Yellow Journalism and the Spanish-American War

Background

Nations and their leaders may sometimes find themselves being manipulated as they attempt to formulate foreign policy. Prior to 1898, some US government officials, influential private citizens, and the media (magazines and the press) were vociferous in their support of war with Spain. Students will be provided with the opportunity to examine public documents that fueled this spirit of jingoism and will analyze the effect upon the course of events.

Aim

To what extent is it possible for the media to manipulate public opinion?

Students Will Be Able To

  • Relate the appearance of comic strips to political commentary.
  • Analyze editorials, newspaper headlines, political cartoons, and maps within collaborative groups.
  • Discuss the importance of documents in formulating public opinion.
  • Write an editorial relating to a current issue.

Materials

Activities

Prior to this lesson the following activity, in addition to an appropriate homework, should be assigned.

Students will be provided with a copy (Doc. 1a) of an original "Yellow Kid" cartoon. They will also be provided with a reading (Doc. 1b) describing the origin of the cartoon and will then answer the following questions:

  1. Explain the relationship of the "Yellow Kid" comic strip to the competition among the New York daily newspapers.
  2. How did this strip contribute to the creation of a term to describe sensational journalism?

As a Motivation, Hook, or Do Now the instructor may provide as a comparison present-day cartoon editorials that reflect the opinion of newspapers toward US involvement in current conflicts.

Document Analysis as a Classroom Activity. The teacher will divide the class into five or six groups of equal size making certain to mix students by gender, race, and ability level. Each group will be provided with a preprinted Instruction Sheet and a collection of documents (Docs. 2a–f) related to the debate over America’s involvement in the Spanish-American War. The documents should be mixed ensuring that no two groups have two identical documents. Upon receiving the documents and their specific assignment, the groups will be given fifteen minutes to propose appropriate answers.

Representatives from each group will be called upon to read the questions they were assigned and their responses. The teacher, acting as a facilitator, will lead this debriefing, providing adequate time for questions and discussion. The teacher will then pose the following questions:

  1. How do the press reports regarding US involvement in current conflicts compare to those you have examined?
  2. Why have some critics claimed that freedom of the press compromises the attempt of our government to formulate foreign policy? (The teacher may also introduce the influence of WikiLeaks.)

Create a "value-free" editorial. The teacher may choose any appropriate and current foreign policy issue. For example: US support of political demonstrations in the Middle East; continuation of US foreign aid; US calls for free speech in the People’s Republic of China. Once completed, students will evaluate to determine whether goals of objectivity have been met and to determine whether "loaded" phrases or words have been omitted.

Why has the media often resorted to the use of inflammatory editorials and screaming headlines?

                   Or,

How has the Internet affected the traditional published newspaper?

Bibliography

  • Horn, Maurice, ed. 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. New York: Gramercy Books, 1996.
  • *** Note: Documents 2a–2f are provided courtesy of the Education Division of the New-York Historical Society.
  • Hearst, W. R. "Cuba Must Be Free!" Editorial. New York Journal, December 19, 1896.
  • Hearst, W. R. "The Duty of Congress." Editorial. New York Journal, January 1, 1897.
  • "Mc !! Don’t Be Afraid!!" Judge 1898.
  • "Maine Explosion Caused By Bomb or Torpedo?" Front Page. The World, February 17, 1898: 38.
  • "Map of Cuba." Supplement. The Evening Post. 1898.
  • "1863–1898 – History Repeats Itself." Judge, April 2, 18