|Not likely sent: The Remington-Hearst "telegrams" Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2000
Conclusion: Why it matters
This article, in addressing and challenging an enduring anecdote of yellow journalism, maintains there is little if any evidence that Remington and Hearst exchanged the telegrams, as Creelman described. Because the evidence is so persuasive that the purported exchange did not take place, the anecdote deserves relegation to the closet of historical imprecision -- at least until proven otherwise. Journalists and historians are clearly ill-served by repeating the anecdote, by presenting a fanciful story as factual.
They likewise are ill-served by presenting the anecdote as illustrative of some "greater truth" about Hearst's supposed warmongering -- that he was intent on provoking war over Cuba between the United States and Spain. As this article has shown, Hearst's Journal at the time of his supposed exchange with Remington was anticipating the collapse of Spain's war effort in Cuba, and was not campaigning for U.S. armed intervention. In taking such an editorial stance, the Journal relied heavily on Creelman's reporting from Madrid about Spanish views and opinion. Rather than reflecting and confirming Hearst's intentions at that time, the purported telegram to Remington, if sent, would have been contradictory and incongruous.
By repeating the colorful anecdote
about the Remington-Hearst telegrams, journalists and historians risk
falling victim to the distorting effects of "the aesthetic fallacy,"
a condition in which facts and details are used to construct "a beautiful
story" -- a story that distorts or supplants empirical truths.92 The Remington-Hearst anecdote is indeed "a beautiful story," a succinct
and delicious tale, one rich in hubris and swaggering recklessness.
It is, however, a story altogether dubious and misleading. It suggests
power that the press, including Hearst's Journal, did not possess,
that of propelling the country into a war that it did not want.
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Hackett Fischer, Historians' Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical
Thought (New York: Harper and Row, 1970), 87.