The role of “yellow journalism” in promoting war between the United States and Spain in the late 1890s is primarily connected to William Randolph Hearst and the news stories related to the sinking of the USS Maine. Hearst was one of the leading U.S. newspaper publishers of the era. Along with those published by Joseph Pulitzer, Hearst’s papers focused on sensational stories designed to increase circulation. (The “yellow” was derived from a cartoon character, the Yellow Kid.) As rumors of war grew stronger, Hearst sent reporters, illustrators, and photographers to Havana, Cuba, and published diverse stories about the hardships of colonial life under Spanish rule.
In 1898, when the USS Maine exploded in Havana’s harbor, the cause was identified as an underwater mine, but more recent research questions this finding. In his New York Journal, Hearst accused the Spanish of deliberately blowing up the ship. He also offered a reward of fifty thousand dollars for conviction of the criminals responsible. His relentless campaign of accusation fueled US popular support for war, which featured the slogan “Remember the Maine!”