Yellow Journalism, The Monroe Doctrine, And Cuban Fight For Independence

Living in a post-industrial, post-internet era where the entirety of human knowledge has become dispensable in just the click of a button, it has become increasingly difficult for individuals to discern between well-researched journalism and disinformation. However, the legitimacy of news has, even prior to the 21st century, been regularly put into question. Coined in the 1890s, the term 'yellow journalism' was used to describe news outlets that stylistically used sensationalism in place of well-researched information. Perhaps most prominently, yellow journalism has most frequently been referenced in the context of its use as a war tactic in the Spanish-American war. Fought from April 21st to August 13th in 1898, the war between America and Spain started as an American attempt to help Cuba liberate themselves from Spain's ruling; however, many Americans both at the time then and in the years since have accredited the direct cause of the war to have been the coverage that came as a result of the USS Maine ship's sinking. In spite of the lack of empirical evidence that the sinking of the ship came as a result of Spain's doing, this was the event that would have ultimately pressured 25th President William McKinley into finally declaring war against Spain. That being said, it would be irresponsible to talk about the war exclusively within the context of yellow journalism as doing so would ignore the cumulation of the several other factors that, over the course of several years, had led to the war. Whether it manifested in the several news outlets that blamed Spain for the sinking of the USS Maine ship or in the statistics that hyperbolized the bad living conditions in Cuba as a result of Spain's control, yellow journalism had undoubtedly influenced the mass of the American population into supporting the Spanish-American war; however, the extent to which several historians have attributed yellow journalism to being one of the primary causes of the war has been massively overstated. In examining the limited influence that yellow journalism has had in contrast to other influences, such being the fixed imperialistic principles rooted from the Monroe Doctrine and the longterm Cuban fight for independence even prior to the U.S' involvement, it becomes evident that yellow journalism was not so much a direct cause of the war so much as it was a catalyst, a factor that had been conveniently assigned credit to because of its role in directly prompting the war.

