Yellow Journalism and the Spanish-American War
Profiting from Resentment
On January 25, 1898, the USS Maine arrived in Havana to show the American flag and intimidate Spain. This event was worthy of only a small story, and a report from Hearst reporter Julian Hawthorne about hungry Cubans received much more coverage. Above this story, Hearst placed a headline that read: "Cuban Babes Prey to Famine, Thousands of Children of the Reconcentrados Perishing in Island Towns, Sights that Sicken Strong Men." In the story, Hawthorne demonized the Spanish, writing that they were "more pitiless than Kurds." He also described piles of dead bodies as a result of Spanish oppression. While Hearst sensationalized the Spanish concentration camp policies, he also neglected to report most of the atrocities committed by the Cuban insurgents.
In February of 1898, two events occurred that moved the United States closer to war with Spain. On February 9, a letter from Enrique Depuy de Lôme, Spanish minister to the United States, to a Spanish editor touring Cuba was stolen by the latter's secretary and passed along to the Cuban insurgents. A facsimile of the letter, which was sharply critical of U.S. president William McKinley, soon appeared in the Hearst papers. De Lôme called the president "weak and catering to the rabble, and besides a low politician who desires to leave a door open to me and to stand well with the jingoes of his party." Hearst's papers labeled this letter as "The Worst Insult to the United States in History." Spain recalled de Lôme before the letter appeared in print, but the American public was outraged.
On February 15, the Maine blew up in Havana harbor, causing the deaths of more than 250 of its crew. While it was most likely the result of an internal explosion or a mine set by the Cuban insurgents, on February 17, all of Hearst's papers ran the headline, "MAINE BLOWN UP BY TORPEDO." Underneath, and in much smaller print, were the phrases "Such is the belief now gaining ground" and "May have been anchored over a mine." This event, and the outrage produced by Hearst's sensational and misleading headlines about it, are widely considered to be the tipping point for the beginning of the Spanish-American War.