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William Randolph Hearst caricatured as Oz character in 1906 magazine cartoon. Cartoon published in “Harper’s Weekly”, 1906.

Yellow Journalism

Fake news is nothing new. Its impact has waxed and waned through American history. But there was a golden age of “yellow journalism,” back in the 1890s, when fake news helped start a war. The term was coined in the 1890s to describe the ferocious circulation war between William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and the New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. They sought out crime, scandal and salacious detail. Facts that got in the way of a gripping story could be left out. Imaginary details could be added. Any excuse to include an image of a scantily-clad woman was welcome.  The goal was to create a sensation that would prompt people to buy copies of the paper. In other words, truth was sacrificed, a victim to profit.

Yellow journalism is remembered for two reasons. The first, it marks a new era of public distrust of newspapers (and later television media) because of the sensational and partisan reporting of events. Second, and most importantly, yellow journalism demonstrated the ability to influence public opinion regardless of the accuracy of the story; it was shown to be quite powerful.

How did two newspapers in New York catalyze a war between America and Spain? After Reconstruction (1877), a great wave of European immigrants flooded into the country seeking to capitalize on all the jobs created by the Second Industrial Revolution. These new ethnic groups overwhelmed cities to the point where municipal services lacked in the majority of neighbourhoods, areas like Five Points, New York, where the masses huddled in tenement houses with little to no city services such as sanitation or transportation. As immigrants went without necessary services, political machines (like Tammany Hall) emerged that promised immigrants jobs and services in exchange for political support; these political machines would become incredibly corrupted, but the general public had no idea about the extent of corruption of these new political machines. It was during this time that Hearst and Pulitzer began to redefine the role of newspapers in American Life.

Hearst and Pulitzer found that the more sensational a story, the more newspaper they sold−whether or not all the information was accurate. This led to a war between Hearst and Pulitzer to be the first, the loudest, and the most sensational newspaper. It was a vicious competition that provided the public with more information than ever before.

Hearst and Pulitzer were not the only businessmen changing the country by meeting the demands of their customers.  Businessmen such as Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and John D. Rockefeller led the way to increased economic dominance through the creation of monopolies in steel, finance, and oil (Standard Oil) by utilizing horizontal and vertical integration to dominate their respective industries. Innovations in technology, as well as business structures, fueled the Second Industrial Revolution and pushed the American economy into an era of unrivaled economic prosperity.

Hearst entered the newspaper business after receiving control of The San Francisco Examiner from his father in 1887. Wanting to create a national media empire, Hearst knew he would need to gain a foothold in New York. Purchasing the New York Journal in 1895, Hearst found himself in direct competition with Pulitzer and his New York World. Pulitzer had grown his circulation from 20K to 100K in one year and by the end of the 1890s, his paper was reaching one million readers annually. Pulitzer embraced a style of reporting that sensationalized stories, focusing on crime and corruption which grabbed the public’s attention. Hearst embraced this style of reporting and took it a step further by using innuendo, sex, and fabrication to entice readers to his paper.

William Randolph Hearst was the founder of the Hearst Corporation. He is considered a very dominating figure in 20th century communications and one of the leading figures of the Spanish American War period. During his career in newspapers, magazines, radio and film broadcasting, he changed the face of the way mass media would be seen throughout the world.

Hearst emerged with the term “Yellow Journalism” in 1897. He has been awarded by many historians as the benefactor of irresponsible reporting and sensationalism. Hearst gained control of a popular paper called the Journal in 1895 and from there he gained much attention from his unique style of news reporting. Hearst studied journalism at Harvard, where he was influenced by Pulitzer, who would later become his biggest rival. The Pulitzer, a prestigious award in American journalism, is most often linked to William Randolph Hearst.

Joseph Pulitzer was a determined man who never gave up without a fight. Pulitzer was born in Hungary, as the eldest son of a prosperous grain merchant. In 1864 he moved to the United States where he later purchased the New York Sun. Two years later Pulitzer purchased another paper named the New York World. This purchase would make him one of the most talked about reporter of all time. The World was Hearst’s biggest competitor in New York City. Both men would go to extremes to try and out do the other paper. With their egos and the public’s appetite for scandals, the World and the Journal continued to deliver what we now call, “Yellow Journalism.”

