Yellow Journalism, Then & Now

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

In 1898, the US battleship Maine was sent to the port of Havana, then under Spain’s jurisdiction, while a Spanish ship being sent to New York in an attempt to de escalate the rising tensions between the two countries. On February 15, an explosion occurred in the hull of Maine, causing it to sink into the harbor. By all reliable accounts at the time, the outbreak originated from the ship itself.

Despite this, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, two major news publishers in New York City, used this as an excuse to raise the American people’s already negative views towards Spain caused by Theodore Roosevelt’s call for expansion overseas as they had been doing before, claiming that there was a plot to sink the ship. By the time the US Navy had done an investigation and found the explosion to originate from a mine in the harbor, both publishers were already fanning the flames and calling for war with Spain. In the following months, the Spanish-American War would begin, leading to the loss of 3,000 American lives.

Both publishers were well known for partaking in yellow journalism, a journalism style that sensationalizes facts to maximize profit even if it means sacrificing the truth. This type of reporting was at its peak in the late 19th century and was heavily scrutinized for fabricating stories and generally not giving reliable, unbiased news. These were only two of the many yellow journalist publishers that spread disinformation to sway public opinion. On the topic of Cuba, Hearst and Pulitzer even created false stories supporting the revolutionaries that sought independence from Spain.

Unfortunately, such malpractice in the world of journalism and news has persevered to this very day. It is all too familiar for some media members, both major and minor, to blow

stories out of proportion, focus on specific parts of a word, or just generally spread disinformation. This could be done for a variety of reasons, such as attracting viewers through sensationalized stories that catch the eye or merely using specific parts of a story to spread a political belief or bias. It’s even wholly possible for a publisher to essentially fabricate a description for this particular purpose, as has happened recently.

The past few weeks have seen the rise of a scandal regarding Hunter Biden, the son of now president-elect Joe Biden. He was discharged from the military in February of 2014 for testing positive for cocaine. A computer repair shop in Delaware claimed to have in its care a laptop containing incriminating evidence regarding the Biden family, including child pornography and the details of illegal dealings relating to both Hunter and Joe Biden. This story was heavily used to attack Joe Biden during his presidential run, not just by the public but by major news outlets.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson is well known for being one of the most influential conservative media figures in recent memory, with his television program Tucker Carlson Tonight having the highest viewership in cable news history. Following the rumor of the now dubbed “Hunter Biden laptop,” Carlson claimed that he would soon be in possession of the smoking gun of this scandal: incriminating documents on the Biden family sourced by one of his producers. These documents were to be sent via mail.

Following this claim, Carlson’s package was seemingly lost, with it nowhere to be found. This was immediately followed by claims of foul play, with him stating that “Someone, for some reason, opened our package and removed a flash drive containing documents that were damaging to the Biden family.” Carlson further fanned the flames of the story, with him saying on his television program that it was bound to contain documents of the life of Joe Biden.

Soon after this, he interviewed Miranda Devine, a columnist for the New York Post, over their belief that this case was being influenced by the media, with it and big tech conspiring to “suppress and discredit the Joe and Hunter Biden story.”

Due to this perceived conspiracy against him, Tucker Carlson lambasted UPS for allowing such an action to take place right under their noses. The day after, UPS explained in an interview with The Daily Beast that the package was simply lost, apparently due to a complication, and had since been found. At this discovery, which disproved his theory of extraction of incriminating information by a third party, Carlson decided to altogether drop the Hunter Biden laptop story days before the election, saying that, “Hunter Biden is a fallen man at this point.” He continued, “He’s now humiliated and alone. It’s probably too strong to say we feel sorry for Hunter Biden, but the point is, pounding on a man, jumping on, piling on when he’s already down is something that we don’t want to be involved in.” Regardless of the truth behind the Hunter Biden laptop, it’s clear that Tucker Carlson likely never had any real evidence of the case and was simply using it as a ploy to target Joe Biden’s presidential run and generate ratings

The news industry has always had a tumultuous relationship with the ideal of truthful reporting. Unfortunately, yellow journalism is still a pervasive issue to this day. When it comes down to it, Tucker Carlson faking evidence is virtually no different than Pulitzer and Hearst revving up America for war before even having a substantial reason to do so.

Both are blatant examples of misinformation intended to sway public opinion and generate ratings. Due to the persistence of this journalism style, it has been left to the reader to distinguish the straight facts from bias and misinformation. If someone sees a news story that may seem suspicious in some way, whether it be attempting to make them as a reader believes in a specific idea or perspective, or if the story itself simply seems too wild for reality, it’s always best to look deeper for the full information.