Yellow Journalism ~ U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News to Americans
Yellow journalism, or the yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers. Techniques may include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, or sensationalism. By extension, the term yellow journalism is used today as a pejorative to decry any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical fashion.
Campbell defines yellow press newspapers as having daily multi-column front-page headlines covering a variety of topics, such as sports and scandal, using bold layouts (with large illustrations and perhaps color), heavy reliance on unnamed sources, and unabashed self-promotion. The term was extensively used to describe certain major New York City newspapers about 1900 as they battled for circulation.
Frank Luther Mott defines yellow journalism in terms of five characteristics:
scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips
dramatic sympathy with the “underdog” against the system
Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States.
Example of Yellow Journalism in the cover of the Pulitzer’s World
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BY JOHN HUDSON ~ JULY 14, 2013 – 03:06 PM
For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government’s mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts. So what just happened?
Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It’s viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran, self-immolation in Tibet, human trafficking across Asia, and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.
The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long-standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. In the 1970s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe, and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they “should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics.” Fulbright’s amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky, who argued that such “propaganda” should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. “from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity.”
Zorinsky and Fulbright sold their amendments on sensible rhetoric: American taxpayers shouldn’t be funding propaganda for American audiences. So did Congress just tear down the American public’s last defense against domestic propaganda?
BBG spokeswoman Lynne Weil insists BBG is not a propaganda outlet, and its flagship services such as VOA “present fair and accurate news.”
“They don’t shy away from stories that don’t shed the best light on the United States,” she told The Cable. She pointed to the charters of VOA and RFE: “Our journalists provide what many people cannot get locally: uncensored news, responsible discussion, and open debate.”
A former U.S. government source with knowledge of the BBG says the organization is no Pravda, but it does advance U.S. interests in more subtle ways. In Somalia, for instance, VOA serves as counterprogramming to outlets peddling anti-American or jihadist sentiment. “Somalis have three options for news,” the source said, “word of mouth, al-Shabab, or VOA Somalia.”
This partially explains the push to allow BBG broadcasts on local radio stations in the United States. The agency wants to reach diaspora communities, such as St. Paul, Minnesota’s significant Somali expatcommunity. “Those people can get al-Shabab, they can get Russia Today, but they couldn’t get access to their taxpayer-funded news sources like VOA Somalia,” the source said. “It was silly.”
Lynne added that the reform has a transparency benefit as well. “Now Americans will be able to know more about what they are paying for with their tax dollars — greater transparency is a win-win for all involved,” she said. And so with that we have the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012, which passed as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and went into effect this month.
But if anyone needed a reminder of the dangers of domestic propaganda efforts, the past 12 months provided ample reasons. Last year, two USA Today journalists were ensnared in a propaganda campaign after reporting about millions of dollars in back taxes owed by the Pentagon’s top propaganda contractor in Afghanistan. Eventually, one of the co-owners of the firm confessed to creating phony websites and Twitter accounts to smear the journalists anonymously. Additionally, just this month, the Washington Postexposed a counter-propaganda program by the Pentagon that recommended posting comments on a U.S. website run by a Somali expat with readers opposing al-Shabab. “Today, the military is more focused on manipulating news and commentary on the Internet, especially social media, by posting material and images without necessarily claiming ownership,” reported the Post.
But for BBG officials, the references to Pentagon propaganda efforts are nauseating, particularly because the Smith-Mundt Act never had anything to do with regulating the Pentagon, a fact that was misunderstood in media reports in the run-up to the passage of new Smith-Mundt reforms in January.
One example included a report by the late BuzzFeed reporter Michael Hastings, who suggested that the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act would open the door to Pentagon propaganda of U.S. audiences. In fact, as amended in 1987, the act only covers portions of the State Department engaged in public diplomacy abroad (i.e. the public diplomacy section of the “R” bureau, and the Broadcasting Board of Governors.)