Although it might not have been as influential of a cause as others, yellow journalism still played a large role in war efforts, especially in particular regard with influencing the opinions of the American people. As a result of the way in which Spain's ruling over Cuba was portrayed, sympathy for Cuban rebels had not only heightened but, in turn, had many Americans to believe that U.S. intervention was not only justifiable but necessary. Rather than processing the moral complexities involved in the war, many had begun to perceive Spain as having been entirely in the wrong with the contrary applying to America. In having succumbed to this mentality, Americans subsequently became more susceptible to overlooking the other, not so morally driven contributing factors to America's intervention (i.e. desire for global influence, economic power, etc.). William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer were individuals that have had their fair share of acclaim in the world of yellow journalism. No empirical proof had been provided regarding this event's credibility; nevertheless, an alleged interaction between William Randolph Hearst and Frederic Remington has been frequently cited in alluding towards one of the primary reasons as to why yellow journalism became as notable of a war tactic as it was. In the year of 1897, both Remington and Richard Harding Davis, workers for one of Hearst' several newspapers, were instructed by Hearst to report on the living conditions in Cuba. In spite of Remington's insistence that both he and Davis were to return to America as they found that there was nothing to report, Hearst insisted on the contrary: in having asked Remington to 'furnish the pictures [while Hearst furnishes] the war', Hearst demonstrated an all too manipulative yet common theme in what was most of yellow journalism in the Spanish-American war then: real photographs supplemented with fake context. Although the photographs taken in Cuba were real, yellow journalism would have had it so that the anecdotes and statistics connoted with the photos were dramatized if not blatantly false. In retrospect, that the 'photographs of hungry children were an accurate depiction of conditions for many ordinary Cubans' signified that there was still value in the photos. Although the explanations for them may not have held any integrity in that they were either inaccurate or misleading, the photos, nevertheless, revealed, at the very least, an objective truth which was that the living conditions for Cubans were unsafe. The Cuban Junta, alternately referred to as the Cuban Movement within the U.S., was a pro-rebel group led by Tomás Estrada Palma. The Cuban Junta was a group that would not only have been able to attest to the mistreatment of Cubans by Spain but, additionally, had also contributed to yellow press. Through their presence in the United States, they not only lobbied but raised funds to arm the Cuban rebels, the latter of which was a provision that could only be assumed was used in the name of protection for the Cubans from Spaniard forces. More than any of these contributions, however, they were the singular group that delivered what would also become another one of the accredited causes of the Spanish-American War: the infamous DeLome letter. The DeLome letter was a letter written by Spanish minister Enrique Dupuy de Lome towards President William McKinley in the month of February 1898. In spite of what was McKinley's attempt to '[pursue] a policy of non-intervention… to accord the Spanish Minister courtesies and kindness,” DeLome had not reciprocated the sentiments of McKinley and that he didn’t reciprocate - which was indicated through the letter, would have been eventually been publicized via major New York news outlets as a result of Horatio Rubens , a member of the aforementioned pro-rebel group The Cuban Junta. Entitled “THE WORST INSULT TO THE UNITED STATES IN ITS HISTORY”, the coverage of the letter was just another prime example of the way that yellow journalism had influenced the opinions of the mass. While there was a clear lack of diplomacy exemplified in the letter, i.e. through DeLome's calling McKinley 'weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd… who tries to leave a door behind himself while keeping on good terms with the jingoes of his party', DeLome was not entirely in the right and to some extent, should have been held accountable for not just the personal criticism of McKinley but in hindsight, the way in which his letter would have been perceived. That being said, had the letter not been given the coverage that it did, it most likely would not have provided the incentive it did for Americans to support the Spanish-American war more than they already had. The yellow press coverage not only politically polarized Americans into feeling like they had to choose between being either pro or anti-war but it also enabled a sense of hypocrisy in that Americans had either undermined or completely disregarded their slander of both the Spanish rule of Cuba and its rulers. Perhaps most impactful of all yellow press coverage was the one regarding the USS Maine sinking. Due to major journalists like Hearst having assigned the blame of the sinking to Spain, e.x. with slogans like 'Remember the Maine: To Hell with Spain', the American attitude towards the war shifted from supporting to demanding it. While it would have been one thing for Spain to have deliberately conspired to sink the ship, all evidence since have indicated otherwise. One of the more tangible pieces ways in which this particular coverage affected the war was in Teddy's Roosevelt's decision to rebuff Spain's proposition to do a joint investigation. Through contextualization - i.e. in both the American attitude towards the war at that time and Roosevelt's particular inclination towards imperializing - as will be expanded upon later, it was likely that part of his refusal to do so was that not only would it have been advantageous but it would have also provided another reason for America to go into war.