In a sad attempt to increase newspapers sales the two men found an opportunity to capitalize on America’s patriotism when there was a slight conflict with Spain.

The duty of journalists is to tell the truth. Journalism means you go back to the actual facts, you look at the documents, you discover what the record is, and you report it that way.” Although many people agree with journalism integrity, the reality is that it is not always there. That is where yellow journalism comes in.

Yellow journalism can be most easily defined as stories that are based on sensationalism and exaggeration. These stories can include such aspects as made up facts/stories, “eye-catching” headlines, fake sources, or anything that it treated unethically or unprofessionally. The height of yellow journalism is said to be during the 1890s, and since then, yellow journalism has expanded as technology moves forward and has gone to affect society in several ways.

The pinnacle of yellow journalism can be seen in the newspapers where it started as a competition between two New York papers. These newspapers were: Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal. These newspapers, competing against each other for more sales, included fake stories, twisted facts, sensationalism, colourful comics, and eye-catching headlines to get people to buy more papers. There were some benefits to this kind of muckraking. Corruption and incompetence were ruthlessly exposed, and some good causes were adopted, even if the stories were pushed unethically.

The “Yellow Press” is based upon the distortion of facts to try and make an exciting and more entertaining newspaper, in turn generating more readers.  The “Yellow Press” is also known or referred to as “Yellow Journalism.” “Yellow journalism” first appeared in print in the New York Press, which was edited by the austere Ervin Wardman, who once was described as revealing his “Calvinistic ancestry in every line of his face.”

“Evil spirits”, such as “Paid Puffery” and “Suggestiveness”, spew from “the modern daily press” in this Puck cartoon of November 21, 1888.

The term appeared in Wardman’s newspaper on January 31, 1897, and quickly caught on, as a way to denigrate what then was called the “new journalism” of Hearst’s Journal and of Pulitzer‘s New York World.  By the end of March 1897, references to “yellow journalism” had appeared in newspapers in Providence, Richmond, and San Francisco.

A sneer thus had been born. Precisely how Wardman and the Press landed on “yellow journalism” is not clear, however.

The newspaper’s own brief discussion of the term’s origins was vague and unrevealing: “We called them Yellow because they are Yellow,” it said in 1898 about the Journal and the World.

In the 1890s, the color yellow sometimes was associated with depraved literature, which may have been an inspiration to the Harvard-educated Wardman, who plainly despised Hearst and Pulitzer, and editorially supported an ill-fated boycott of their newspapers in New York City in 1897.

Another story is the term originated in the competition over the New York City newspaper market between Pulitzer and Hearst. At first, yellow journalism had nothing to do with reporting, but instead derived from a popular cartoon strip about life in New York’s slums called Hogan’s Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault. Published in colour by Pulitzer’s New York World, the comic’s most well-known character came to be known as the Yellow Kid, and his popularity accounted in no small part for a tremendous increase in sales of the World. In 1896, in an effort to boost sales of his New York Journal, Hearst hired Outcault away from Pulitzer, launching a fierce bidding war between the two publishers over the cartoonist. Hearst ultimately won this battle, but Pulitzer refused to give in and hired a new cartoonist to continue drawing the cartoon for his paper. This battle over the Yellow Kid and a greater market share apparently gave rise to the term yellow journalism.

Publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) built his media empire after inheriting the San Francisco Examiner from his father.

Hearst, son of wealthy U.S. Senator George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, was born in San Francisco in 1863. Hearst’s passion for journalism began when he was a young man. As a student at Harvard, Hearst worked on the Harvard Lampoon and later apprenticed with New York World owner Joseph Pulitzer.

When he was only 24 years old, Hearst’s career as a publisher began. In 1887, with help from his father’s mining fortune, Hearst became the owner and operator of the San Francisco Examiner. Hearst fashioned his paper after Pulitzers’ sensationalist approach and flashy style.

In 1895, Hearst turned to the east coast for his next journalistic endeavour and purchased the New York Journal. As the owner of the Journal, Hearst entered the fiercely competitive world of New York journalism. Positioned against his former mentor Joseph Pulitzer, Hearst recruited staff away from the World and continued to copy Pulitzer’s style.

William Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer owned their own New York papers, the Journal and the World Respectively. Each paper made up many stories giving the media and other mass communications people a bad reputation. The papers were successful at entertaining readers, but for the most part enraged others. By the end of the century Hearst and Pulitzer’s papers were divided into sub-sections entitled scandals, scares, and sob stories. As the two papers competed they became to play a major role in America’s involvement in Cuba. Hearst and Pulitzer both jumped the opportunity with America’s conflict and began running Anti-Spanish stories which played a big factor in fuelling the notion for a war. The start of the Spanish-American War began April 25, 1898. Hearst hired several talented artists for his newspaper strips to create colourful pictures to provoke the war.

Pulitzer’s treatment in the World emphasizes a horrible explosion.

Once the term yellow journalism had been coined, it extended to the sensationalist style employed by the two publishers in their profit-driven coverage of world events, particularly developments in Cuba. Cuba had long been a Spanish colony and the revolutionary movement, which had been simmering on and off there for much of the 19th century, intensified during the 1890s. Many in the United States called upon Spain to withdraw from the island, and some even gave material support to the Cuban revolutionaries. Hearst and Pulitzer devoted more and more attention to the Cuban struggle for independence, at times accentuating the harshness of Spanish rule or the nobility of the revolutionaries, and occasionally printing rousing stories that proved to be false. This sort of coverage, complete with bold headlines and creative drawings of events, sold a lot of papers for both publishers.

Hearst created several schemes to spark U.S. intervention. The most well-known involved the imprisonment and release of Cuban prisoner Evangeline Cisneros. With his hand in her dramatic escape, Hearst successfully used publicity to rally U.S. interest for the Cuban struggle. In 1898, Hearst chartered the yacht Sylvia to Cuba to witness battles between the U.S. Navy and the Spanish Fleet. From his ship, Hearst continued to publish sensationalist stories in a “Cuban Edition,” personally making sure that the U.S. public stayed informed.

Hearst’s treatment was more effective and focused on the enemy who set the bomb—and offered a huge reward to readers.

Pulitzer and Hearst are often adduced as the cause of the United States’ entry into the Spanish–American War due to sensationalist stories or exaggerations of the terrible conditions in Cuba. However, the vast majority of Americans did not live in New York City, and the decision-makers who did live there probably relied more on staid newspapers like the Times, The Sun, or the Post. A man once said that “The pen is mightier than the Sword,” and he could not be any closer to the truth.  This war was egged on by the pen of Hearst and Pulitzer who increased the tempers of millions of people with their outrageous stories and pictures in their papers.

Hearst’s New York Evening Journal, April 1898. Americans in 1898 “went to war convinced that they had embarked upon an entirely selfless mission for humanity.”

Hearst seized upon the turmoil occurring in the Caribbean and played upon the sympathies of the American people. Cubans had long sought their independence from Spain and the United States had long coveted the island just 90 miles from the coast of Florida. Knowing that an international conflict would drive up circulation numbers, Hearst began to use his media empire to advance an anti-Spanish sentiment as the declining imperialistic power desperately clung to its crumbling international empire. By publishing stories of Spanish atrocities being committed against the Cuban people, Hearst played upon the sympathies of the American people. Anti-Spanish sentiment in the country fuelled a growing disdain for a Spanish presence in the Caribbean and, ultimately, the Western Hemisphere. In 1895, José Martí returned to Cuba in order to help Cuban rebels fight for independence from Spain, a cause he had dedicated his life to. With the help of dramatized stories of the Cuban fight, American public opinion began to turn to the embattled people of Cuba. Elected in 1897, President McKinley wanted Spain out of Cuba and out of the Western Hemisphere.

Yellow journalism has been defined as any journalism that treats news in an unprofessional or unethical manner.

The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain, which began in February 1895. Spain’s brutally repressive measures to halt the rebellion were graphically portrayed for the U.S. public by several sensational newspapers, and American sympathy for the rebels rose. The peak of yellow journalism, in terms of both intensity and influence, came in early 1898, when a U.S. battleship, the Maine, sunk in Havana harbour. The naval vessel had been sent there not long before in a display of U.S. power and, in conjunction with the planned visit of a Spanish ship to New York, an effort to defuse growing tensions between the United States and Spain. On the night of February 15, an explosion tore through the ship’s hull, and the Maine went down. Sober observers and an initial report by the colonial government of Cuba concluded that the explosion had occurred on board, but Hearst and Pulitzer, who had for several years been selling papers by fanning anti-Spanish public opinion in the United States, published rumours of plots to sink the ship. When a U.S. naval investigation later stated that the explosion had come from a mine in the harbour, the proponents of yellow journalism seized upon it and called for war. By early May, the Spanish-American War had begun.

