APUSH Discussion Groups: Did Yellow Journalism cause the Spanish-American War? (Yes)

Stance: Yes (how the media blew up what was happening in Cuba in order to sell more papers)

Synthesis & Thesis: The Spanish-American War wasn’t the first time the Americans were whipped into a frenzy of mass hysteria: the earliest and most famous example of which was the Salem Witch Trials. Over two hundred people were accused between February 1692 to May 1693 and twenty were executed. They were accused of practicing witchcraft and people believed that they were agents of the devil and could bring curses upon those they didn’t like. It turned out that there was a strong correspondence between the wealth and status of the accused and the accusers. The economic hardships of the time as well as their deep-seated superstitions and resentment caused the Trials and their beliefs spurred on by rumors and fear, spiralled out of control and resulted in very real consequences, much like the baselessness of the Spanish-American War. With the press actively working to encourage war, public opinion soon became putty to be molded according to the news headline of the day. With news stories so completely false and separate from the facts and yet having a massive following with eye-catching headlines, the US and Spanish government was soon backed into a corner where one had to fight to save face or risk rebellion and the other had to fight to relieve the bloodlust of its people. Yellow journalism caused the War by putting forth false and sensationalist news that fuelled public outrage and then forced the hand of the government through the pressure of public opinion.

Points:

  • Background-
    • Main players involved Hearst & Pulitzer, together had millions of readers
    • Penny newspaper means customers who are mid-lower class = less interested in mundane news = a lucrative business selling sensational headlines
    • Pulitzer and Hearst were rivals in the business
      • Pulitzer was against war but printed pro-war to increase circulation
  •  Incidents and Effects
    • De Lome’s Letter- construed as “the worse insult in American history”
    • He had to resign and it wasn’t much of a big deal if not for…
  •  Maine in Cuba
    • Was in Cuba on the pretense of being “a friendly act of courtesy”, the Vizcaya was sent to the US in return
    • Was hailed as the first “offensive” of the United States into Cuba by media
    • Was blown up, media blamed it on Spanish gov’t and spread the news that the Maine was blown up by mines planted by the Spanish government
  •  Vizcaya
    • Vizcaya arrived just after the Maine explosion
      • Front-page news for weeks, all spewing pro-war headlines of course
      • Suspected Vizcaya of ulterior motives– offended, Spanish officials barred Hearst’s men from boarding which caused more suspicious rumors
      • moon w/ two rings = sign from heaven
      • testimonials of wretched mothers (even made up a quote from Roosevelt), people volunteering to fight and condemned peace attempts as twaddle, whipping people up to a war-ready frenzy — revenge

 

 

 

 

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