Pushing America Toward An International War

In the late 1800s, the United States was heavily influenced by “two publishing visionaries.” Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst took journalism to a whole new level, which involved altered and exaggerated coverage of events. Hearst and Pulitzer ‘became engaged in the most notorious newspaper war in history.” The two publishers went back and forth coming out with more overly dramatic stories, and ways of obtaining them.

As a result of their complex rivalry, yellow journalism came to exist. This yellow journalism and inaccurate coverage of events such as the 1898 explosion of the battleship USS Maine, caused the United States to become unnecessarily and overly involved in a conflict that would later be determined as “completely avoidable,” had the country not been in such a chaotic state caused by the inflated news coverage.

In 1895 when Hearst began hearing about Cuban rebels who were “tired of their colonial status and were striking out at Spanish economic interests by wrecking trains and burning sugar plantations,” he found a way to make it interesting and relatable for his American audience by comparing the situation in Cuba to colonial America wanting independence.

The US Maine had exploded, most likely by accident, while in Havana Harbor, killing 260 US sailors. Of course in order to get a captivating headline, someone (Spain) had to be blamed. The Spanish-American war most likely could have been avoided, but the decision was not entirely made by the politicians. According to the text, it was, “a war fueled by the news media.”

“‘The Spanish-American War came as close to being a ‘one-man war’ as any conflict in our history.'”(75)  -John Winkler

Discussion Questions

  • Why do you think people were so susceptible to yellow journalism? Why were so many people just taking the first thing that was being fed to them? Was there a way around it?

Key Terms & People

  • Yellow Journalism: (“One part news to one part hype”) Journalism with a sensationalist writing style meant to exaggerate events for the purpose of increasing sales

“The Post wrote caustically, ‘Everyone who knows anything about yellow journals knows that everything they do and say is intended to promote sales. No one—absolutely no one––supposes a yellow journal cares five cents about the Cubans, the Maine victims, or anyone else.'”

  • Joseph Pulitzer (The Journal)
  • William Randolph Hearst (The World)
  • USS Maine (US Navy Ship that exploded in Havana Harbor during the Cuban revolt against Spain)
  • Sensationalism(Writing in such a way that provokes interest and excitement)


3a20503r.jpgDestruction of “Maine”, Havana harbor, Cuba, Spanish-American War 1898. Photograph shows sailors and others in small boats near the wreckage of the U. S. S. Maine; a wreath is tossed from the Maine’s crows nest, American flag waving. Created / Published1912.


01036v.jpgExplosion of the Maine. Print shows the U.S.S. Maine blowing up in the harbor at Havana, Cuba; a small portrait of Captain C. D. Sigsbee decorates the lower left margin. Contributor NamesMuller, Luchsinger & Co.Created / Publishedc1898 June 21.

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