An interview with Capt Rostron


Mark Baber

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The following is an excerpt from an article which appeared in The Newark Star, Newark, New Jersey, U.S.A., on 19 April 1912.

“WHY WAS THE NEWS SUPPRESSED”

A reporter for The Newark Star managed to get aboard the Carpathia and made his way to the bridge, where he had an interview with Captain Rostrom [sic] as to why the news of the wreck and the condition of the survivors had been withheld. The following was the interview:

Q. “But you have not given out the news and we have waited a week. Will you let me get it now?”

A. “You stay on this bridge with me, or I will put you in irons.”

Q. “Did you hold memorial services after the iceberg sent the Titanic to her doom?”

A. “We did. I stopped and held services Monday morning.”

Q. “Did you save the bodies that the Carpathia either did pick up or might have picked up?”

A. “What do you mean?”

Q. “I mean that of thirty-five put in one lifeboat at 2:20 o’clock in the morning only sixteen were found alive when she was picked up. At that time there were three dead bodies in the boat.”

A. “I won’t talk to you and I want you to stay here where I can watch you.”

Q. “Captain Rostrom, do you realize that this is the most gigantic story in the history of the sea, and the world will not accept your whims in giving it the information it awaits.”

A. “I realize, sir, that you came aboard this boat in spite of orders from a thousand sources and I won’t be criticized by you.”

Q. “Captain, I want to see Mr. Bruce Ismay. The American people would like to hear from him.”

A. “You be quiet. You can’t see anybody, I will tell you.”

Q. “Is John Jacob Astor, Major ‘Archie’ Butt, William T. Stead, Artist Millet, Isadore [sic] Straus, Mrs. Isadore Straus or Benjamin Guggenheim aboard this ship?”

A. “I think not.”

Q. “Do you still refuse to let me see Mr. Ismay?”

A. “I will let you see no one.”

After this he paced the bridge like a man suffering from a from a great load of anxiety, and in spite of the general impression that he was the master of his ship, seemed guilty of having subordinated his position to more powerful influences and realized the error of having remained mute.
 

Inger Sheil

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“Captain Rostrom, do you realize that this is the most gigantic story in the history of the sea, and the world will not accept your whims in giving it the information it awaits.”
After this he paced the bridge like a man suffering from a from a great load of anxiety, and in spite of the general impression that he was the master of his ship, seemed guilty of having subordinated his position to more powerful influences and realized the error of having remained mute.
Now, I like Journos. 'Some of my best mates are journos...' etc. My Dad is was a journo before he became a diplomat. They're a great breed, with all their faults.

But sometimes the sheer self-righteous arrogance in the presumptions they make in reporting are breathtaking. The absolute smugness in these paragraphs, the self-satisfied assumption that the reporter actually has a right to be there, and his self-serving interpretation of Rostron's demenour, is eye-roll inducing.

Freedom of the press is essential in a modern democracy. However, this 'interview' tipped over into active interference with a man charged with an incredibly difficult task, who did not, at that moment, need some pompous reporter lecturing him on his duties to feed the media.

On the other hand, I'm wryly amused by the term 'interview' as applied here. It's rather like the headlined stories that appeared elsewhere 'Interview With Mr. Lowe', wherein Mr. Lowe uttered a few lines, essentially saying he had nothing to say.

Good, if somewhat blood-simmering, piece, MAB.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Inger said
But sometimes the sheer self-righteous arrogance in the presumptions they make in reporting are breathtaking. The absolute smugness in these paragraphs, the self-satisfied assumption that the reporter actually has a right to be there, and his self-serving interpretation of Rostron's demenour, is eye-roll inducing.
And I couldn't agree more. This joker was lucky he didn't get clapped into irons anyway. Captain Rostron would have been well within his rights to do so. Frankly, I would have done just that. While I would agree that freedom of the press is essential in any open society, that doesn't oblige anyone to co-operate with some nebnose gate crasher who's a legend in his own mind.
 

Mark Baber

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My question:

Do we really believe that the reporter managed not only to get on the ship, but onto the bridge, where he was able to speak directly with Rostron?
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Regardless of whether you believe this interview took place, I think the statement that Rostron "subordinated his position to more powerful influences" corroborates exactly the position that I adopted in my article on Rostron. It goes to show that there was such a perception that Rostron sold out, as early as April 19, 1912. Later on, Rostron became this hero who literally walked on water . . . the "electric spark," as Walter Lord audaciously cast him. But, based upon my assessment of Rostron, which is mostly derived from a review of his testimony and that of others aboard Carpathia, the reporter's conclusion about him is right on the money.
 
Mar 18, 2000
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I've read a number of times of a reporter who got onto the Carpathia during the last stages of her coming into New York. See page 182 of Triumph & Tragedy for one reference.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Do we really believe that the reporter managed not only to get on the ship, but onto the bridge, where he was able to speak directly with Rostron?<<

I'm inclined to say "Yes" to all three, but considering the hostile nature of what he wrote, I don't think it stands to reason that the conversation he penned was the one that actually took place.