A satire drawing of Hearst and Pulitzer pushing the Spanish-American war. “Yellow journalism” cartoon about Spanish–American War of 1898. The newspaper publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst are both attired as the Yellow Kid comics character of the time, and are competitively claiming ownership of the war. (Independence Seaport Museum).

Hearst became a war hawk after a rebellion broke out in Cuba in 1895. Stories of Cuban virtue and Spanish brutality soon dominated his front page. While the accounts were of dubious accuracy, the newspaper readers of the 19th century did not expect, or necessarily want, his stories to be pure nonfiction. Historian Michael Robertson has said “Newspaper reporters and readers of the 1890s were much less concerned with distinguishing among fact-based reporting, opinion and literature.”

Pulitzer, though lacking Hearst’s resources, kept the story on his front page. The yellow press covered the revolution extensively and often inaccurately, but conditions in Cuba were horrific enough. The island was in a terrible economic depression, and Spanish general Valeriano Weyler, sent to crush the rebellion, herded Cuban peasants into concentration camps, leading hundreds of Cubans to their deaths. Having clamoured for a fight for two years, Hearst took credit for the conflict when it came: A week after the United States declared war on Spain, he ran “How do you like the Journal’s war?” on his front page. In fact, President William McKinley never read the Journal, nor newspapers like the Tribune and the New York Evening Post. Moreover, journalism historians have noted that yellow journalism was largely confined to New York City, and that newspapers in the rest of the country did not follow their lead. The Journal and the World were not among the top ten sources of news in regional papers, and the stories simply did not make a splash outside New York City. Rather, war came because public opinion was sickened by the bloodshed, and because leaders like McKinley realized that Spain had lost control of Cuba. These factors weighed more on the president’s mind than the melodramas in the New York Journal.

William Randolph Hearst.

When the invasion began, Hearst sailed directly to Cuba as a war correspondent, providing sober and accurate accounts of the fighting. Reporter James Creelman  later praised the work of the reporters for exposing the horrors of Spanish misrule, arguing, “No true history of the war … can be written without an acknowledgment that whatever of justice and freedom and progress was accomplished by the Spanish-American war was due to the enterprise and tenacity of yellow journalists, many of whom lie in unremembered graves.”

After stints at several other newspapers, including the Paris Herald, the Evening Telegram, and magazines Illustrated American and Cosmopolitan, Creelman had landed at Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in 1894, where he accompanied the Japanese Army to cover the Sino-Japanese War. Creelman’s sensational reportage of the Japanese seizure of Port Arthur and the accompanying massacre of its Chinese defenders by the victorious Japanese army garnered tremendous attention and put him in greater demand as a reporter.

A significant assignment for Creelman came in 1896, on a trip to Cuba to report on tensions brewing between the island nation and Spain. By 1897, William Randolph Hearst had recruited Creelman to his newspaper, the New York Journal, and assigned Creelman to cover the war between Cuba and Spain, which broke out in 1898.

James Creelman wrote an anecdote in his 1901 memoir: On the Great Highway: The Wanderings and Adventures of a Special Correspondent, that artist Frederic Remington telegrammed Hearst to tell him all was quiet in Cuba and “There will be no war.” Creelman claimed Hearst responded, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Hearst denied the veracity of the story, and no one has found any evidence of the telegrams existing.

In the mold of most yellow journalists of his time, Creelman was as much an advocate as a reporter — in her book The Yellow Kids, author Joyce Milton describes Creelman as the self-described “conscience of the fourth estate,” who “normally did as much talking as listening” during interviews, including once lecturing Pope Leo XIII on relations between Protestants and Catholics. Creelman, generally considered one of the premier reporters of his day, also had a bit of an ego — Hearst once said of Creelman:

“The beauty about Creelman is the fact that whatever you give him to do instantly becomes in his mind the most important assignment ever given any writer. […] He thinks that the very fact of the job being given him means that it’s a task of surpassing importance, else it would not have been given to so great a man as he.”

