How did Yellow Journalism affect the Spanish-American War?
Yellow journalism contributed to the Spanish-American war and helped sway public opinion to be in support of the war.
According to Crucible of Empire on PBS:
The Spanish-American War is often referred to as the first "media war." During the 1890s, journalism that sensationalized—and sometimes even manufactured—dramatic events was a powerful force that helped propel the United States into war with Spain. Led by newspaper owners William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, journalism of the 1890s used melodrama, romance, and hyperbole to sell millions of newspapers--a style that became known as yellow journalism.
A comic in Pulitzer's "New York World" is where the term "yellow journalism" was created. It featured a child who dressed in yellow and was referred to as the "yellow kid." Hearst, owner of the "New York Journal," wanted to capitalize on the publicity that his rival Pulitzer was enjoying.
Yellow journalism used sensational stories that tugged at readers' heartstrings to sell papers. Eye-catching headlines were another prominent feature of yellow journalism. Of course, dramatic happenings in the world pushed sales even more, which Hearst and his contemporaries knew.
When the USS Maine sunk in Havana, Hearst jumped to publish a story that blamed the Spanish for the tragedy. He had no evidence that they were involved—but the story still influenced public opinion against the Spanish. According to PBS, "Soon US public opinion demanded intervention." The papers pushed images of Spain as inhuman, publishing false pictures and stories that depicted the Spanish as abusive and dangerous.
Since public opinion had turned to favor war, the US. entered the conflict with Spain over Cuba.
According to the United States Office of the Historian:
The rise of yellow journalism helped to create a climate conducive to the outbreak of international conflict and the expansion of U.S. influence overseas, but it did not by itself cause the war. In spite of Hearst’s often quoted statement—“You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!”—other factors played a greater role in leading to the outbreak of war. The papers did not create anti-Spanish sentiments out of thin air, nor did the publishers fabricate the events to which the U.S. public and politicians reacted so strongly. Moreover, influential figures such as Theodore Roosevelt led a drive for U.S. overseas expansion that had been gaining strength since the 1880s.
While yellow journalism wasn't the only reason for the Spanish-American war, it did play its part. The sensationalist stories published by Hearst, Pulitzer, and those like them drove public demand for war in order to sell more papers.
The main impact that “yellow journalism” had on the Spanish American War was to push the United States towards getting involved in that war. William Randolph Hearst is famous for having used his newspapers to push for American involvement in the war.
Hearst and his papers used yellow journalism to push the US into the war by constantly trying to make the Spanish look as bad as possible. They started out by hyping what they saw as Spanish atrocities. The Spanish were fighting against a Cuban rebel insurgency and the yellow journalists played up things like the Spanish concentration camps. By doing so, they inflamed American opinion against Spain. The yellow journalists were especially effective in pushing the US into the war after the sinking of the USS Maine in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. The newspapers asserted that it was a foregone conclusion that Spain had attacked the ship. There were even illustrations purporting to prove how Spain had done so. There was no basis for these claims, but they were tremendously important in pushing the US into war.
Thus, yellow journalism was mainly important with regard to this war because it inflamed American public opinion, causing people to pressure the government to go to war against Spain.
Believe it or not, both revisionist historians like Howard Zinn and traditional historians like Larry Schweikart point out that the influence of Yellow Journalism on the causes of the Spanish Civil War have been overhyped. In the bumper sticker approach to US History, this makes for an easy cause, but the reality is that business interests had a much bigger role in starting the Spanish American War than supposed Yellow Journalism.