One of the great breakthoughs in propaganda. The ability to prove a point just by over exposing it to the masses. If they see it enough they'll believe it. Planting fear and then playing the fear into action. Using different sources to corrodinate the effort to make it seem as if the whole world thinks this way. Pioneered by William Randolph Hearst in his reefer madness style campaign of the 1930's.

But why is it called yellow journalism? Well, the whole purpose was to sell more papers for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner and New York Morning Journal. They did this not only with sensational and scandalous news coverage, but with the inclusion of illustrations and comic strips.

In early 1896 Pulitzer began publishing color comic sections which included a comic called "The Yellow Kid" (a quite unfunny comic about a bald kid with big ears and buck teeth who talks funny). The strip was very popular (am I the only one who feels that this generation had an unfathomable sense of humor?), and after nine months the author, R.F. Outcault was lured away by Hearst. Pulitzer countered by publishing a copy-cat version of The Yellow Kid, who was also becoming a merchandising phenomenon, appearing on keychains, postcards and similar trinkets.

It was around this time that the term yellow journalism came into common usage to describe the activities of these newspapers.

From an essay I'm working on for my history class:

In 1898, the Spanish and Americans were already jousting over control of Cuba. The issue was that the more affluent Spanish were mistreating the poor of Cuba, and colonial rule was causing death and famine among the Cuban natives. Some of this was true, but much of it was greatly exaggerated or even completely invented by newspaper editors in an effort to draw greater readership. At this time, there were two main newspaper publishers: the up-and-coming William Randolph Hearst, and old hand Joseph Pulitzer. They were locked in a struggle for control of the press in major cities – most notably New York City. Without regard for the consequences of their actions, they commissioned often outrageous articles about the mistreatment of Cubans by the Spanish spun more for entertainment than for the value of their information in hopes of selling more papers. As eldritch said, they did include comics such as "The Yellow Kid," and they also bought work from many notable artists of the time depicting the atrocities being visited upon the Cuban poor. The tactic worked, and papers flew off of the stands. But by the time the USS Maine sunk on February 5 of 1898 – an event some say may not have been the fault of the Spanish at all – anti-Spanish sentiment had boiled so high then-President McKinley could not refuse to start a war without ruining his political career. Thus yellow journalism was a chief cause of the Spanish-American war. Thanks to the outlandish publicizing of the media moguls, dubbed "yellow journalism," the war was made inevitable.

Yellow journalism may have been a term applied to the "reefer madness" campaign of the 1930s, but it was applied as a derogatory term with historical connotations ... extending as far back as 1896.

Or, what might be perceived as a off-color or at least unpopular opinion of the Chinese-language press in the United States.

Whilst doing research for another writeup I realized that I had a dilemma on my hands. I was going to use a source, The World Journal, a Chinese-language newspaper (the most popular in the United States). However, I'd have to have the appropriate articles translated. Now, translating from the Chinese to English is tricky at best. From syntax to idiom, the differences couldn't be more extreme. Therefore, one individual's translation of even a simple news article written in Chinese would vary slightly from another's. Absent having at my fingertips the resources, let's say, of the United Nations bureau of translation, I couldn't decide what to do. So I wrote this instead.

A Day Late and A Dollar Short

What irritates me the most about The World Journal and Sing Tao, the "big two" of the five Chinese newspapers in print in the United States, is the fact that a lot of their news is apparently copied from the English-language papers of the day before. Of course, they do have reporting staffs, but they place incredible burdens on these poor individuals:

So zealous is the rivalry among the dailies for news (and so tight their budgets) that each reporter has a quota of 2,000 words, or, more precisely, 2,000 characters, to write each day, often in two or three stories. The China Press also requires its reporters to shoot three usable photos a day.

"The quality is not so good, but it cuts down the cost," explained I-Der Jeng, its editor.

— Joseph Berger in The New York Times

Hearsay (garnered from Chinese friends and acquaintances whom I trust) leads me to believe that what appears in The New York Post, The Daily News, and even the "Grey Lady," The New York Times, is translated, usually with a little bit of a pro-Chinese twist, and printed the next day in the Chinese-language papers in this country. At first, I couldn't believe this. But as time passed, bit after bit of complete and utter misinformation began to filter down to me, typically in support of a point being made by one of my friends or employees. My irritation with this became more and more intense until I decided to find out just what indeed was up.

One of the hugest recent hoaxes I came across was the plight of a Chinese restaurant owner who came to me for advice. Now, this poor man has in his employ two or three illegal aliens. He told me that his accountant had told him to take these individuals (all in possession of Social Security numbers) off of his reported payroll. I informed this restaurateur that he better not; that the United States takes the payment of taxes very seriously, and then went into the whole story of how the F.B.I. couldn't catch Al Capone, but that he was in fact brought down for failure to pay taxes on the proceeds of his illegal activities.

My friend looked at me with a sad face. He said "I.R.S. has big, big computer. So does Immigration Service. My accountant says I.R.S. computer talk to Immigration Computer and they find no-green-card-people. Then they get deported."

Amazed that a professional financial advisor would subscribe to such hearsay, I explained that, yes, in some individual states one must show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to obtain a driver's license. However, so far as I know, there is no box to check off nor question to answer on any Form 1040 (individual tax return) nor any other tax form which asks "are you or are you not a citizen of the United States of America?" (except, of course, for foreign nationals who volunteer their status in the event they owe Uncle Sam a few bucks). Further, to check the millions upon millions of tax returns against the computer files at what is now the Department of Homeland Security would be a pretty expensive, time-consuming matter. And the government has admitted that in the "war against terrorism," computer cross-checking is a pretty futile task (except in the case of checking the NCIC criminal database against the file of individuals with a Deportation Order outstanding).

