Yellow Journalism as a Warmonger in the Spanish-American War

Seminar Paper, 2017

19 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

List of Figures

1 Introduction

2 Origin, Definition and Development of Yellow Journalism
2.1 The Rivalry between New York Editors Pulitzer and Hearst
2.2 Coining of the Term
2.3 Definition of the Term Yellow Journalism

3 The Benefits for the United States of Intervening in the Conflict between Cuba and Spain
3.1 Imperialism
3.2 Business Interests

4 Public Opinion
4.1 The Reporting of Evangelina Cosio y Cisneros
4.2 The De Lôme Letter
4.3 The Sinking of the USS Maine

5 The Outbreak of War

6 Conclusion

7 Works Cited

List of Figures

Figure 3: The Yellow Kid, The Daily Omnivore. <>. 10 Oct. 2017.

Figure 4: New York Journal, October 14, 1897 1. <>. 25 Oct. 2017.

1 Introduction

We are now, in the 21st century, confronted with a wider variety of media than ever before consisting not only of newspapers and radio, but also of television and the internet. This tremendously increases the possibilities of shaping public opinion for the purpose of either financial profit or, which is far more important, political gain. The latter case particularly takes on greater significance when it comes to elections or referendums which will make a landmark decision for the future of a country. In this context the term ‘post-truth’ - an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”1 - has emerged and was even declared international word of the year 2016 by the Oxford Dictionaries. Such a term could also have been used more than a century ago in order to describe the phenomenon treated in this paper: yellow journalism. However, at that time, the only source of information for people to rely on was the newspaper. Accordingly, its significance was even greater.

This research examines in how far yellow journalism served as a warmonger in the Spanish-American War. The paper is divided into five main parts. The first part is about yellow journalism, on which the main focus will be due to the complexity of this topic. Its origin - the rivalry between the two most influential editors of that era, Hearst and Pulitzer - will be examined and the term itself will be defined. The following part deals with the benefits of American military intervention in the conflict between Cuba and Spain. A closer look will be given on the other significant reasons for war to erupt: building up an empire and business interests. The third part will focus on certain events like the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine and how they were presented to the American population in the media, more specifically in the newspapers. This will lead to the penultimate part, in which the outbreak of the war will be studied. In the conclusion, the impact of yellow journalism on the Spanish– American War in contrast to the other presented significant causes will be summed up.

2 Origin, Definition and Development of Yellow Journalism

In order to define the term ‘yellow journalism’ it is necessary to first explain how it originated. Therefore, it is required to take a closer look at the main actors of a bitter rivalry which eventually led to the emergence and diffusion of yellow journalism.

2.1 The Rivalry between New York Editors Pulitzer and Hearst

Joseph Pulitzer, born in 1847 in Hungary, was the first editor to build up a major newspaper: the New York World which in 1886 “was the most profitable newspaper in the nation.”2 He arrived in the United States as a penniless immigrant but soon found a job at the St. Louis Newspaper. He climbed the ranks in journalism thanks to his unique voice, mixing thought-provoking editorials and news with crime and public interest stories which required intensive investigative journalism. Then he bought two failing newspapers and merged them creating the St. Louis Post- Dispatch. By doing so, he pioneered a new style of journalism which employed bigger headlines and more usage of colours as well as of illustrations.

This helped Pulitzer to directly address to his preferred audience: the masses of the ordinary American people. After that, he moved on to New York City where he purchased the New York World. His mission was to build a newspaper for New York’s immigrants and working class by offering both information and entertainment in his paper. His success was tremendous, making the World the city’s circulation leader only a year and a half after the takeover.3

