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What was the role of yellow journalism in the Spanish–American War?

Yellow journalism played a significant role in the Spanish-American War by inflaming public sentiment and promoting war.

Yellow journalism, a style of newspaper reporting that emphasises sensationalism over facts, played a pivotal role in the Spanish-American War. The term was coined in the late 19th century to describe the fierce competition between Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. Both newspapers were known for their sensationalist reporting, often exaggerating or even fabricating stories to increase circulation.

In the lead up to the Spanish-American War, both the World and the Journal published numerous stories about the alleged atrocities committed by the Spanish in Cuba. These stories, often based on dubious sources, painted a picture of a brutal and oppressive regime, stirring up public sentiment in the United States against Spain. The most infamous example of this was the reporting on the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbour in February 1898. Despite a lack of evidence, both newspapers immediately blamed Spain for the incident, with the Journal even publishing an unverified diagram showing how Spanish mines had supposedly caused the explosion.

This sensationalist reporting had a profound impact on public opinion. Many Americans, outraged by the stories of Spanish brutality and the alleged attack on the USS Maine, began to demand action from their government. This public pressure played a significant role in President McKinley's decision to declare war on Spain in April 1898.

Furthermore, yellow journalism also influenced the conduct of the war. The newspapers' sensationalist reporting continued throughout the conflict, with stories of American heroism and Spanish barbarity further inflaming public sentiment. This helped to maintain support for the war among the American public, despite the costs and casualties.

IB History Tutor Summary: Yellow journalism significantly influenced the Spanish-American War by sensationalising stories and stoking public outrage against Spain. Newspapers exaggerated Spanish atrocities and blamed Spain for the USS Maine explosion without clear evidence. This shaped American public opinion and pressured the government into war, sustaining support through reports of American valour and Spanish cruelty.

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