A Marion Davies party had the fiesta spirit. Costumed are William Randolph Hearst and his five sons: David Whitmire Hearst (left), John Randolph Hearst, William Randolph Hearst Jr., Hearst Sr., George Hearst and Randolph Hearst.

Spain declared war on the United States on April 24, followed by a U.S. declaration of war on the 25th, which was made retroactive to April 21. The United States had just declared war on Spain following the sinking of the Battleship Maine. Before the sinking of the Maine the battleship was stationed in Havana, Cuba where many were skeptical about what could happen to the boat.  The Battleship was longer than a football field and was a floating city as it lay on the oceans water.

The ensuing war was pathetically one-sided, since Spain had readied neither its army nor its navy for a distant war with the formidable power of the United States. Comm. George Dewey led a U.S. naval squadron into Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, and destroyed the anchored Spanish fleet in a leisurely morning engagement that cost only seven American seamen wounded. Manila itself was occupied by U.S. troops by August.

The elusive Spanish Caribbean fleet under Adm. Pascual Cervera was located in Santiago harbour in Cuba by U.S. reconnaissance. An army of regular troops and volunteers under Gen. William Shafter (and including Theodore Roosevelt and his 1st Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders”) landed on the coast east of Santiago and slowly advanced on the city in an effort to force Cervera’s fleet out of the harbour. Cervera led his squadron out of Santiago on July 3 and tried to escape westward along the coast. In the ensuing battle all of his ships came under heavy fire from U.S. guns and were beached in a burning or sinking condition. Santiago surrendered to Shafter on July 17, thus effectively ending the war.

The rise of yellow journalism helped to create a climate conducive to the outbreak of international conflict and the expansion of U.S. influence overseas, but it did not by itself cause the war. In spite of Hearst’s often-quoted statement—“You furnish the pictures, I’ll provide the war!” —other factors played a greater role in leading to the outbreak of war. The papers did not create anti-Spanish sentiments out of thin air, nor did the publishers fabricate the events to which the U.S. public and politicians reacted so strongly. Moreover, influential figures such as Theodore Roosevelt led a drive for U.S. overseas expansion that had been gaining strength since the 1880s. Nevertheless, yellow journalism of this period is significant to the history of U.S. foreign relations in that its centrality to the history of the Spanish American War shows that the press had the power to capture the attention of a large readership and to influence public reaction to international events. The dramatic style of yellow journalism contributed to creating public support for the Spanish-American War, a war that would ultimately expand the global reach of the United States.

After the Spanish-American War, Hearst remained an outspoken and powerful member of the U.S. press. Hearst was critical of the treatment of U.S. troops as they returned home and blasted the Secretary of War, Russell A. Alger.

While it may be unfair to claim that Hearst “created” the war, it is clear that the events of 1898 and 1899 may have been very different without Hearst, Pulitzer and the other yellow journalists of the day.

William Randolph Hearst built the Hearst Castle (above) at San Simeon, a hillside palace that seemed a “mythical village.” It had dozens of bedrooms and was surrounded by thousands of acres of rugged land.

Hearst could be hyperbolic in his crime coverage; one of his early pieces, regarding a “band of murderers,” attacked the police for forcing Examiner reporters to do their work for them. But while indulging in these stunts, the Examiner also increased its space for international news, and sent reporters out to uncover municipal corruption and inefficiency. In one well-remembered story, Examiner reporter Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils was admitted into a San Francisco hospital and discovered that impoverished women were treated with “gross cruelty.” The entire hospital staff was fired the morning the piece appeared. Bonfils wrote for William Randolph Hearst’s news syndicate writing as Winifred Black, and for the San Francisco Examiner as Annie Laurie. She was one of the most prominent “sob sisters,” a label given female reporters who wrote human interest stories. Her first husband was Orlow Black, and her second was publisher Charles Bonfils.