Although yellow journalism was partially responsible in that it helped to enforce the narrative that the U.S. was morally righteous in its fight with Spain over Cuba, it is evident that the war would have happened regardless as a result of other causes. First delivered to congress on December 2, 1823 by fifth U.S. president James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine was a foreign policy statement that urged for European powers to avoid meddling in not just the internal affairs of America but the western hemisphere as a whole. That the Monroe Doctrine was produced several years prior to the Spanish-American war would have indicated that the underlying principle behind it - i.e., the U.S.' right to imperialism, which was most emphasized in the doctrine of 'manifest destiny', was too ingrained within both the history and culture of America to not have been considered a factor in the Spanish-American war. In 1845, almost half a century prior to the Spanish-American war, the Monroe Doctrine had already been used as a justification for the Mexican-American war. In a dispute over whether or not Mexico had the right to all of what was its initial territory -- i.e., all the land that was left of the Rio Grande River, James K. Polk, the president at the time, invoked the Monroe Doctrine as both a justification that the U.S. had a 'right' to that territory and a warning for the European powers not to interfere. As made evident by this singular event, one of many in the list of events in America's imperial history, the Monroe Doctrine provided both enough reason and incentive for both Polk and the congress of the time to declare so much as war even without the help of yellow journalism. Given that the Spanish-American war was similar to the U.S.-Mexican war in that it directly defied the Monroe Doctrine, one could argue that there was an intrinsic justification that lied in U.S. interference because America perceived itself as having been entitled to Cuba all along. Regardless of whether or not Spain had been mishandling Cuba and regardless of the extent to which America’s primary incentive was, if at all, humanitarian, all of these reasons would have been negated by the Monroe Doctrine. As a result of both Cuba's being in the western hemisphere and the U.S.' manifest-destiny-fueled entitlement to land that existed in the aforementioned region, one could argue that the U.S. would have inevitably taken over whether or not Spain had ownership over Cuba. Furthermore, because of both the Monroe Doctrine and manifest destiny's long-grounded foundation in American history by the Spanish-American war, it could only be assumed that America's lust for power would have grown from what was initially a hemispherical perspective to a global. An American exceptionalist, Teddy Roosevelt believed that going into war with other countries was a remedy to the nationwide issue of 'societal apathy and national drift'. Roosevelt's beliefs regarding America's foreign relations could have been best exemplified in his writing that America needed '... a general national buccaneering expedition to drive the Spanish out of Cuba [and] the English out of Canada.' While Roosevelt's notion of American imperialism may not have been directly derived from the Monroe Doctrine, American exceptionalism as a concept was an irrefutable commonality in both lines of reasoning that attempted to justify if not encourage the Spanish-American war. Besides U.S. intervention in Cuba, the notion of American Exceptionalism most notoriously manifested in America's purchase of the Philippines. After the U.S. won the Spanish-American war, the U.S., in accordance with the Treaty of Paris, bought out the Philippines for twenty-million dollars in addition to having both the ceded Guam and Puerto Rico. Expanding territorial power to the eastern hemisphere had not been part of the original plan; nevertheless, the U.S. had still opportunized off of the change in Spain's lack of ownership over any of the ceded aforementioned countries. While it might have been easier to dismiss yellow journalism in place of news deriving from the several other more reliable media outlets, the same could not have been said for the long-standing and imperialistic values instilled by either the Monroe Doctrine or manifest destiny.

That the Cubans had been fighting for independence from Spain long before the U.S. even intended to interfere was another factor that - in addition to the Monroe Doctrine, greatly contributed to the war. While yellow journalism may have exaggerated the atrocities of General Valeriano Weyler's rulings, there were still atrocities to base their exaggerations off of. Four years prior to the war, both poet and political theorist José Martí and former colonel Máximo Gómez had actually sought for the U.S. to aid Cuba in the attempt to liberate themselves from Spain. Upon examining the reasons why, it would, from a contemporary viewpoint, seem almost incredulous that the yellow press could sensationalize the already seemingly sensationalized. Weyler's reconcentration policy was horrific. In looking upon the policy's attempt which was to '[build] trenches one-hundred yards wide, with barbed wire and blockhouses, to separate the governmental region from that of the rebels, [to burn] villages and crops, [to kill] all the cattle and [to herd] the inhabitants', it becomes evident that something as simple as living was - in the most literal sense of the word, not an option for Cubans had they been under Spanish rule. The reconcentration policy had, additionally, resulted in '200,000 [deaths] from malnutrition and disease'. As the stakes of the Cubans' living conditions raised, an ultimatum eventually presented itself: either Cuba was to live under Spanish rule or allow for American to intervene and fight alongside them [Cuba] in an attempt for liberation from the inhumane ruling of Weyler.

As made evident by both the use of the Monroe Doctrine and the preexisting conditions within Cuba, the Spanish-American war was most directly a result of historical events that spanned for years even prior to the sensationalized coverage of the USS Maine Sinking. That there were seven decades in between the introduction of the Monroe Doctrine and its invoking within the Spanish-American war reveals that the American value system, uprooted from both a firm belief in “manifest destiny” and “exceptionalism” had enough time in both its cognitive accumulation and internalizing that to have had the American people as a whole unlearn those values would have taken longer than the type of unlearning that would have gone into the simple fact-checking that would have been required of having encountered yellow press. Additionally, desperate times called for desperate measures: taking into account the mistreatment that Cubans endured from having been under Spanish rule, receiving any form of aid from any other country - even if it meant that the country helped out of self-interest, While neither of these reasons should negate from the impact of yellow journalism, they still go to show that there were reasons beyond anyone's control of the time that would have initiated the war at some point or another.  

16 December 2021
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