The New York Times building (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
The New York Times building (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

(Salon) – Back in the 1890s, two newspapers, Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, were battling it out for the readership of New Yorkers and beyond. To garner more readers, they engaged in what became known as “yellow journalism,” which denotes running sensationalistic stories — or what we know today as click-bait. It got so bad that an English magazine in 1898 noted, “All American journalism is not ‘yellow’, though all strictly ‘up-to-date’ yellow journalism is American!”  On May 10, the doyen of New York, and indeed American, newspapers stooped to such yellow journalism as to garner notice not only across the nation, but also internationally.  This is not surprising, for three reasons.  First, one of the most valuable plots of New York real estate remains the front page of the New York Times — and that is where the story ran. Second, the story took up a hot-button issue — Israel-Palestine. Third, the headline can justifiably be labeled “race-baiting”:  “Campus Debates Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities.”

To really assess just how bad this piece of journalism is, and the cavalier way in which the New York Times engaged in yellow journalism so as to actually exacerbate conditions on U.S. campuses, it’s important to separate myth from reality.

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