Black is famous for staging a fainting on the street to test emergency services in San Francisco, which were found wanting, resulting in a major scandal and institution of ambulance service. In 1900, she dressed as a boy and was the first reporter on the line at the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. She delivered an exclusive and Hearst sent relief supplies by train. She covered the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and had a front row seat at the murder trial of Harry Thaw in 1907. Her coverage of the trial and descriptions of Thaw’s wife Evelyn Nesbit earned her the label of “sob sister.”

Winifred Sweet Black Bonfils, 1913.

At a raucous, three-day party in September 1921, a young starlet became severely ill and died four days later. Newspapers went wild with the story: popular silent-screen comedian Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had killed Virginia Rappe with his weight while savagely raping her. Though the newspapers of the day reveled in the gory, rumoured details, juries found little evidence that Arbuckle was in any way connected with her death. What happened at that party and why was the public so ready to believe “Fatty” was guilty?

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had long been a performer. When he was a teenager, Arbuckle traveled the West Coast on the vaudeville circuit. In 1913, at the age of 26, Arbuckle hit the big time when he signed with Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company and became one of the Keystone Kops.

Arbuckle was heavy — he weighed somewhere between 250 and 300 pounds — and that was part of his comedy. He moved gracefully, threw pies, and humorously tumbled. In 1921, Arbuckle signed a three-year contract with Paramount for $1 million — an unheard of amount at the time, even in Hollywood. To celebrate just having finished three pictures at the same time and to celebrate his new contract with Paramount, Arbuckle and a couple of friends drove up from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Saturday, September 3, 1921 for some Labour Day weekend revelry.

Arbuckle and friends checked into the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. They were on the twelfth floor in a suite that contained rooms 1219, 1220, and 1221 (room 1220 was the sitting room).

On Monday, September 5, the party started early. Arbuckle greeted visitors in his pajamas and though this was during Prohibition, large quantities of liquor was being drunk.

Around 3 o’clock, Arbuckle retired from the party in order to get dressed to go sight-seeing with a friend. What happened in the following ten minutes is disputed.

  • Delmont’s version:“Bambina” Maude Delmont, who frequently set-up famous people in order to blackmail them, claims that Arbuckle herded 26-year-old Virginia Rappe into his bedroom and said, “I’ve waited for this a long time.” Delmont says that a few minutes later party-goers could hear screams from Rappe coming from the bedroom. Delmont claims she tried to open the door, even kick it in, but couldn’t get it open. When Arbuckle opened the door, supposedly Rappe was found naked and bleeding behind him.
  • Arbuckle’s version:Arbuckle says that when he retired to his room to change clothes, he found Rappe vomiting in his bathroom. He then helped clean her up and led her to a nearby bed to rest. Thinking she was just overly intoxicated, he left her to rejoin the party. When he returned to the room just a few minutes later, he found Rappe on the floor. After putting her back on the bed, he left the room to get help.

When others then entered the room, they found Rappe tearing at her clothes (something that has been claimed she did often when she was drunk).

Party guests tried a number of strange treatments, including covering Rappe with ice, but she still wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, the hotel staff were contacted and Rappe was taken to another room to rest. With others looking after Rappe, Arbuckle left for the sight-seeing tour and then drove back to Los Angeles.

Rappe was not taken to the hospital on that day. And though she didn’t improve, she wasn’t taken to the hospital for three days because most people who visited her considered her condition to be caused by liquor. On Thursday, Rappe was taken to the Wakefield Sanitorium, a maternity hospital known for giving abortions. Virginia Rappe died the following day from peritonitis, caused by a ruptured bladder. Arbuckle was soon arrested and charged with the murder of Virginia Rappe.

The papers went wild with the story. Some articles stated Arbuckle had crushed Rappe with his weight, while others said he had raped her with a foreign object (the papers went into graphic details). It was all lies, in the newspapers, Arbuckle was assumed guilty and Virginia Rappe was an innocent, young girl. The papers excluded reporting that Rappe had a history of numerous abortions, with some evidence stating she might have had another short time before the party.

Hearst had his San Francisco Examiner cover the story. According to Buster Keaton, Hearst boasted that Arbuckle’s story sold more papers than the sinking of the Lusitania. The public reaction to Arbuckle was fierce. Perhaps even more than the specific charges of rape and murder, Arbuckle became a symbol of Hollywood’s immorality. Movie houses across the country almost immediately stopped showing Arbuckle’s movies.

The public was angry and they were using Arbuckle as a target.

