In August 1951, 59-year-old science reporter Hugh Stewart approached his editors at the Chicago Herald-American
with a hot tip. He had learned that a Chicago mother was about to give birth to sextuplets. It would be the first time a confirmed birth of sextuplets had occurred in America.
Stewart offered no verifiable sources for the news. He insisted that "if I break my informants' confidence it will ruin me." Nor could he disclose the mother's name because "critical medical and psychological problems necessitate such protection." Nevertheless, the Herald-American
decided to run his story on its front page. It appeared on August 21 under the headline, "Mother Here Expects 5 or 6 Babies." The article disclosed that "Obstetricians, using stethoscopes, have detected the heartbeats of six babies."
Los Angeles Times
- Aug 22, 1951
Rival reporters tried to track down the expectant mother, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Stewart continued to supply new details about the mother. He revealed she was 32 years old, already had three children, and was well off. However, she wanted no publicity.
When the expected delivery date passed by in September with no baby, he explained that "The mother's blood pressure went up and the doctor gave her a drug to correct that condition, knowing that this drug would cause a delaying action in the birth." When a new delivery date passed by again, Stewart attributed it to a puzzling cyst condition. But he also noted, "Latest X rays show that there are not six babies but only five. That is definite."
Finally, after months had passed by, Stewart's editors grew impatient and demanded he produce evidence to back up his claims. He then confessed he had made up the entire story. The source of his hot tip was actually his twelve-year-old niece who had heard the rumor at Girl Scout camp.
fired Stewart and printed an apology to its readers, stating that, "Gradually a sickening suspicion became conviction a seasoned, mature newsman had 'cracked up' and fallen for the lure of a false 'newsbeat.'"
Stewart told reporters, "They were right in firing me. I was awfully goofy."
Links and References
- "Chicago's Big Six." (Feb. 18, 1952). Time Magazine.
- Associated Press. (Aug 21, 1951). "Sextuplets May Be Born." San Antonio Express.
- UPI. (Feb 8, 1951). "Sextuplet Report Fools Paper." Long Beach Independent.