Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Yellow Journalism

In 1895 he acquired the New York Morning Journal and launched the Evening Journal the following year. Going head-to-head with another publishing titan at the time, Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, Hearst dueled his rival with ever more sensationalist stories that inflamed raw emotions in readers more than informing them based on facts. Many of these stories were accompanied by lavish illustrations (before the development of news photography) that greatly exaggerated the stories they accompanied. By the turn of the century, with several more newspaper acquisitions in major American cities under his belt, he was a force to be reckoned with. The emperor of a publishing empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. His national chain of newspapers and periodicals grew to include the Chicago Examiner, Boston American, Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar.

President William McKinley
President William McKinley

The term "yellow journalism," which is frequently heard today when a newspaper overly sensationalizes a story, has its roots in the Pulitzer and Hearst chains of publications and their notorious turf battles of the 1890s. Originally named after a cartoon character, The Yellow Kid (which ran in the newspapers of both men), it became especially synonymous with Hearst. A strong proponent of American colonial expansion to compete with the colonial powers of Western Europe, Hearst set his sights on Cuba which was then under Spanish rule, using the power of the press to drum up support for American military adventurism there.

One of the last remaining outposts of Spain's once-vast colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere, Cuba, with its rich natural resources, was portrayed in the Hearst newspapers as a land of noble peasants suffering harsh, inhuman persecution under the thumb of a cruel mother country. He even went so far as to portray a well-treated female prisoner in a Cuban jail as a brave, brutalized, innocent martyr to the cause of her island colony's freedom; a victim of barbaric Spanish atrocities rivaling those committed during the Inquisition.

Evangelina Cisneros
Evangelina Cisneros

Hearst's Journal trumpeted the supposed plight of 18-year-old Evangelina Cisneros, calling her a "Cuban Joan of Arc" and asserting that she bravely protected her "virtue" from her lecherous Spanish jailers. He circulated petitions nationwide demanding her release. Among those signing the petition were the mother of President William McKinley, American Red Cross founder Clara Barton, patriotic songwriter Julia Ward Howe, and the widows of Jefferson Davis and Ulysses S. Grant. When diplomatic channels failed to secure Cisneros' release, Hearst hired a notorious adventurer to spring her from jail, which he likely did by simply bribing the guards, despite sensationalized stories of a dramatic and daring jailbreak escape. Then Hearst bragged it up in huge headlines, saying that his newspaper accomplished "at a single stroke what the red tape diplomacy had failed to bring about in many months."

Cisneros was given a heroine's reception in New York and an invitation to meet with President McKinley at the White House. All the while, Hearst remained deaf to widely circulated reports questioning Cisneros' supposedly virtuous reputation and other reports that the jailbreak story was a hoax. Some credible accounts even portrayed Cisneros as a scheming temptress who used her femininity to nearly lure one of her jailers to his death. None of this mattered to Hearst. All that mattered was that he got his exclusive story and the P.R. (and increased circulation) that went with it.

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