On the evening of February 15, 1898, the US Navy battleship Maine exploded suddenly and without warning, sinking into the waters of Havana Harbor in Cuba, and killing more than more than 260. “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!” became the rallying cry of hawks, and the incident acted as a catalyst for the Spanish-American War.
The American public’s bellicose hysteria was fed by two of the leading newspapers of the time. Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, in a circulation war with each other, devoted intense coverage to the Maine’s sinking. Using tactics that would later be called “yellow journalism,” both papers published incendiary article after incendiary article, often based on exaggerated or fabricated information, blaming the Spanish for the incident. Privately, Pulitzer (who later went on to found the Columbia School of Journalism) didn’t believe the Spanish were responsible for the Maine catastrophe, but the jingoistic coverage helped to sell papers and quicken the drumbeat for war with Spain, a cause he supported.