Not likely sent: The Remington-Hearst "telegrams" Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2000
Could the telegrams have been sent, nonetheless?


The preponderance of evidence is that the telegraphic exchange described by Creelman -- and repeated many times by journalists and media historians -- never took place. Even so, there may have been an opportunity for Remington to have communicated with Hearst by telegram, without Davis' knowledge.


Davis' correspondence indicates that he and Remington parted ways 15 January in Matanzas, east of Havana. The artist was escorted to Havana by an interpreter named Otto.76 Remington probably spent at least a day there before obtaining the required exit visa from Spanish authorities,77 time enough to send Hearst a message announcing he was on his way home -- and perhaps justifying his return with the excuse, "Everything is quiet. . . . There will be no war." Remington, under this scenario, may then have boarded the steamer from Havana without receiving or waiting for Hearst's reply. Davis, in Matanzas, would not have immediately known about the telegram.


But such a scenario is implausible, as it fails to explain why Spanish authorities declined to exploit the purported reply by Hearst. The scenario also fails to explain why and how Creelman, across the Atlantic, learned of such an exchange. If his sources were Spanish authorities in Madrid, why would they have shared the evidence of a Hearstian faux pas exclusively with Creelman, an apologist for Hearst? Why would they not have publicized such a prize? Why would they not have shared it with one of the many bitter newspaper rivals to Hearst and his Journal?


The far more plausible and persuasive explanation is that the purported exchange of telegrams never took place. The more plausible and persuasive explanation is that Remington, rather than finding "everything is quiet," grew impatient with a frustrating and physically demanding assignment that had been slow to unfold, and with a fellow correspondent, Davis, who could barely tolerate the artist's presence.


Lingering questions


Despite the preponderance of evidence, a few matters remain unresolved, including that of Remington's silence about the purported exchange. He appears to have said nothing about it, after Creelman's book appeared in 1901 and after the matter became the subject of a brief controversy in 1907.


So why did Remington not deny the exchange? Perhaps he wanted to avoid reminders of the assignment to Cuba, on which he said he "saw more hell . . . than I ever read about."78 The immediate aftermath of the trip proved controversial and embarrassing, because of Remington's wildly inaccurate and imaginative sketch of Spanish authorities conducting a strip-search of a young Cuban woman aboard an American passenger vessel, the Olivette. The sketch accompanied Davis' report about the search and was published in the Journal in February 1897,79 and quickly exposed as exaggerated.80 Perhaps by keeping a silence, Remington sought to avoid revisiting awkward issues that surrounded the trip to Cuba.81


Davis, on the other, would not likely have kept silent had he known about an exchange of telegrams. After all, the trip to Cuba had left Davis embittered and disgusted with Hearst. He blamed Hearst for failing to follow through on plans to infiltrate him and Remington into Cuba. He blamed Hearst for thwarting his plans to join the Cuban insurgents by publishing an erroneous report in mid-January 1897 that said Davis and Remington had linked up with the rebels. Davis complained about those lapses in a letter to his mother, writing: "Twice [Hearst] has prevented me from doing what I set out to do."82 Davis also tried to distance himself from Hearst's journalism, telling his mother in another letter: "I am not writing for the Journal, the Journal is printing what I write."83


More than four years later, Davis received from Creelman a copy of On the Great Highway. Davis promptly replied, thanking Creelman and praising the book as "entertaining" and "full of information."84 But Davis did not comment or raise questions about the chapter in which Creelman related the Remington-Hearst exchange.

Why wasn't Hearst more insistent in denying the purported exchange of telegrams? Perhaps it was because Creelman's account was meant not to be damning but flattering, to illustrate the power and effectiveness of yellow journalism. Creelman was expansive in defense of the genre, writing in On the Great Highway:

How little they know of "yellow journalism" who denounce it! How swift they are to condemn its shrieking headlines, its exaggerated pictures, its coarse buffoonery, its intrusions upon private life, and its occasional inaccuracies! But how slow they are to see the steadfast guardianship of public interests which it maintains! How blind to its unfearing warfare against rascality, its detection and prosecution of crime, its costly searchings for knowledge throughout the earth, its exposures of humbug, its endless funds for the quick relief of distress!85