With the scandal as front page news on almost every newspaper, it was difficult to get an unbiased jury. The first Arbuckle trial began in November 1921 and charged Arbuckle with manslaughter. The trial was thorough and Arbuckle took the stand to share his side of the story. The jury was hung with a 10 to 2 vote for acquittal.

Because the first trial ended with a hung jury, Arbuckle was tried again. In the second Arbuckle trial, the defense did not present a very thorough case and Arbuckle did not take the stand. The jury saw this as an admission of guilt and deadlocked in a 10 to 2 vote for conviction.

In the third trial, which began in March 1922, the defense again became pro-active. Arbuckle testified, repeating his side of the story. The main prosecution witness, Zey Prevon, had escaped house arrest and left the country. For this trial, the jury deliberated for only a couple of minutes and came back with a verdict of not guilty. Additionally, the jury wrote an apology to Arbuckle:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was our only plain duty to give him this exoneration. There was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime.

He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story on the witness stand, which we all believed.

The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible.

We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and women who have sat listening for thirty-one days to the evidence that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Being acquitted was not the end to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s problems. In response to the Arbuckle scandal, Hollywood established a self-policing organization that was to be known as the “Hays Office.” On April 18, 1922, Will Hays, the president of this new organization, banned Arbuckle from film making. Though Hays lifted the ban in December of the same year, Arbuckle’s career had been destroyed thanks to the newspaper stories.

For years, Arbuckle had trouble finding work. He eventually began directing under the name William B. Goodrich (similar to the name his friend Buster Keaton suggested – Will B. Good). Though Arbuckle had begun a come-back and had signed with Warner Brothers in 1933 to act in some comedy shorts, he was never to see his popularity regained. After a small one-year anniversary party with his new wife on June 29, 1933, Arbuckle went to bed and suffered a fatal heart attack in his sleep. He was 46.

Hearst’s long-time “companion” Marion Davies.

On April 27, 1903, William Randolph Hearst married 21-year-old Millicent Willson, a showgirl, in New York City. It is believed the marriage was as much a political arrangement as it was an attraction to glamour for Hearst. Millicent’s mother reputedly ran a Tammany Hall–connected brothel in the city, and Hearst undoubtedly saw the advantage of being well-connected to the Democratic centre of power in New York. Millicent bore Hearst five sons, all of whom followed their father into the media business.

After his flameout in politics, Hearst returned full-time to his publishing business. In 1917, Hearst’s roving eye fell upon Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Marion Davies, and by 1919 he was openly living with her in California. That same year, Hearst’s mother, Phoebe, died, leaving him the family’s fortune, which included a 168,000-acre ranch in San Simeon, California. Over the next several decades, Hearst spent millions of dollars expanding the property, building a Baroque-style castle, filling it with European artwork, and surrounding it with exotic animals and plants.

By the 1920s, one in every four Americans read a Hearst newspaper. William Randolph Hearst’s media empire had grown to include 20 daily and 11 Sunday papers in 13 cities. He controlled the King Features syndicate and the International News Service, as well as six magazines, including CosmopolitanGood Housekeeping and Harper’s Bazaar. He also ventured into motion pictures with a newsreel and a film company. He and his empire were at their zenith.

Hearst’s long-time “companion” Marion Davies, a very beautiful show girl and movie star. Hearst and Davies met in 1918, and she was very shortly starring in a movie backed by Hearst money (she’d been in two others already). It was the beginning of a long, long pattern. Hearst so believed in his girlfriend that he backed picture after picture for her, and pushed reviewers at his many newspapers to sing her praises. The disappointment is that he probably did more harm than good for Davies. For one thing, he liked her in big, dramatic historical pieces, when her talent was really comedy.

Between Davies filming an average of three movies a year, and Hearst’s incessant publicity blitzes, they held court at San Simeon, also known as Hearst Castle. It’s a 60,000 square foot mansion. That’s just the main building–including three guest-houses it’s more than 90 thousand square feet. Fifty-six bedrooms! Hooch flowed freely at San Simeon (but drinking to insensibility was not tolerated, Prohibition), and Davies and Hearst hosted a crush of parties, with the guest lists consisting of a who’s-who in Hollywood–Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Jean Harlow etc. Marion and Hearst supposedly had a child, Patricia Van Cleve, who was raised as Marion’s “niece” for most of her life.

