“You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” William Hearst to Frederic Remington

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The Correspondent by Frederic Remington

This Thanksgiving pray for our leaders. They either don’t know what they’re doing–or they do.

Remember a few years ago when the American people and their  soldiers refused to support overthrowing Syria? Let’s do a little comparative history, shall we?

I’ll quote extensively from Wikipedia (not always the best source of info, but in this case they get it right) about a “Splendid Little War.”

“The Spanish–American War (April–August 1898) is considered to be both a turning point in the history of propaganda and the beginning of the practice of yellow journalism.

It was the first conflict in which military action was precipitated by media involvement. The war grew out of U.S. interest in a fight for revolution between the Spanish military and citizens of their Cuban colony. American newspapers fanned the flames of interest in the war by fabricating atrocities which justified intervention in a number of Spanish colonies worldwide.

Several forces within the United States were pushing for a war with Spain. Their tactics were wide-ranging and their goal was to engage the opinion of the American people in any way possible. Men such as William Hearst, the owner of The New York Journal was involved in a circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World and saw the conflict as a way to sell papers. Many newspapers ran articles of a sensationalist nature and sent correspondents to Cuba to cover the war.

The situation prior to the Spanish–American War was particularly tense. Several members of the media, such as William Randolph Hearst, and of the military were calling for intervention by the United States to help the revolutionaries in Cuba. American opinion was overwhelmingly swayed and hostility towards Spain began to build. American newspapers ran stories of a sensationalist nature depicting fabricated atrocities committed by the Spanish. These stories often reflected on how thousands of Cubans had been displaced to the country side in concentration camps. Many stories used depictions of gruesome murders, rapes, and slaughter. During this time there was a riot in Havana by those sympathetic to the Spanish. The printing presses of newspapers that had criticized the actions of the Spanish Army were destroyed.

In the days following the sinking of the USS Maine, Hearst ran a story with the heading “The War Ship Maine was Split in Two by an Enemy’s Secret Infernal Machine”. The story told how the Spanish had planted a torpedo beneath the USS Maine and detonated it from shore. Hearst soon followed this article with one containing diagrams and blueprints of the secret torpedoes used by Spain. This Article was so convincing that even Captain Sigsbee of the USS Maine, who put in an official statement that judgment and opinion should be suspended until further report, now believed the Spanish were responsible for sinking his ship.

Many stories like the one published by Hearst were printed across the country blaming the Spanish military for the destruction of the USS Maine. These stories struck a chord with the American people stirring public opinion up into a divided frenzy, with a large group of Americans wanting to attack and another wanting to wait for confirmation. The Americans that wanted to attack wanted to remove Spain from power in many of their colonies close to the U.S. Those easily persuaded by the Yellow Journalism eventually prevailed, and American troops were sent to Cuba.”

ANY THOUGHTS??

Journalists Lie?

Surely you can trust this face . . .

Surely you can trust this face . . .

Propaganda in the media is not a new thing. Bleeding Kansas. 1850’s. We like the word bleeding, don’t we? The unfolding drama of free settlers armed to the teeth by Eastern preachers versus tobacco chewing ruffians with the Slavocracy behind them. Good vs Evil on a bloody field. But not so quick.

People rushed to Kansas for the LAND. They may have taken their guns (and those of the preachers’) but hell, everyone took guns into the wilderness. And what about those ruffians? Maybe some did chew tobacco but is that a crime? Digging a little deeper one finds the occasional fanatic but common sense would have it that most people went about their business for personal gain.  In Kansas the real fight was over property claims and government jobs.

The Northern abolitionist papers knew this but they didn’t mind muddying the waters for their cause (since their cause was justified). What’s a little exaggeration and deceit?

Let’s take the “sack” of Lawrence, Kansas. Okay, it’s a little complicated here. This sacking was very minor as sacks go. The Southern ruffian side and the Free Soil side squabbled over capitols and such. They had mini-fights that went back and forth (still mostly about power and property with maybe a sheen of the slavery issue). So the ruffian side comes into town there’s a bit of property damage and very little injury to humans. Here’s the headline from The New York Tribune : “Startling News from Kansas–The War Actually Begun–Triumph of the Border Ruffians–Lawrence in Ruins–Several Persons Slaughtered–Freedom Bloodily Subdued.”*

A few days later all the New York papers made mention in small type somewhere that reports had been greatly exaggerated and “scarcely” anyone had been hurt. Imagine you’re reading the paper and imagining this:

Rape of the Sabine Women

Rape of the Sabine Women

And then there’s the story of John Brown. Before Harper’s Ferry there was Pottawatomie. Kind of rolls off the tongue doesn’t it? Can we all be honest here? The photographs of John Brown give some insight into his character (maybe a little unhinged?).

Doesn't he kind of look like a vampire?

Doesn’t he kind of look like a vampire?

John Brown is frustrated at the moderate Free Soil folks in Kansas. He joins up with one of the many local militia groups “The Pottawatomie Rifles” and heads to Lawrence only to hear that Lawrence has been “sacked.”

The following night he takes his sons and a few other men on a killing spree. Here we don’t have to imagine. There were witnesses who testified. The killers dragged prominent Pro-south men from their beds ( in front of their wives and children) and systematically sacked (or I should slaughtered) them. With sharpened broadswords they hacked their heads until their skulls split and John Brown shot one to make sure he was dead.Then for fun they stole some horses.

Okay, so after the first hacking I’m pretty sure this group of men were sickos. I can sort of understand a passion killing, but to hack  one  person then another and another before traveling to yet another man’s house for some more hacking is beyond the beyonds to me. Not so for the eastern newspapers. The abolitionists couldn’t have it. No sickos on our side, thank you very much. They whitewashed the whole deal. Eventually John Brown became a hero–even songs were written in his honor.

So I ask you is it okay to fudge the truth for a good cause?

*From  The Impending Crisis by David Potter