Hearst and Pulitzer’s East coast-West coast rivalry and how it affected the Spanish American war
“You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war”- William Hearst
America’s “Imperialism age” and image as the world power it is considered today started around 1894 under president McKinley. It was considered America’s “new manifest destiny” and came into full swing when the U.S. decided they wanted more political say in the Hawaiian government than what we were getting through the colony we had established there. Eventually the Dole family funded a political overthrow of the government, and when the monarchy resisted, the U.S. responded by sending in troops. After queen Liliuokalani was forced to resign, the U.S. established Pearl Harbor naval base and eventually acquired a hunger for trade routes and a control of the oceans that Hawaii’s sugar trade and naval base couldn’t feed. This lead to our involvement in Spanish affairs in Cuba.
Cuba’s sugar trade was of a vastly larger scale than Hawaii’s, but the island was already being occupied by Spain. However, the Cuba Libre movement had been taking place throughout this time – a common pattern of rebellious uprisings from the Cuban people against Spain. In an attempt to put an end to the uprisings, General Weyler set up what has come to be known as ultimately the blue print for concentration camps. 25 percent of Cuba’s population, nearly 300,000 people by the end of 1897, were placed into one of Weyler’s camps.
Weyler’s camp is where we first see yellow journalism resort to sensational headlines and prying stories out of Cuba. General Weyler was given the name “The Butcher” by yellow journalists in response to his “ruthless tactics”, turning American attention and sympathy towards the island. Journalists banked on how the public’s feeling of this demonstration of Spanish power being an uncomfortable 90 miles from our boarder, and gave fuel to the current war between William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.
Prior to the 1890s, there had been a major news output on either coast, Hearst on the west coast, and Pulitzer on the east. In the 1890s, however, Hearst decided to open a rival newspaper in New York, dropping his price to 1 cent a paper (“penny press”). Pulitzer responded by doing the same, and the two companies eventually resorted to sensational headlines, and the creation of yellow journalism in order to attract sales, hence them resorting to naming general Weyler The Butcher. Prior to American involvement, Hearst hired an artist named Frederick Remington to “record” the war in Cuba between the rebellion and Spain. Hearst having supposedly told Remington, “You furnish the pictures, and i’ll furnish the war” giving way to yellow journalism’s control over how the American people viewed the affairs in Cuba.
In 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine is docked in Havana to “monitor development and protect American investment”. On February 15th, the ship explodes, killing 299 Americans.Yellow journalists immediately go to work pointing blame at Spain, and soon “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain” slogans and posters go up. When an investigation later proves that a fire in the boiler room, located right next to a weapons room, was the real cause of the explosion, president McKinley choose to keep the new information quiet.
It wasn’t until the interception of the De Lome letter, a telegraph from Alfred Delome, the Spanish ambassador in the U.S., back to the Spanish saying our leader was “weak, catered to rabble, and a low politician” that McKinley started to consider war. The telegraph was made public and was even more fire for yellow journalists. President McKinley tried putting off entering war for as long as possible, believing our navy wasn’t strong enough, but eventually passed the Teller Amendment claiming our plan was “Cuban independence, not to annex”. America declared war on Spain on April 25th, 1898, and yellow journalists follow the troops in through future president, Theodore Roosevelt.
At this time, Teddy Roosevelt was the assistant secretary of the navy, and became deeply involved in American “imperialism”. He declared an invasion on the Philippines and put together the Rough Riders.Wanting to feed his love for the idea of war, Theodore agrees to Pulitzer’s offer of hiring him as a war correspondent for his newspaper. However, the only battle Theodore ended up reporting back to Pulitzer on was the battle of San Juan hill. With no one to say otherwise, Teddy may have made himself and the Rough Riders out to be more heroic than they may have actually been.Regardless, Roosevelt ends up coming out of the war the most profitable and is even chosen as McKinley’s vice president for the election of 1900
Without Hearst and Pulitzer’s feud creating sensational headlines, a need for news that would “one up” each other, and a willingness to go to any means necessary to create that news, the Spanish American war could have been brought upon in a completely different way, if at all. Relentless “egging on” from media in foreign and domestic affairs is clearly, nothing new.