BEYOND YELLOW JOURNALISM
This study addresses much more than the successes and excesses of yellow journalism. It contains news reports and editorial commentary that were published in a variety of American newspapers, trade journals, and public affairs magazines, including titles (such as the Boston Post, Chicago Times-Herald, Florida Times-Union, Philadelphia Press, Sacramento Record-Union, and Toledo Blade) that seldom are cited in studies of the press and Spanish-American War. The selections in this work are intended to approximate a geographic cross-section of the American press of the late 1890s. And excerpts have been culled from newspapers and periodicals that are still publishing as well and titles now long defunct.
The selections include the work of prominent correspondents of the time, including Richard Harding Davis and Stephen Crane. Dispatches of lesser-known journalists—including Anna Northend Benjamin and Edward W. Harden—are represented as well. Additionally, one chapter considers the correspondence of American military personnel that was published in newspapers back home. Their letters were articulate and moving, and provided the home front with insight and a sense of immediacy not always matched by newspaper correspondents.
This volume includes examples of remarkable editorial commentaries that have been largely forgotten in the historiography of the press and the Spanish-American War. Notable among these editorials is the Chicago Tribune’s remarkable claim that the Maine’s destruction may have been evidence of divine displeasure at America for having allowed Cuba to suffer so long under Spanish rule. “The United States government has committed a sin, not only in the sight of the moral world but in the sight of that Almighty Ruler who governs the universe,” the Tribune declared in its remarkable editorial, published at the end of February 1898. “Divine Providence punishes the sins of omission of nations as well as it punishes the sins of commission of individuals.”1
The selections also include excerpts from the Fourth Estate’s predictions for journalism in the twentieth century and from W.E.B. Du Bois’ article, “Strivings of the Negro People,” which was published in Atlantic Monthly in 1897. The Du Bois article traces the thwarted aspirations of African Americans in the decades immediately following slavery’s abolition. It offers a reminder that the 1890s not only were a decisive time for the United States; they were also years of intolerance and racial hostility.
Because journalists were so conspicuous in the Spanish-American War—and because the overall significance of their work has been so poorly understood—several chapters that follow consider the conflict from the vantage point of war correspondents and the controversies that engulfed the press. For example, the chapter about the surrender of Spanish forces at Santiago de Cuba in mid-July 1898 is framed by the shocking, fist-swinging confrontation between Scovel and Shafter, the U.S. army commander. Presenting the Spanish-American War from the vantage point of journalists and their work helps to capture the vigor and the robust competition that were so characteristic of the American press at the end of the nineteenth century.
Generally, the excerpts of articles and editorials are presented with words spelled as they were in the late 1890s. Some examples are: “criticise,” “despatch”; “indorsement”; “intrenchment”; “Porto Rico,” and “to-day.” Capitalization of words often differed from contemporary usage. “President” is one example. Semicolons were frequently used in the late 1890s, and they appear often in some selections. Articles and editorials in the 1890s often contained lengthy paragraphs. This was notably the case in such periodicals as Harper’s Weekly and the Independent.
The anonymity of American reporters was slowly lifting in the late 1890s as bylines to identify authorship were gradually coming more popular. But that trend was not everywhere adopted and most newspaper articles of the time of the Spanish-American War did not identify the author. As such, few selections in this volume carry a byline.
Discerning the authorship of newspaper editorials is even more daunting. Editorials in the 1890s were typically published without bylines. Moreover, the staffs of editorial writers expanded during that time, making it even more difficult to determine authorship of editorials. Thus, no editorial included in this volume carries a byline.
The first and last chapters are devoted to trends and important issues in American life just before and just after the Spanish-American War. Together those chapters offer insights into just how influential the war’s outcome was to American life, and how readily the press detected and commented on those changes. The journalism of the 1890s was not without its flaws and even shocking lapses. But it was often perceptive and quick to grasp the implications of the Spanish-American War.
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103. “Is It a Warning of Divine Displeasure?” Chicago Tribune ( 26 February 1898): 6.