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The Media’s Role in the Spanish-American War

Two NY newspapers got Americans so upset with Spain that the nation went to war.

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The press has a lot of influence over the United States. In fact, the media exercises so much sway over the country that it has played a critical role in pushing the nation into military conflict. The Spanish-American War is an example of how journalism can often have widespread consequences.

Yellow Journalism and International Tensions

In the late 1800s, two rival newspaper companies engaged in a bitter battle to earn more readers. The New York Journal, which was run by William Randolph Hearst, began to challenge The New York World, which was run by Joseph Pulitzer.

The two papers began trying to sell more newspapers by publishing wildly sensational stories. In many cases, journalists working for these companies stretched the truth and, in some cases, they outright lied to lure readers into buying their work.

Both newspapers focused on political corruption and issues related to injustice. But in the 1890s, they began focusing on international relations in a way that built up public approval of the upcoming Spanish-American War.

A Time for War

In 1895, The World and The Journal started focusing on terrible acts committed by Spain’s military in Cuba. Through a lot of news reports, they increased resentment towards the Spanish government among the American public.

Spanish authorities captured Cubans and placed them into “reconcentration areas” without providing adequate food, shelter, or medical care. Many of these individuals died from hunger and disease.

Both newspapers gave extensive coverage of these events. They played on American sympathy towards a nation trying to gain its independence much like the colonist did in the Revolutionary War.

By 1896, the World and the Journal were running pieces designed to create outrage at Spain. They published reports with headlines like “Spanish Treachery,” and “Invasion!” But it was not until the U.S.S. Maine, an American warship, was sunk that the U.S. was pushed over the edge.

The Power of Yellow Journalism

It would be wrong to say that yellow journalism was the only cause of the Spanish-American War. Plenty of other factors certainly contributed to the environment that led to the military conflict.

Still, it cannot be denied that the media played a big role in pushing popular support.  Indeed, without public opinion on his side, President McKinley would have had a much harder time when it came to fulfilling his threats against the Spanish government.

This is yet another reason why it is important for Americans to know how to consume the news. Sometimes, the press can deceive people into believing narratives that are not true.

Race Relations & Media Affairs Correspondent at and A self-confessed news and political junkie, Jeff’s writing has been featured in Small Business Trends, Business2Community, and The Huffington Post. Born in Southern California and having experienced the 1992 L.A. Riots up close and personal, Jeff’s insights are informed by his experiences as a black man and a conservative.

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