By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — We can compare both resigned The Manila Times associate editor Felipe “Ipe” Salvosa II to the brave American journalist Richard Harding Davis and Times publisher Dante Ang to Davis’ former boss, William Randolph Hearst, the alleged “father” of “Yellow Journalism” and publisher of the pre-World War I New York Journal.
Like Salvosa II, who resigned on April 24, 2019 two days after Ang insisted on publishing a story linking media organizations to an ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte, Davis, the the first American war correspondent to cover the Spanish–American War, the Second Boer War, and the First World War, resigned after his story about the Spanish police boarding an American ship and “stripped the three Cuban women passengers in a search for the documents” was paraded as headline story in the New York Journal dated February 12, 1897.
“I want to be able to teach and still look my students straight in the eye,” Salvosa told Rappler on April 25.
Salvosa tendered his resignation after Ang, Times owner and chairman emeritus, fumed over his Twitter post questioning Ang’s “matrix” story that identified the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Vera Files, Rappler, and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) as being involved in a plot to oust Duterte.
Davis was 32 when Hearst sent him to Havana to cover the conflict there between Spanish authorities and Cuban insurgents in December 1896.
Already a popular culture hero through his reporting, his fiction, and his stylish manner, Davis was offered by Hearst $3,000 for a month of reporting from Cuba, according to Michael Schudson in his book, Discovering the News.
Hearst, by the way, also sent Frederic Remington, a 35-year-old artist, to accompany Davis.
Because Davis and Remington were barred from the “war zone” by Spanish military authorities along with other reporters, news was hard to get.
“Rumors and minor incidents were generally the best the correspondents had to offer,” wrote Schudson.
Discouraged, Remington wired Hearst: “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. Wish to return.”
Hearst responded, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”
Remington left Cuba after a week despite such encouragement.
Davis stayed in Cuba and wired the controversial story on February 10, 1897 that the Spanish police, on board the US ship, claimed that the Cuban women were carrying messages to insurgents leaders in New York when stripped.
The Journal placed the story on front page under the headline: “Does Our Flag Protect Women? Indignities Practiced By Spanish Officials on Board American vessels. Richard Harding Davis Describes Some Startling Phases of Cuban Situation. Refined Young Women Stripped and Search by Brutal Spaniards While Under Our Flag on the Olivette.”
Accompanying the story on page two was a two by a half-page drawing by Remington imagining the scene from New York, showing one of the women naked and surrounded by Spanish officers going through her clothing.
Nearly a half million copies of the paper were sold and it was a good stuff for Hearst’s purpose of building a circulation.
But the story was not quite true.
The drawing, in particular, was not accurate.
Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, the leading paper in New York in 1897, interviewed the Cuban women when they arrived in Tampa and discovered they had been searched by matrons, not by the Spanish officers.
The New York World immediately ran a front-page story that one of the Cuban women, Clemencia Arango, denied being searched by Spanish officers.
The article “popped the (New York) Journal’s balloon of scandal and outrage,” according to Discovering the News. “Richard Harding Davis considered the revelation a reflection of his integrity, and so he wrote to the (New York) World to defend himself.”
Pulitzer’s newspaper featured on page two a story headlined, “Mr. Davis explains” on February 17, 1897 where Davis argued that not he but Remington was responsible for any misrepresentations.
“I never wrote that she was searched by men…Mr. Frederic Remington, who was not present, and who drew an imaginary picture of the scene, is responsible for the idea that the search was conducted by men. Had I seen the picture before it appeared, I should never have allowed it to accompany my article…”
Davis broke with Hearst over this incident and never again wrote for a Hearst paper.
“This was an important moment in journalism, but its importance needs to be carefully defined. On the surface, it appears that the significance of the incident is that a reporter, proud of his professional standing and faithful to the norms of factual reporting, stood up to the evil influences of a circulation-building editor-publisher,” Schudson wrote inDiscovering the News.
“Here, fidelity to facts is identified with reporters and threats to accuracy, with publishers, their eyes on the cash box.”
The Spanish-American War, was the first press-driven war, according to many historians.
“Although it may be an exaggeration to claim that Hearst and the other yellow journalists started the war, it is fair to say that the press fueled the public’s passion for war. Without sensational headlines and stories about Cuban affairs, the mood for Cuban intervention may have been very different. At the dawn of the twentieth century, the United States emerged as a world power, and the U.S. press proved its influence,”stressed the PBS Learning Media.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)