Jan, I'm afraid I'll have to disagree with that reporter providing corroberation of anything unless you can dig up a primary source which corroberates the polemic that he wrote. I don't believe even for a second that Rostron "sold out" to anybody. With 700+ additional and highly traumatized souls to look after in addition to his own passengers and crew, he wouldn't have had time to do something like that even if he wanted to, and Ismay was in no condition to co-opt anybody, much less the master of the ship of a rival line.

>>It goes to show that there was such a perception that Rostron sold out, as early as April 19, 1912.<<

Actually, it shows no such thing. Consider the source here. It's the view of one aggrieved and arrogant newshawk who got aboard illegally, and was stopped cold by the crew. Too bad, but thems the breaks.

>>Later on, Rostron became this hero who literally walked on water . . . the "electric spark," as Walter Lord audaciously cast him.<<

Well, he did save over 700 people from the clutches of the North Atlantic, and at no small risk too. Can any of the other players say the same?

Didn't think so.
 

Dave Gittins

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The reporter certainly was on the bridge, as described by both Rostron and Bisset. Whether he really asked exactly the questions claimed might be another thing, though Rostron says he told him why he would not allow reporters to board or to interview passengers. The reporter gave his word that he would stay on the bridge and did so. According to Bisset, he attempted to hand the reporter over to Cunard's Marine Superintendent on arrival in New York, but he made a run for it and escaped.

I must say that if I'd were in command of a liner in confined waters and in vile weather, I'd toss any intrusive reporter into the brig without a second thought. A ship is no place for their self-serving antics.
 

Inger Sheil

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I think the statement that Rostron "subordinated his position to more powerful influences" corroborates exactly the position that I adopted in my article on Rostron
No, it does not 'exactly' corroborate your position. The assertion here - and it is only an impression - is that Rostron was under influence or order not to communicate information with the media...a blanket ban on disseminating data to the press about the wreck and condition of the survivors, not that he was covering up the recovery of bodies.
It goes to show that there was such a perception that Rostron sold out, as early as April 19, 1912.
Nope. It goes to show that one reporter was narky because he wasn't getting a story, and was posturing self-righteously over the same.
Later on, Rostron became this hero who literally walked on water . . . the "electric spark," as Walter Lord audaciously cast him.
The term 'electric spark' was not coined by Walter Lord - it was a name bestowed by those who knew and worked with him. It is extremely misleading to say that 'later on' Rostron became perceived as a hero - the passengers and crew of the Titanic saw him as such from the moment they were hauled aboard the Carpathia, and this perception only gathered momentum among the general public and those conducting the inquiries. To insinuate that it is a more recent construct, and out of accord with how he was seen in April 1912, is a gross misreading of history.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Let me say a few words about reporters, who are indeed a breed unto their own. In the media, being pushy gets the job done - usually. After all, if it weren't for reporters, we researchers would certainly have little to quote from for our various studies. Those reporters are the ones who first tracked down the people and sources we love to cite today. Having said that, such a seriously extreme situation as the Titanic disaster demanded a reporter with sensitivity, not just self-confidence.

The reporter who stood on the Carpathia's bridge barking at Captain Rostron may have had balls but he didn't have compassion. Simply put, his editor sent the wrong guy on that assignment. The right reporter would have managed to get aboard and, instead of acting like a pompous creep, would have been able to, through calm persistence, interview the crew and others, talking quietly and posing questions with genuine feeling and understanding. Instead this guy caused offense and alienated his subject from the beginning with a lot of smart-ass bravado.

A respectful attitude and personal touch would have carried him through and he'd have gotten a human interest story to be proud of, instead of what he managed to get, which amounted to rubbish. If I'd been his editor and he turned that crap into me, he'd have lost his job. Few self-respecting editors would publish that tripe today. It serves no purpose to berate your subject except to show what a bullying nuisance the media can be.

I am convinced the Newark Star ran that item as "filler."
 

Patty Miller

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Inger, I totally agree with your assessment.
Randy, you have made some fine points as well.

My own opinion of the media,however is somewhat jaded.
I realize we need to know of events happening
around us..but I do know that sensationlism
sells. And the more sensationlism , the higher
the recognition, it seems,for the work.

From past experience, dealing with the media
involving a harrowing and tragic situation...
my experience, was, in that particular situation,
they (the media) hindered the actions of the
people trying to handle a very delicate situation,
as far as , trying to contact family, with the news before it was splashed across the television.And also,hindered the actions of the rescue operation.

My own opinion, of Rostron's actions, is that
I agree with how he handled it. I don't think
he intentionally was covering up anything. But
when a person is in a situation , dealing with
a tragedy, the first priority, should always
be with the victims and their families.

Sincerely, Patty
 

Inger Sheil

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Quite right, Patty and Randy. Rostron's priority was getting survivor lists out and making arrangements for their arrival and reception in NY - not in satisfying the demands of the media. The wireless operators might have also had their own agenda, but that doesn't reflect on Rostron, whose efforts at managing an extraordinarily difficult and traumatic situation were remarkable.

re the Electric Spark:
He was not the burly type of jolly old sea-dog. Far from it, he was of thin and wiry build, with sharp features, piercing blue eyes, and rapid, agile movements. His nickname in the Cunard service was "the Electric Spark" - which fairly described his dynamic quality.