Despite his apparent devotion for Davies, Hearst never divorced his wife. He ostensibly considered it at various points, but decided it was “cheaper to keep her.” Despite all this drama, the biggest scandal Marion and Hearst were involved in was by far the Thomas Ince Affair.

By 1924 Newport Movie Mogul Thomas Ince was rumoured to be close to bankruptcy. He was said to be interested in a deal with Hearst to rescue his floundering fortunes. On November 16 he boarded Hearst’s lavish yacht The Oneida as a guest of honour – it was his 42nd birthday. Also aboard were Chaplin, Davies, newspaper columnist Louella Parsons and actress Elinor Glynn. They celebrated his birthday at dinner, and sometime afterward he suffered acute indigestion – or so the story goes.

The details of Thomas Ince’s death are clouded in mystery. Here’s what’s acknowledged as fact: On November 16, 1924, Ince joined Hearst and Davies aboard the yacht, The Oneida. Among the guests were Louella Parsons and Charlie Chaplin. On November 19th, Ince left the Oneida in physical distress.

There seem to be as many unofficial stories as there were mouths on that boat.

The official story put out by Hearst’s considerable media empire and concurred with by a District Attorney who interviewed exactly one person, is that Ince left the yacht suffering from acute indigestion, and subsequently died of a heart attack. (He did have a history of ulcers and other health issues.)

A physician aboard the yacht, Dr. Goodman, diagnosed Ince as extremely ill. He was taken ashore by water taxi and by train to Los Angeles. Ince got worse on the train and was taken off it at Del Mar, where he was treated at a hotel. He went home the next day, November 19,  and died.

After Ince died his body was immediately cremated. Even before the funeral, suspicions were mounting. Hearst believed his mistress, Marion Davies, and Charlie Chaplin were having a love affair. Davies and Chaplin were also on the boat, and rumours surfaced that Hearst actually shot Ince by accident, intending to shoot Davies, Chaplin or both.

Rumors proliferated about what really happened: Hearst caught Chaplin and Davies in a compromising position and shot Ince by accident; Hearst poisoned Ince; Hearst hired an assassin to kill Ince; Hearst stabbed Ince in the heart with a hatpin. Adding to the confusion were the lies and denials told by Hearst’s guests – as well as evidence Hearst tried to silence Ince’s wife with a trust fund and Louella Parsons with a lifetime job.

Hearst was a leading Democrat who promoted William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896 and 1900. He later ran for mayor and governor and even sought the presidential nomination, but lost much of his personal prestige when outrage exploded in 1901 after columnist Ambrose Bierce and Editor Arthur Brisbane published separate columns months apart that suggested the assassination of William McKinley. When McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901, critics accused Hearst’s Yellow Journalism of driving Leon Czolgosz to the deed. Hearst did not know of Bierce’s column, and claimed to have pulled Brisbane’s after it ran in a first edition, but the incident would haunt him for the rest of his life, and all but destroyed his presidential ambitions.

Pulitzer, haunted by his “yellow sins,” returned the World to its crusading roots as the new century dawned. By the time of his death in 1911, the World was a widely respected publication, and would remain a leading progressive paper until its demise in 1931. Its name lived on in the Scripps-Howard New York World-Telegram, and then later the New York World-Telegram and Sun in 1950, and finally was last used by the New York World-Journal-Tribune from September 1966 to May 1967. At that point, only one broadsheet newspaper was left in New York City.

The legacy of yellow journalism is two-fold. First, the ability to influence public opinion regardless of the accuracy of the story was shown to be quite powerful. Banner headlines and sensationalised stories were read by millions and while not all believed what they read, enough did for them to be effective. This realisation led to the development of targeted advertising campaigns, both commercial and political throughout the 20th century. Second, was a growing mistrust of the newspaper media (and later television media) by the American public as the newspapers became more sensationalized and partisan (politically one-sided). The birth of tabloid journalism became an off-shoot arm of more mainstream newspapers. The public’s thirst for scandal grew as the stories, and scandal, increased. Such success in capturing the public’s attention laid a popular blueprint of success for newspapers and all media publications in the next century.

 


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