How did Journalism affect the Spanish-American War?

Essay by keakin1 April 2006

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Journalism Kindles the Spanish-American War

Over the years it has been easy to dismiss this reporting as a low point in journalism history. After all it led to the Spanish American War and to American Imperialism. Yellow journalism was often sensational and sometimes inaccurate. It frequently pandered to prejudice and extreme patriotism in order to gain attention, sell papers, and claim credit for helping the government into action.

Competition between the Hearst and Pulitzer chains could increase the pressure for dramatizing, sensationalizing, printing of unverified rumors in order to portray developments in Victorian age "black and white."

It became fashionable for critics of yellow journalism to ignore what the Spanish actually did in Cuba and focus instead on the great newspaper publishers' greed for profits, circulation, and power.

Yet the facts are crystal clear: brutal Spanish abuses did take place even though the worst reporting might be distorted, based on unreliable information, or even simply made up.

The yellow press helped create a firestorm of anti-Spanish feeling when the Maine was mysteriously blown up in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898.

On April 20 President McKinley reluctantly declared war on Spain, despite his painful memories of "stacked corpses" from his service in the Civil War. Ironically the sinking came at just the time a new Madrid government moved away from harsh suppression of Cuban rebels and indicated it wanted negotiations with United States to avert war.

Hearst and Pulitzer printed sensational anti-Spanish stories. Graphic illustrations commissioned from some of the country's most-talented artists and stories written by premiere authors and journalists of the day were fodder for fueling the flames of war. Together, Hearst and Pulitzer created frenzy among the American people by reporting the alleged brutality of the Spanish toward the Cuban rebels. However, acts of outrage committed by...