His rival was William Randolph Hearst. He was born in 1863 in California as the son of an incredibly wealthy mining engineer. He was not much interested in academics as show his years at Harvard that ended in expulsion from school due to a prank. Nevertheless, he was attracted to journalism most likely owing to the new methods and the rapid success of Pulitzer in New York. Consequently, at the age of 24, his father gave him the failing newspaper he had bought, the San Francisco Examiner. There he did surprisingly well not only thanks to his unlimited access to money but also because of his deep devotion to journalism. After his huge success in San Francisco, he was finally prepared to compete against his idol Pulitzer by acquiring a declining New York newspaper, the Morning Journal. After shortening the name to only the Journal and dropping the price to merely one penny, Hearst was still in need of something more in order to seriously threaten the leading position of Pulitzer’s World. Besides big and bold headlines, increasing the size of images and sensationalistic treatments, he now decided to do “something Pulitzer had not stooped to: overt manipulation and distortion of the news.”4 Hence, it is clear that both Hearst and Pulitzer were not afraid of utilising shady methods for the sake of increasing circulation numbers as well as newspaper dominance.5

2.2 Coining of the Term Yellow Journalism

Before defining yellow journalism, it is helpful to take a closer look at the coining of the term in order to understand its historical context.

Besides Pulitzer and Hearst, there were other important editors competing in the fin de siècle New York City journalism, too. However, only one particular publisher is of major importance to this paper: Erwin Wardman. He was the one who most likely coined the term ‘yellow journalism’. There is still some controversy if he really was the first to use the term. There are some vague claims of other people that might had neologized the phrase before like Charles A. Dana, the editor of the New York Sun. 6 However, it is assured that Wardman was the first to publish the term in his New York Press. On the 23rd of January of 1897 the phrase ‘yellow-kid journalism’ appeared in his paper, eight days later the term was shortened to only the ‘yellow journalism’.

The first publication (yellow-kid journalism) was clearly a derivation from Yellow Kid. The Yellow Kid was the protagonist of the extremely popular comic strip ‘Duckey Hogan’s Alley’. It first appeared in the Sunday edition of the New York World and was drawn by Richard F. Outcault. The revolutionary comic that was printed in colour attired the ordinary people. It deals with the problems and concerns of the upper-class society but is displayed in the ghetto solely by kids. The language was influenced by Irish immigrant slang and far away from accurate English. The iconic character appeared in an oversized bright yellow nightdress and was thus generally called the Yellow Kid.7

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3: The Yellow Kid

As Hearst envied the massive success of this cartoon he tried to poach Pulitzer’s innovative cartoonist R. F. Outcault. His attempt turned out to be fruitful and henceforth the adventures of the Yellow Kid were presented in his Journal. Pulitzer counterattacked by having another artist, George B. Luks, continue the cartoon strip in his Sunday edition of the World. This simultaneous weekly release of two identic characters was a major headache for many New York editors as it showed how the cartoon character was exploited by the two newspaper moguls that defined the era. The battle over the cartoonist Outcault was not an extraordinary phenomenon. Hearst repeatedly tried to headhunt Pulitzer’s staff in order to weaken the profit- yielding Sunday edition of the World and to make his newspaper more appealing to the reader. Since money was no object, this worked out really well for Hearst. Pulitzer on the other hand, tried to either negotiate with his crew, which was difficult due to the unlimited financial resources of his opponent, or to hire away leading editors from competing newspapers.

Amongst the adversaries of this rivalry was Wardman who had studied like Hearst in Harvard. He disdained Hearst due to the inexhaustible financial resources he received from his parents and his alleged lack of imagination that obviously made him vigorously imitate his idol but also rival Pulitzer. Wardman frequently denounced the so called ‘new journalism’ accusing the sensationalist papers of “absence of dignity and moral standards.”8

The term was eventually coined in January 1897 after the World proclaimed that the bubonic plague in India could pose a threat to the United States, while the Journal said that there was little to fear without totally denying the possibility of it happening. Wardman decided to put an end to this controversy by saying that there is nothing to fear at all and that it was not more than “an attack of yellow-kid journalism.”9

2.3 Definition of the Term Yellow Journalism

“Journalism that is based upon sensationalism and crude exaggeration.”10

This is the definition of the Oxford Dictionary for yellow journalism. This simple sentence however can only scratch the surface of the topic. Nonetheless, describing its meaning contributes to a better grasp.