The purported Remington-Hearst exchange, moreover, appears not to have been particularly important or newsworthy at the time: It was cited only infrequently in reviews 86 of On the Great Highway. The anecdote about the telegrams does not appear in obituaries about Creelman, who died in 1915.87 Indeed, the anecdote seems to have provoked almost no discussion or controversy until a correspondent for the Times of London mentioned it in a dispatch from New York in 1907. He wrote: "Is the Press of the United States going insane? . . . A letter from William Randolph Hearst is in existence and was printed in a magazine not long ago. It was to an artist he had sent to Cuba, and who reported no likelihood of war. —You provide the pictures,' he wrote, —I'll provide the war.'"88


Hearst, indignant about the report, replied in a letter to the Times. He described as "frankly false" and "ingeniously idiotic" the claim "that there was a letter in existence from Mr. W. R. Hearst in which Mr. Hearst said to a correspondent in Cuba: —You provide the pictures and I will provide the war,' and the intimation that Mr. Hearst was chiefly responsible for the Spanish war.


"This kind of clotted nonsense could only be generally circulated and generally believed in England, where newspapers claiming to be conservative and reliable are the most utterly untrustworthy of any on earth. In apology for these newspapers it may be said that their untrustworthiness is not always to intention but more frequently to ignorance and prejudice."89


It does not seem likely that Hearst tacitly permitted the legend of the telegrams to take hold and grow, as emblematic of his power and influence. Rather, the record suggests that Hearst rejected any credit for fomenting the Spanish-American War and pointedly blamed Spain instead. "Any informed and unprejudiced person knows that the one cause of the Spanish war was Spain, and that from the time of the blowing up of the Maine in Havana Harbour war was inevitable," he wrote in his letter to the Times of London in 1907.90 In a column written in 1940, Hearst asserted that it was the Maine's destruction that "precipitated the conflict" with Spain.91


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76Davis, letter to Rebecca Harding Davis, 16 January 1897; Alderman Library, Davis Collection. He wrote: "I got a grand lot of letters today which Otto my interpreter brought back from Havana after having conducted Remington there in safety."
77 See Davis, Cuba In War Time, 123. He wrote: "In order to leave Havana, it is first necessary to give notice of your wish to do so by sending your passport to the Captain General, who looks up your record, and, after twenty-four hours, if he is willing to let you go, visés your passport and so signifies that your request is granted."
78 See, Remington, letter to Bigelow, 28 January 1897, in Splete and Splete, Frederic Remington -- Selected Letters, 218.
79 Richard Harding Davis, "Does Our Flag Shield Women?" New York Journal (12 February 1897): 1-2. Remington's illustration depicting the strip-search appeared on page two.
80 See "Tale of a Fair Exile: Senorita Arango's Own Story of the Olivette 'Search Outrage,'" New York World (15 February 1897): 1
81 In their detailed biography of Remington, Peggy and Harold Samuels do not question whether Remington sent the telegram to Hearst. They repeat the anecdote. See Peggy and Harold Samuels, Frederic Remington: A Biography (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1982), 249. They also note, 248: "Remington had been paid for a month in Cuba, and the month was up."
82 Davis, letter to Rebecca Harding Davis, 24 January 1897; Alderman Library, Davis Collection.
83 Davis, letter to Rebecca Harding Davis, 20 January 1897; Alderman Library, Davis Collection.
84 Davis, letter to James Creelman, 18 November [1901]; Ohio State University library, Creelman Collection. The letter reads: "I have today received your volume of reminiscences and descriptions and I thank you for them most heartily. Already I have read most of them with great interest, and I find them most admirably selected, and entertaining, full of information, full of unconscious proofs of a life well spent in a profession that is it's [sic] own reward. I am very glad you thought well of putting these experiences into a book. They will help to stimulate and to encourage to a like energy and effort. I hope it will have the generous circulation it deserves. Thank you again for sending it [to] me . . . ."
85 Creelman, On the Great Highway, 177.
86 A review that did mention the purported exchange was "On the Great Highway," The Independent (27 February 1902): 516-517.
87 Scores of newspaper obituaries are among Creelman's papers at Ohio State University. None of those reviewed refer to the purported Remington-Hearst exchange.
88"The American Press," Times (London) (30 September 1907): 5. The magazine article mentioned may have been Creelman's profile about Hearst published in Pearson's in 1906.
89 Hearst, "Mr. W. R. Hearst on Anglo-American Relations," Times, 5.
90 Hearst, "Mr. W. R. Hearst on Anglo-American Relations," Times, 5.
91 "The Spanish-American War," in William Randolph Hearst, 58.