Not likely sent: The Remington-Hearst "telegrams" Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2000
Content of telegrams is at odds with conditions in Cuba


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.

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32 "The Cameron Cuban Resolution," Public Opinion 21, 26 (24 December 1896), 1.
33 Murat Halstead, a venerable newspaper editor who had traveled to Cuba for Hearst's Journal in 1896, wrote in 1897: "The Cubans are as thoroughly in a state of revolt against Spain as the Virginians were in the height of the war of the early sixties against our federal government." See Halstead, The Story of Cuba: Her Struggles for Liberty, the Cause, Crisis and Destiny of the Pearl of the Antilles, 5th ed. (Chicago: Henry Publishing Co., 1897), 457.
34 "Cuban War Illustrated by Frederic Remington," New York Journal (24 January 1897): 1.
35 See "A War of Extermination," New York Sun (8 January 1897): 1; "War of Extermination," New York Sun (12 January 1897): 1; "War of Extermination," New York Sun (21 April 1897): 1.
36 "Two Reports from Western Cuba," New York Sun (29 December 1896): 6.
37 "'No Surrender' in Cuba," New York Tribune (17 January 1897): 6. Comparisons between the Cuban war and the American Revolution were often invoked in the New York press. The Sun, for example, described the Cuban insurgents as "not less determined than were the long-enduring Americans in the days of Washington." See "The Unequalling Patriots of Cuba," New York Sun (6 May 1897): 6.
38 "The Cuban Problem To Be Solved by Statesmanship, Not Force of Arms," New York Herald (27 January 1897): 8.
39 Davis, letter to Rebecca Harding Davis, 15 January 1897; Alderman Library, Davis Collection.
40 Davis, Cuba In War Time (New York: R. H. Russell, 1897). Davis, 13, describes Cuba as being "divided into two military camps, one situated within forts, and the other scattered over the fields and mountains outside of them." A publisher's note says that Remington's illustrations were "here reproduced through the courtesy of Mr. W. R. Hearst."
41 One editorial published in January 1897 can perhaps be described as faintly bellicose. It stated in part: "Americans everywhere É have long since reached the conclusion that it is our duty to intervene between the butchers and their victims, and have long regarded that duty as a privilege to be eagerly longed for and joyfully taken at the first opportunity." See "Evidence in Support of Sulzer," New York Journal (10 January 1897). The following day, however, the Journal returned to the theme that Spain was unlikely to hold out in Cuba. It stated in an editorial discussing reports that Madrid was prepared to offer autonomy to the insurgents: "The fact that Spain is willing to grant so much is sufficient indication that she is no longer in condition to retain anything. The Cubans should hold out for complete independence and admitted sovereignty." See "Some Late Cuban News," New York Journal (11 January 1897): 8. The insurgents consistently rejected Spanish offers of autonomy, insisting instead on outright political independence.
42 "The State of Spain," New York Journal (4 January 1897): 6. Creelman had reported: "The most thoughtful men in Spain today say that Cuba is lost to the monarchy, and that [President] Cleveland and [Secretary of State Richard] Olney are simply prolonging a cruel and disastrous struggle. But for their pride they would be glad to see the end come at once. It is impossible to talk with representative Spaniards without realizing this fact." Creelman, "Cleveland Strikes Cuba A Secret Blow," (1 January 1987): 1.
43 "Belated Wisdom of Spain," New York Journal (31 January 1897): 38.
44 John K. Winkler made this point in his biography of Hearst, W. R. Hearst: An American Phenomenon (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1928), 144. Mott, however, rejected Winkler's view as "absurd," but neither elaborated on nor explained his dismissive characterization. See Mott, American Journalism: A History, fn 12, 529.
45 Murrat Halstead, "Our Cuban Neighbors and Their Struggle for Liberty," Review of Reviews 13, 4 (April 1896): 424. The rigors of Spanish censorship were cited from time to time by the trade journal Fourth Estate. The publication suggested in February 1897 that censorship in Havana was the fundamental explanation for exaggerated reports about Cuba published in the U.S. press. See "The Press and War," Fourth Estate (18 February 1897): 6, and "War and Prize Fighting," Fourth Estate (15 April 1897): 6. For a discussion about erroneous and exaggerated reporting during the first two years of the Cuban insurrection, see George Bronson Rea, Facts and Fakes about Cuba (New York: G. Munro's Sons, 1897).
46 Fitzhugh Lee to Secretary of State Richard Olney, 10 February 1897; Library of Congress, Olney Papers.
47 Milton, The Yellow Kids, 83.
48 See "War on Correspondents," Fourth Estate (20 May 1897): 2.
49 The intended use of the Vamoose was no secret. The Fourth Estate said in November 1896: "The New York Journal has planned a bold move to outwit the Spanish censor. William R. Hearst has chartered the steam yacht Vamoose, the fastest craft afloat in American waters. The Journal will carry its own dispatches from Havana to Key West. It will take the Vamoose but three hours to make the trip." See "The Journal's Bold Move," Fourth Estate (26 November 1896): 1.
50 Creelman himself knew that Spanish authorities in Cuba had little tolerance for correspondents who flouted the censors. He was expelled in 1896 after filing a report for the New York World about Spanish atrocities in Cuba -- a report he made a point of sharing with Weyler. Creelman, On the Great Highway, 167-169. See also Milton, Yellow Kids, 97.
51 Creelman described Weyler as "the most sinister figure of the nineteenth century" and "the most monstrous personality of modern times." Creelman, On the Great Highway, 158, 169.
52 Brown, Correspondents' War, 8.
53 Brown, Correspondents' War, 8.
54 Charles Michelson, The Ghost Talks (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1944), 86.
55 Brown, Correspondents' War, 85.
56 Brown, Correspondents' War, 86-87. See also, "The Imprisoned Newspaper Correspondent," Fourth Estate (4 March 1897): 2, and "Potentiality of President and the Press," Fourth Estate (18 March 1897): 7.