Academic journal article Journalism History

John McCutcheon's Asian Adventure

Academic journal article Journalism History

John McCutcheon's Asian Adventure

Article excerpt

A Nineteenth-Century Adventure Journalist Covers the Battle for Manila Bay from the Inside

For more than forty years, John McCutcheon was America's "Dean of Political Cartoonists. " His Pulitzer-Prize winning career in satirical art has obscured his early fame as an adventure journalist and one of the first "embedded reporters" in military action. While merely visiting on a new U.S. military cutter during its first test voyage, McCutcheon found himself an "accidental tourist" when the ship was called into action for the Battle of Manila Bay. Using memoirs, McCutcheons own accounts, and other papers housed at Chicago's Newberry Library archives, this account of his early career highlights McCutcheons dispatches from Manila, written on battleships and in Army camps, as an important step in the development of war reporting.

Adventure journalist John McCutcheon emerged onto the international news scene while covering the SpanishAmerican War. Witness to the Battle of Manila Bay while aboard one of Admiral Dewey's boats, McCutcheon was the first journalist to file the story, as one of only three journalists who witnessed it. His early reporting career, launched from the deck of the U.S. cutter McCulloch, is the subject of this article. This research is based on McCutcheons papers, diaries, articles, and memoirs, most of which are housed in more than one hundred boxes in the special collections department of Chicago's Newberry Library. While McCutcheon helped change what it meant to be a war correspondent by embedding himself with the United States Navy, little has been written about his contributions to reportage.

As an adventure journalist, John McCutcheon is virtually forgotten today, but in the late nineteenth century he was one of the most talked-about international reporters in the United States. Perhaps the reason for the oversight has been McCutcheons success in other endeavors after his early wartime escapades. He shifted focus early in his career, and by the time he was thirty years old, he had become an internationally recognized political cartoonist. Over the next forty years, he became known as the "Dean of American Cartoonists," winning the Chicago Tribune's first Pulitzer Prize.

But before he became the friend of eight American presidents, the toast of Chicago, and the builder of Chicago's celebrated Brookfield Zoo, McCutcheon was a scrappy reporter for a major Chicago newspaper known as the Chicago Record. While McCutcheon wrote some stories for the newspaper, his main job was drawing for the front page, mostly to illustrate the column "Of the Streets and of the Town," written by his roommate, George Ade.

The Chicago Record was a respected player in the Chicago news market. During the 1893 World's Fair, its "Sharps and Flats" columnist, Eugene Field, had served as an unofficial spokesperson for the event. McCutcheon was respected among journalists, but unknown to the public because of the Chicago Records policy of not including reporters' bylines or artists' signatures.

But McCutcheon thirsted for adventure and convinced his editor to pay him to travel aboard a new United States cutter sailing ship that was set to cross the Atlantic Ocean. At a time when the United States was not yet considered an international power, this promised a few exciting stories. However, when the ship was in Europe, news arrived of the impending Spanish-American War and the cutter was pressed into military service with orders to go to the Philippines, at the time a Spanish colony. Almost miraculously, Admiral George Dewey allowed McCutcheon and two other reporters to stay aboard the boat, and they embarked on the adventure of a lifetime.

For McCutcheon, what was supposed to be a three-week trip turned out to be a three-year journey, during which he become known internationally. In fact, he was one of the earliest of what we would now call embedded reporters. While there had been war correspondents in the Civil War, most did not see the war itself and were often miles from the battles. …

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