James Creelman (November 12, 1859 – February 12, 1915), was a reporter during the height of yellow journalism.
In 1872, Creelman moved to New York, where his interest in literature and law attracted the patronage of Thomas De Witt Talmage and Republican party boss Roscoe Conking. His first job was in the print shop of the Episcopalian newspaper Church and State. He later moved to the print shop of the Brooklyn Eagle. By 1876 he joined the New York Herald as a reporter.
Creelman traveled extensively to find stories and was unafraid to take on great personal risk in their pursuit. He joined adventurer and showman Paul Boyton on his treks across the Yellowstone River and Mississippi River, dodged bullets reporting on the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys and interviewed Sitting Bull. He also interviewed Mexican President Porfirio Diaz, wherein Diaz stated he would not run for reelection in 1910 to allow new leadership for Mexico, a promise he did not keep and that in part led to the Mexican Revolution.
After stints at several other newspapers, including the Paris Herald, the Evening Telegram, and magazines Illustrated American and Cosmopolitan, Creelman landed at Joseph Pulitzer's New York World in 1894, where he accompanied the Japanese Army to cover the Sino-Japanese War. Creelman's sensational reportage of the Japanese seizure of Port Arthur and the accompanying massacre of its Chinese defenders by the victorious Japanese army garnered tremendous attention and put him in greater demand as a reporter.
But Creelman's most significant assignment came in 1896, on a trip to Cuba to report on tensions brewing between the island nation and Spain. By 1897, William Randolph Hearst had recruited Creelman to his newspaper, the New York Journal, and assigned Creelman to cover the war between Cuba and Spain, which broke out in 1898.
Creelman was an open advocate for Cuba in its war against Spain, and like many of his war correspondent peers he carried a sidearm. While covering the battle for El Caney, Creelman begged the U.S. general in command to allow him to join the charge on a blockhouse occupied by Spanish troops. Finally the general assented, and Creelman advanced on the fort along with U.S. troops. Seeing the Spanish flag lying on the ground, Creelman seized it, feeling that it was only fair that the Journal, which helped to start the war, should be the first to capture the Spanish flag at this important battle. Creelman waved the flag in front of some Spanish soldiers still entrenched nearby, who responded with a hail of gunfire, wounding Creelman in the arm and back.
In the mold of most yellow journalists of his time, Creelman was as much an advocate as a reporter — in her book The Yellow Kids, author Joyce Milton describes Creelman as the self-described "conscience of the fourth estate," who "normally did as much talking as listening" during interviews, including once lecturing Pope Leo XIII on relations between Protestants and Catholics . Creelman, generally considered one of the premier reporters of his day, also had a bit of an ego — Hearst once said of Creelman:
"The beauty about Creelman is the fact that whatever you give him to do instantly becomes in his mind the most important assignment ever given any writer. [...] He thinks that he very fact of the job being given him means that it's a task of surpassing importance, else it would not have been given to so great a man as he."
Retiring from service as a daily newspaperman, Creelman wrote editorials for the World until 1906, when he took a job in civil service for the state of New York. But he could not stay away from writing, and returned to the Journal to cover World War I for Hearst. On his way to the front to cover the war, Creelman died suddenly in Berlin, of Bright's Disease. He was buried in Brooklyn, New York.
Creelman married Alice Leffingwell Buell of Marietta, Ohio on December 10, 1891. The couple had four children: Edward Dunwoodie, James Ashmore, Constance Alice, and Eileen Buell. Son James went on to become a professional Hollywood screenwriter. Daughter Eileen married Frederick Morgan Davenport Jr., son of New York Republican congressman Frederick Morgan Davenport.
- Phillip Knightley. 1975. The First Casualty, from Crimea to Vietnam: the War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, p. 58.
- Milton, Joyce, The Yellow Kids