When the term was coined, yellow journalism characterized the rivalry between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer particularly in their contest for the services of R. F. Outcault. Later “it extended to the sensationalist style employed by the two publishers.”11

Yellow journalism is defined by various means as an attempt to increase the reader’s interest, such as bigger and bolder headlines, more attractive illustrations, frequent usage of colour particularly in the Sunday edition and appealing layout; but also by sensationalistic treatments, scandalous investigations and outright faked news.12 On the one hand it marks an important and progressive step from traditional monotonous and boring newspapers to reader appealing, colourful and modern newspapers. On the other hand, it shows how unethically humans can act for the sake of maximizing profits as in this case. The immoral conduct of Hearst and also Pulitzer will be examined in more detail in chapter 4: Public Opinion.

3 The Benefits for the United States of Intervening in the Conflict between Cuba and Spain

The conflict between Cuba and Spain consisted in a liberation war fought by Cuban rebels against Spanish colonial rule. The first noteworthy Cuban revolutionary revolt had started in 1868, the Ten Years’ War which served as “forerunner of the 1895 Insurrection”13 and demanded economical as well as political reform.14 Then, in 1895 the Cuban War of Independence led by Martí erupted.

It is clear that American military intervention in the conflict would not simply happen because two publishers would find it convenient in order to gain in circulation and make higher profits. There obviously were other reasons why the United States would intervene. First of all, the situation in Cuba was terrible. Attempting to set an end to the bloody rebellion, Spain implemented the so called reconcentration policy which consisted of relocating the general peasant population to cities and towns under Spanish control so that the rebels can be distinguished more easily. However, the conditions under which Cubans were held were inhuman meaning that “over 100,000 certainly died.”15 Particularly the regime of General Valeriano Weyler - whose “name has become forever associated with all that is most vile in war”16 - was portrayed in a manner that no sensible man could find it acceptable how Cuban population was suppressed by the colonial government. Secondly, there was a growing tendency to start something the European countries were already in the midst of - imperialism. The third reason consists of various business interests in the conflict. The two latter ones will be discussed more precisely in the following chapters.


1 Allison Flood, “'Post-truth' named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries”. The Guardian. 5 Sep. 2017.

2 George H. Douglas, The Golden Age of the Newspaper (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1999) 96.

3 Denis Brian, Pulitzer: A Life (Weinheim: Wyler, 2001) 13-32.

4 Douglas 111.

5 Ben Procter, William Randolph Hearst: The Early Years, 1863–1910 (Oxford: OUP, 1998) 11-45.

6 W. Joseph Campbell, Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legacies (Berkeley: University of Carolina Press, 2010) 27.

7 Ted Curtis Smythe, The Gilded Age Press, 1865–1900 (Westport: Praeger, 2003) 182.

8 Campbell 26.

9 Campbell 32.

10 Oxford Living Dictionaries. 20 Jul. 2017

11 “U.S. Diplomacy and Yellow Journalism, 1895-1898”, Office of the Historian. 5 Aug. 2017

12 Campbell 6-8.

13 “Chronology”, The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War. 20 Aug. 2017

14 Donald Dyal, Brian H. Carpenter, and Mark A. Thomas, Historical Dictionary of the Spanish- American War (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996) 268.

15 John Lawrence Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba 1895-98 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006) 193.

16 Tone 153.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Yellow Journalism as a Warmonger in the Spanish-American War
American War Experience
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Yellow Journalism, United States, Fake News, Post-truth, Cuba, Spain, yellow press, journalism, regenbeogenpresse, War, Krieg, Warmonger, Kriegstreiber, Spanish-American War, 1898, Imperialism
Quote paper
Emanuel Morhard (Author), 2017, Yellow Journalism as a Warmonger in the Spanish-American War, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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