- is inconsistent with the editorial stance of his newspaper.
Moreover, the Journal's editorial position vis-ˆ-vis Cuba in January 1897 was clearly based on, and influenced by, Creelman's reporting from Madrid. Notably, on 4 January 1897, the Journal assessed "the state of Spain" in an editorial and declared that the "news furnished by the Journal's special commissioner to Madrid demonstrates that Spain is hardly able to prolong much longer the struggle with its lost colony, to say nothing of undertaking to give battle to a nation vastly its superior." The editorial added: "Not even the rigidness of Weyler's censorship at Havana has prevented the news of his complete failure from reaching the mother country."42
At the end of January, a Journal editorial said the rebels needed only to persevere to prevail: "They must now know that it is but a little more battle and struggle to win, even without the help of the great Republic where dearth of action matched verbal exuberance of sympathy. . . . Whatever disposition Spain may now display, it will be belated wisdom. She has practically already lost her magnificent colony. . . . Cuba Libre will speedily cease to be a mirage if the Cubans continue loyal to their own honor and duty, and that but a little longer."43
Censors would have been unlikely to clear the telegrams
It is improbable that Spanish censors in Havana -- the bane of American correspondents reporting about the insurgency -- would have cleared the Remington-Hearst exchange.44 A Journal correspondent sent to Cuba in 1896 later described how his counterparts were "broken-hearted" to find "how ruthlessly [their] stories had been slaughtered" by the censors in Havana.45 The U.S. consul-general in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, wrote in February 1897 that the "Spanish censor permits nothing to go out except formally to Spain and whenever you see a dispatch in newspapers dated Habana it is shaped to pass the censor."46 Indeed, censorship in Cuba was "so strict that even routine dispatches had to be smuggled out of the country by boat and filed from Florida."47 Correspondents also sent reports from Cuba through the consul-general's diplomatic pouch.48
The prospect of severe censorship was precisely why Remington and Davis planned to enter Cuba illicitly, to be infiltrated by Hearst's Vamoose49 ; as Davis noted in letters to his mother and his family, the plan was that the yacht would retrieve Davis' reports from Cuba and take them to Key West, thus avoiding the censors in Havana.
Even if the censors had cleared the purported Remington-Hearst exchange,50 the Spanish captain general in Cuba -- regularly assailed in the Journal and other New York newspapers as "the butcher" Weyler51 -- surely would have seized on the telegrams as evidence of flagrant meddling. A vow from a leading American newspaper publisher to "furnish the war" certainly would not have been a message that Weyler would have ignored -- especially in light of the hospitality he had extended Remington and Davis in Havana. The general, in fact, could have been expected to exploit Hearst's message for its obvious propaganda value to the beleaguered Spanish war effort.
Intercepting and publicizing the telegrams undoubtedly would have helped Weyler justify his policy of expelling or jailing American reporters who communicated with, or spent time among, the insurgent forces.52
Indeed, as early as the first months of the Cuban revolt in 1895, a Cuban-born American correspondent for the New York World was jailed briefly on charges of aiding the rebels.53 A Journal reporter, Charles Michelson, was arrested in western Cuba and jailed for ten days in 1896.54 A few weeks after Remington and Davis arrived in Cuba, Sylvester Scovel of the World, who had spent time in January with the insurgents, was arrested on charges that included traveling without a military pass and communicating with the enemy.55 Scovel was released after about a month in jail -- and after the World campaigned vigorously for his freedom.56
So the risks facing American correspondents covering the war in Cuba were well-known. Hearst, by planning to use the Vamoose to take Remington and Davis to Cuba, had seized upon a way of skirting Weyler's restrictions on news-gathering. His sending a sensitive and combative message into the teeth of rigorous Spanish censorship would therefore have been inconsistent, reckless, and quite likely dangerous for his correspondents.