But the news circulated regardless, much to the displeasure of Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), a sponsor of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012. “To me, it’s a fascinating case study in how one blogger was pretty sloppy, not understanding the issue and then it got picked up byPolitico‘s Playbook, and you had one level of sloppiness on top of another,” Thornberry told The Cable last May. “And once something sensational gets out there, it just spreads like wildfire.”
That of course doesn’t leave the BBG off the hook if its content smacks of agitprop. But now that its materials are allowed to be broadcast by local radio stations and TV networks, they won’t be a complete mystery to Americans. “Previously, the legislation had the effect of clouding and hiding this stuff,” the former U.S. official told The Cable. “Now we’ll have a better sense: Gee some of this stuff is really good. Or gee some of this stuff is really bad. At least we’ll know now.”
Broadcasting Board of Governors / Washington Forum
Defining “Yellow Journalism”:
Competition with Hearst
The Pulitzer name remains popular today because it is associated with the most prestigious award in American journalism. Yet many historians revile the award’s benefactor with charges of irresponsible reporting and sensationalism. The Pulitzer name is most often linked in textbooks with that of William Randolph Hearst, a Californian who assumed control of the Journal in 1895.
Hearst burst onto Park Row, the New York street lined with newspaper buildings, and immediately began to shake things up. The ironic and tragic elements of the story cannot be ignored. The Journal was founded in 1882 by Albert Pulitzer, Joseph’s brother. Albert sold the paper at a profit, and it continued with a modest circulation until Hearst moved to New York and purchased it. Surely, Hearst would have bought another paper had the Journal not been for sale, but Joseph had to live with the fact that the newspaper which became his chief competitor had originated within his own family. The two brothers became estranged over time, as Joseph considered his sibling rash and frivolous.
The irony does not end there; both Joseph Pulitzer and Hearst were outsiders when they came to New York. Their papers appealed to the same elements of the city that had previously been ignored by the press. Women, labor leaders, Democrats, immigrants and the poor found articles that held their interest and represented their political views.
Yellow Journalism is a term first coined during the famous newspaper wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II.
Pulitzer’s paper the New York World and Hearst’s New York Journal changed the content of newspapers adding more sensationalized stories and increasing the use of drawings and cartoons.
As more cartoons were being published in newspapers, Pulitzer began to publish a cartoon of his own that he titled “The Yellow Kid” in 1896. The cartoon was created by R.F. Outcault and became one of many objects fought over between Hearst and Pulitzer during their rivalry. Hearst later took Outcault and his cartoon from Pulitzer by offering him an outrageous salary. Pulitzer published another version of the cartoon very similar to “The Yellow Kid” to continue competing with Hearst.
With so much competition between the newspapers, the news was over-dramatized and altered to fit story ideas that publishers and editors thought would sell the most papers and stir the most interest for the public so that news boys could sell more papers on street corners.
They often used the “Yellow Kid” to sensationalize stories and discredit the stories of other newspapers. The “Yellow Kid” was also used to sway public opinion on important issues such as the Spanish-American war. Newspapers of the era did not practice the objectivity that newspapers today strive for.
Many historians believe that Hearst in particular played a major role in the American involvement with Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Hearst saw the war as a prime opportunity to boost his newspaper sales. He was the first newspaper to station a team of reporters in Cuba to monitor the events happening there. Hearst published articles of brutality, cruelty and inadequate care to sway public opinion regarding America’s involvement in the war.
Two reporters, Richard Harding Davis and Frederick Remington, were the highest paid reporters for Hearst stationed in Cuba. When Remington sent a telegram telling Hearst that there was not much going on there, Hearst replied with his famous telegram,”You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” This is just a small example of Hearst sensationalized practices(Book # 1 and 2)
Hearst also became very involved with the war itself, after much public swaying through the dramatized stories of his paper, he eventually pushed the President to sign a bill officially entering America into the war.
Ironically, the term “Yellow Journalism” is partly credited to Pulitzer’s involvement in the conflict with Hearst. As we are all aware, Pulitzer is now famous for his awards of outstanding journalistic achievement with the Pulitzer Prize. (Check out the Web site Here)