While many newspapers in the late 19th century shifted to more of a tabloid style, the notion that their headlines played a major part in starting the war is often overblown.
Joseph Campbell: “No serious historian of the Spanish-American War period embraces the notion that the yellow press of [William Randolph] Hearst and [Joseph] Pulitzer fomented or brought on the war with Spain in 1898…. Newspapers, after all, did not create the real policy differences between the United States and Spain over Spain’s harsh colonial rule of Cuba.”
“Newspapers did not cause the Cuban rebellion that began in 1895 and was a precursor to the Spanish-American War,” says Campbell. “And there is no evidence that the administration of President William McKinley turned to the yellow press for foreign policy guidance.”
“But this notion lives on because, like most media myths, it makes for a delicious tale, one readily retold,” Campbell says. “It also strips away complexity and offers an easy-to-grasp, if badly misleading, explanation about why the country went to war in 1898.”
The myth also survives, Campbell says, because it purports the power of the news media at its most malignant. “That is, the media at their worst can lead the country into a war it otherwise would not have fought,” he says. —History.com
When a correspondent sent to Cuba to cover a possible war telegraphed that there would be no war and he wanted to come home, Newspaper mogul Willam Randolph Hearst is said to have replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”
It’s a story I remember learning in middle school.
But there’s no contemporary evidence of this exchange, which would never have been permitted by the Spanish telegraph censors. The first reference to this story comes in a book written by a journalist who was in Europe at the time.
Historian Joseph Campbell sees the claim that newspaper propaganda caused the Spanish-American War as an exaggeration that meshes nicely with a worldview that sees journalists as untrustworthy and dangerous.
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