Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Was there a Parran-Hearst Telegram ? (You provide the penicillin, I'll provide the pictures)

"Operator, get me Washington, tell 'em I'm from Hearst..."
There is no firm evidence that Citizen Hearst ever sent that infamous telegram to the famous war artist Frederic Remington in Cuba.

We all know which telegram:  the one where Remington is sent out to illustrate the ongoing civil war in Cuba, but finds all is quiet and begs to go home.

Hearst supposedly telegraphs him to stay : "(If) you furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war."

Hearst proceeds to puff up the accidental explosion on board the battleship The Maine as an act of sneaky warfare by the Spanish, ("Remember Pearl Harbour" 50 years ahead of schedule) and the rest is history: Yellow Journalism's finest moment.

Or is it ?

For a start, that particular telegram was apparently never sent.

But did the aging Hearst later intervene with US Surgeon General Thomas Parran in August 1943, to get penicillin to a dying baby girl in Manhattan ?

Was this Yellow Journalism's finest moment ?

The Pulitzer Committee apparently felt so - and it is worth noting that Pulitzer and Hearst were the most bitter of bitter enemies.

Consider what we know (or think we know).

Supposedly the whole thing started with a phone call from the distraught father (Lawrence J Malone) of a dying two year old girl called Patricia Malone, made to the city desk editor of the Hearst media empire's flagship newspaper, the New York Journal-American.

Actually Malone quickly fades back into the wallpaper , as do the nominal doctors for the baby girl.

Because in fact, Malone was set up for the call by a crippled Italian-American surgical resident named Dante Colitti, then working at the tiny Lutheran Hospital in upper Manhattan, about a mile from pioneering penicillin doctor Henry Dawson's hospital, Columbia Presbyterian.

The little girl was dying of blood poisoning and normally a surgical staffer - a mere resident at that - has no place in treatment decisions for that sort of illness.

But Colitti was raised right, with a good moral education and he couldn't stand by and let her die, when he knew that not a mile away, Henry Dawson was dragging babies like her back from the grave with his Floor G penicillin.

And Colitti had no cause to love the New York medical establishment which supported the limiting of penicillin to curing VD cases among the unfaithful husbands and boyfriends of the combat corps.

In the 1930s, he had been rejected from attending any New York medical school, by an informal quota system designed to keep out Catholics and Italians.

 (And Jews and Blacks and Asians and Women. Colitti's parents were recent immigrants to America).

Colitti had a permanently bent spine as a result of childhood TB and had to use crutches so it was probably the excuse given him for his rejection.

But Colitti knew that Henry Dawson, just a mile north of him, was working with a doctor who used crutches thanks to polio and another doctor who was missing an arm.

The only real difference was that these were Protestant men, with native-born parents.

Colitti paid a private medical college in Massachusetts to get his MD degree but no New York hospital would recognize any degree not granted by one of the quota-oriented establishment schools.

It was a closed loop.

But WWII led to a desperate shortage of medical staff and even New York's medical establishment had to let people like Colitti in to do the lowest medical jobs, at least until the war was over.

But the highly morally minded Colitti felt that if they had displayed no charity towards a cripple, that did not mean he would follow suit.

Hence his setting up of the phone call to the Hearst paper : he knew exactly who would cause the most noise.

The Journal-American photo-journalists were then world famous for their large, vivid, gripping front page photographs and a dying baby story was just made for their skills.

The Hearst editor got no where ( says the AP press agency) with the OSRD's Dr Richards or with the NAS Committee on Chemical Therapeutics.

But somehow or other the newspaper knew of the ongoing conflict between those who felt we could best win the war ("Hearts & Minds") through well publicized Social Medicine versus those that felt that secretive and rationed War Medicine would save more scarce resources for "Guns & Bullets".

Because the newspaper ultimately got the penicillin it needed from that supply reserved for the US Public Health Services (at that time, it only had a tiny amount of penicillin and it was only normally used for treating cases of VD among merchant seamen.)

Released by drug company Squibb upon the direct order of Thomas Parran, US Surgeon General and head of the US Public Health Services (then a relatively small and powerless body compared to its status today.)

Parran versus Weed over the fate of wartime penicillin

Parran was the de facto head of the Social Medicine forces, while the NAS's Lewis Weed was the voice of War Medicine.

Did Hearst or his senior staff know of this ongoing debate and approach Parran directly, dismissing his concerns about tackling the all-powerful OSRD and NAS by reminding him he had no love for the NAS's Weed anyway , and that if he would only provide the penicillin vials, Hearst photographers would provide the poignant pictures.

Yellow Journalism and the Yellow Magic then proceeded to make beautiful music together : because the Patty Malone Story ultimately spelled the end to the Age of Modernity ...

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