Remember how two newspapers spurred the country to war by reporting wild speculation just so they could sell some papers. I wish I could say we have progressed as a nation since then.
The explosion of the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, ensured that the U.S. would not be content to watch the Cuban spectacle from the bleacher seats any more. Two hundred and sixty crew members died in the blast, and a Navy board of inquiry examined the cause of the explosion. Many New York newspapers, including the Times, Tribune, Herald and Evening Post, counseled patience and peace for the time being. However, both the World and the Journal jumped on the jingo bandwagon, concurrently publishing a “suppressed cable” that said the explosion was not an accident. 26 The cable was later discovered to have been manufactured. 27
The effect of the rabble rousing by the two largest newspapers in New York cannot be underestimated. The World claimed to have sold five million copies the week after the Maine disaster. 28 The public clamor for President McKinley to declare war was enormous as a result of the tainted reports in the papers. And though the Spanish-American War proved “splendid” from a military standpoint, it did not hold up to contemporary moral scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the World would be linked forever in history with Hearst’s Journal under the banner of “yellow journalism” for the role it played in exacerbating the conflict. However, the conscious disregard for the facts was an aberration for Pulitzer, and his later correspondence revealed that the episode haunted him for the rest of his life. (See appendix for Hearst photo and example of sensational World front page.)