James Bisset, Tramps and Ladies
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Very simply put - the media has every right to be at the scene of any breaking news event, disaster, crisis, etc. That's our job. It's what we're paid to do and it's what our readership expects. However, no one at all - member of the press or otherwise - has a right to hinder action in an ongoing, tense operation, be it a rescue situation or an investigation. The job of the press is to report. Yet too many journalists try to insert themselves into events.

Even so, the press gets dumped on way too much when it comes to emergency situations. Often these situations (and I have been on the scene of many accidents)are plagued with difficulties such as insufficient manpower, failed communication systems, inadequate facilities, etc. Moreover, these things are sometimes just not being handled properly by the personnel in charge. Still the media gets criticized and takes the rap - just because we're there. We're a convenient scapegoat. Mind you, I have only been on staff with publications that have circulations of 8,000-10,000 but still, even on a small community level like that, a journalist has an awesome responsibility and a hell of a workload.

Regarding the specific scenario at hand. I agree totally that Rostron did what he should have done and that he was not at all trying to "cover up" anything. But on the point of whether or not the press should have been there and been asking questions - absolutely, they should have been. But, as I said, there's a wrong and a right way to do it.
 
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With reference to the on-the-scene media handling of disasters, two things come to mind about the Lockerbie disaster of 1988.

On a morning TV show early in 1989, the disaster was the subject of the show. The audience / panel consisted mainly of townspeople from Lockerbie who were relating their experiences of that night and the days following. Several people said that the photographers of the press deliberately hampered the recovery and processing of the bodies by continually ripping back the sheets covering the bodies on stretchers and taking photos of the dead as they were being carried into the morgue, despite the emergency workers protests and attempts to push them away.

Several months after the disaster I was reading a book about the events surrounding the tragedy. I came across a passage about the parents of a victim. At the time of the crash hundreds of reporters descended on their home, constantly hounding them day and night for interviews. One day they received a card and a letter from a woman journalist. The note said that if the parents wanted to tell their story she would come to them when it was time and would not harrass them beforehand. It was months before the parents felt they wanted to share the story of their loved one and, remembering the kindly words and non-threatening tone of the note, they called the journalist. "Of all the people that came to our house at that time, she was the one that impressed us most".
 

Mark Baber

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The reporter certainly was on the bridge, as described by both Rostron and Bisset

Thanks, Dave and all, for this. Guess I need to read Rostron and Bisset, eh?
 

Inger Sheil

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The Bisset passage is gorgeous, MAB - his depiction of the journalist's burbling excitement at getting his scoop gives quite a different impression from the self-constructed fearless-seeker-of-truth-for-the-good-of-the-public that we see in the above interview. Two sides to every story and all that. Rostron is fairly restrained!
 
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Mary Fabian, a lady journalist, was also on board Carpathia. She lent great comfort, I was told, to Miss Longley; who was only 21. Mary wrote a brief account for the newspapers, delivered it in New York, and set off one more - again aboard Carpathia - for her Mediterranean holiday.
 

Dave Gittins

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Mind you, Inger, Bisset had an Aussie ghost-writer, and you know how we love a good yarn. Bisset's entire account is somewhat embroidered.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Upon closer analysis, this article is rather intriguing. The Newark Star reporter questions Rostron about the bodies,

Q. “Did you save the bodies that the Carpathia either did pick up or might have picked up?”

A. “What do you mean?”

Q. “I mean that of thirty-five put in one lifeboat at 2:20 o’clock in the morning only sixteen were found alive when she was picked up. At that time there were three dead bodies in the boat.”

A. “I won’t talk to you and I want you to stay here where I can watch you.”


Although Rostron answered the previous question about the memorial service, he flatly declined to respond about the bodies. Interestingly, the reporter's question (describing 34 in a boat, only 16 of which were picked up) is somewhat similar to the story related by Carpathia passenger, Simon Senegal. He described some 24 bodies on a raft, half of which were dead, and that lots of bodies were floating in the sea. Somehow, in my mind, its Rostron, not the reporter, who doesn't pass the smell test; whether a hero or not, something about him really stinks . . .
 

Inger Sheil

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Although Rostron answered the previous question about the memorial service, he flatly declined to respond about the bodies.
He gave the impression of being completely bewildered by the question. Given the belligerant questioning of the reporter, I'm not surprised he declined to answer further questions.

Interestingly, the reporter's question (describing 34 in a boat, only 16 of which were picked up) is somewhat similar to the story related by Carpathia passenger, Simon Senegal.
And - again - this description tallies with one of the collapsible boats...most probably 'A'. You also deliberately ommitted the following part of the quote:
At that time there were three dead bodies in the boat.
This strikes me as a reference to the men cast adrift by Harold Lowe in collapsible A.

No smoking gun here.
Somehow, in my mind, its Rostron, not the reporter, who doesn't pass the smell test; whether a hero or not, something about him really stinks . . .
I think your olfactory senses are flawed. Personally, I side with those many survivors who felt that he came up smelling of roses. The mud being thrown at him isn't sticking.