The story goes that sometime in 1899, four reporters found themselves in a Denver railroad station. It was Saturday night and Al Stevens, Jack Tournay, John Lewis and Hal Wilshire considered themselves competitors. They each worked for a different Denver newspaper.
All four had the assignment of writing “scoop” for their Sunday papers. As a result, they were there like the paparazzi of the day, hoping to spot some celebrity arriving by train. Unfortunately, on that night, no celebrity came and they left struggling without a story and an impending deadline.
Al Stevens suggested that they make up a story. The others laughed. Before long, though, they all agreed and decided that they would come up with such an incredible story that no one would question it. Plus, with all four reporters writing about it, it would be more believable.
A local story could present problems because it could easily be fact checked. The four agreed that they would write about some place far away. They agreed to do a story that was supposedly happening in China. One of them suggested that they report on American engineers who had been dispatched to China, to bid on a major job for the demolition of the Great Wall. No one would really know where to even check on the truth about fake engineers.
They decided that they would cite the motivation for such a demolition of the Great Wall, as China wanting to show international goodwill and to encourage foreign trade. By 11PM, the four reporters had “gotten their stories” in sync and the “Sunday Times” headline read: “Great Chinese Wall Doomed! Peking Seeks World Trade!”
Amazingly, the story was taken seriously and soon ran in newspapers all across the country and even internationally. When the citizens of China heard about these engineers from America supposedly coming, they became enraged. Already, there was a state of unrest because of imperial expansionism that had initially been suppressed by the Manchu Qing Dynasty.
Moved to action by this news story, twelve thousand troops from six different countries, working together over a period of two months, invaded China to help protect their countrymen. They attacked foreign embassies and even began attacking missionary compounds, because they suspected that these “foreigners” were actually spies. Hundreds of missionaries were killed.
The bloodshed and violence of that time was later traced to the journalistic hoax that was created by those 4 Denver reporters. The course of events in China later became known as the Boxer Rebellion.
April starts out with April Fool’s Day, a day of “lying”. It ends with National Honesty Day. Its goal is to encourage people to to honor the honorable. It is also to recognize honesty traits from such individuals as our former Presidents, Washington and Lincoln and to emphasize honesty in our government.
With the invention of the Internet, now anyone sitting in their basement can go on a rampage and attack someone. Lawyers are bringing more lawsuits because of defamation. The power of the written or spoken word has torn down nations and ruined individual lives.
One final thought on how a small thing like a spoken word of dishonesty, can be destructive. In 1871, Catherine O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern (allegedly) while being milked. As a result, a fire that was started in her barn spread over 3 1/2 miles of Chicago. The fire lasted two days and killed over 250 people. All that damage from the now infamous Chicago fire was caused by a milk bucket