Portrait of Murat Halstead (1829-1908), journalist, ca. 1900.
The yellow press was the name given to reporters who sensationalized their news stories during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. While the stories usually were based in fact, the reporters commonly embellished the facts to grab their readers’ attention. Rather than simply reporting the news, newspaper editors sought to increase their readership by entertaining their customers.
The two leaders of the yellow press during the late nineteenth century were William Hearst, the owner of the New York Journal, and Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World. These two men sought to drive the other out of business by sensationalizing the news. Their actions had extreme consequences. Following the sinking of the Maine, a United States battleship, these two men placed the blame for the ship’s destruction squarely on the Spanish, although no evidence existed to substantiate their claims. The newspaper stories created anger in American citizens towards the Spanish and helped lead to the Spanish-American War in 1898.
The yellow press did not just operate in New York. Numerous Ohio newspapers employed similar tactics during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Perhaps Ohio’s most famous member of the yellow press was Murat Halstead. In 1890, Halstead concocted a scheme to try and secure Ohio Governor Joseph Foraker, a Republican, reelection. Halstead claimed to have had uncovered a document that implicated the Democratic Party’s candidate, James Campbell, in a questionable business deal. Purportedly, Campbell was encouraging voting reform within Ohio, hoping that the state would select a ballot box produced by a company that he partly owned. Halstead and Foraker launched a vehement attack against Campbell because of this document, but the Democrat easily proved that the document was forged. Foraker lost his bid for reelection.