Manipulating public opinion to wage war: Part 3/5

The American Civil War (1861 – 1865) “was absolutely an important moment in the history of the press,” says Penn State’s Risley. “The practices, technological development you begin to see during the war—the importance of the telegraph, the use of illustrations, for example—and the growth in demand for newspapers, so many of these things came together during this remarkable and tragic event.”

The demand for newspapers in both the North and South soared during the Civil War, says Risley, whose book is Civil War Journalism (Praeger, 2012).

This demand for information continued after the war and pushed more newspapers to broaden their readership. “America really became a nation of newspaper readers during the war.” The Civil War also showed officials how powerful the press could be in shaping public opinion, and government officials often struggled finding an even-handed approach in their handling of the press.

“Abraham Lincoln recognized that the press played a role in public opinion and he used the press effectively,” says Risley. “But, he wasn’t afraid to shut down newspapers, something that would not have been acceptable today.” Source:

Perhaps more importantly, newspapers were responsible for editorializing the war.  They were the propaganda machines of the day. Though not universally true, many newspapers published biased accounts of events, “factual” testimonials of enemy atrocities, articles proselytizing for specific political and military goals, and emotionally charged letters from citizens affected by the conflict. A quiet war for public support was waged both in the North and the South with the newspapers serving on the front lines. Issues like conscription, use of slaves as soldiers, and the validity of total war were hotly debated in the papers. The newspapers controlled the ebb and flow of public opinion and a particularly popular circulation could determine the outcomes of city or state politics.Some newspapers were known to falsely report casualty rates or results of battle to bolster public morale. Source:

But if the Civil War taught the government about the importance of the media, The Spanish-American War (1898) may have been the first true “media war”.

Today, historians point to the Spanish-American War as the first press-driven war. Although it may be an exaggeration to claim that Hearst and the other yellow journalists started the war, it is fair to say that the press fueled the public’s passion for war. Without sensational headlines and stories about Cuban affairs, the mood for Cuban intervention may have been very different. Source:

Continued on July 11, 2013 in Manipulating public opinion to wage wars: Part 4 or return to Part 2

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 Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

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