Of course, I told my friend that yes, he should continue to report the earnings of these workers (but get them the help of an Immigration Attorney, fast) and he, too, should continue to pay the withholding taxes for these workers. For woe betide the businessman who'd put his fortune on the line when dealing with ostensibly the largest government agency there is (I think - unless Bush has signed-up more soldiers than I.R.S. drones). Essentially I told him to keep his nose clean because an audit by the I.R.S. could potentially expose him to investigation by other government agencies more surely than anything else (unless he was running an illegal gambling parlor in the back of the restaurant). His face grew ashen when I said that last part to him; it turns out the staff had been playing Mah Jongg for nickels during the lull in-between lunch and dinner. And where? You got it - the back of the restaurant. It took me another half-hour to convince him that that was alright.

The Accountant's Sources

I finally got hold of my friend's Accountant. First, I asked him how many parts there are to the New York State C.P.A. exam. He answered correctly, four. Then I asked him where he'd gotten the idea that advising his client not to pay taxes was a good idea. He responded matter-of-factly that he'd read this advice in the Chinese newspaper. Astounded isn't quite the word that describes my state of mind at that point.

One Bad Source, On Another

Among the results of a Google search of '"World Journal" +newspaper' was Wikipedia's entry about said newspaper. With all due respect to those who do use Wiki as a source, I, for one, do not. I've discovered piles of misinformation and uncheckable "factoids" in Wikipedia - some about people I know or knew - so the whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It certainly does have its uses, but as a source for serious journalism I'd hazard a guess that their entries would best be considered a "starting-off point."

Now, it was initially the hearsay contained in the World Journal, as related to me by one of my employees, that caused me to investigate my last writeup for E2. This person told me that the Chinese-language paper said that the subject of my writeup had paid "fines" in the amount of "millions of dollars" as the result of "being arrested and sued for mistreating his employees."

The fact of the matter is that the litigation is still in the civil stages; the State's Attorney nor the regulatory agency involved have yet filed charges. Nor has there been published any news of a settlement (and if the litigation stays in the civil courts, and the settlement is to the satisfaction of both State's Attorney and regulatory agency, the settlement amount may never be disclosed.)

Consulting the English-Language Pages of the World Journal Online

So to continue on my investigation into the "millions of dollars" in fines described, I consulted the English-language version of the World Journal online. The website was filled with interesting stories about Chinese individuals who had won awards for community activism, crime rates in Chinese neighborhoods, stories of the "horrendous plight of workers who don't have Green Cards and the fines and jail time imposed on their employers. But nothing about the subject I was researching:  worker complaints leading to worker organization against employers, and potential Union organization. Enter Wikipedia:

On January 10, 2007, a jury found the World Journal guilty of failing to give employees breaks, lunches, and overtime, and awarded the plaintiffs $2.5 million. The plaintiffs alleged that they worked over twelve hours per day, failed to provide adequate pay statements to workers, and interfered with unionization attempts. In 2001, the employees voted to join the Communication Workers of America, but the National Labor Relations Board vacated the union vote after finding that the election was tainted.

— Wikipedia

Ah, so! The newspaper responsible for, among other things, championing the fight against exploitation of Chinatown Garment Workers was guilty of exploiting its own employees! Did they come clean about this? None of the Chinese people I asked (surely an unscientific methodology, I admit) seemed to know, and furthermore didn't recall that they'd written anything about having trouble with their staff.

About as Fair and Balanced as John Kerry

Early on in the history of The World Journal, in particular, the Chinese-language newspapers in this country were very pro-Taiwan. As recently as 2003 they made a huge to-do over the death of Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. Many discussed the pros and cons of Falun Gong at length. They were quick to criticize the political goings-on in Beijing.

However, as the demographics of their readership changed, so did their reporting. Several of my sources argued that the Journal, in particular, has waffled over the years, pro- and con-Mainland China's politics and policies. Logic would lead one to believe that they'd alienate their readers with pro-Communist China propaganda. However, it turns out that the bulk of their readership are immigrants who have family back home, to whom they send U.S. dollars. So it actually alienates their current readership when they take a pro-Taiwan stance. There are other reasons, based in cultural differences and the mainlanders' envy of the success of their Taiwanese neighbors at international business. So they tell the readership what the readership wants to hear.

Money Makes The World Go 'Round

My last example of the pure ridiculousness of it all is about journalistic integrity. Culturally, the Chinese people tend to embrace natural medicine. They believe that chemicals created in a laboratory will cause dependency (whether it's Valium or plain old antibiotics - even aspirin). It was my impression that this cultural bugaboo would be a hard one to break, given that the natural food stores in Chinatown are many, and their shelves veritably bursting with one herbal remedy or another. Well, not too long ago, our family doctor told my wife that her triglyceride level was a bit high, so he prescribed a Statin drug to rapidly reduce the level of artery-clogging gunk that was coursing through her veins. She wouldn't take it, until a customer (who's also a friend) asked her to share a dish of twice-cooked pork belly (a big cholesterol no-no). When my wife told the story of the triglycerides, our friend said, "Oh, there's this new pill on the market, and the newspaper says if you take it you can eat anything you want!"

Sure enough, when I leafed through the latest copy of the paper that was sitting on the counter back in the kitchen, it took me a mere half-minute to find a whole-page, no-doubt costly, three-color ad for Lipitor. Well, I guess they know which side of the bread the butter's on.

Related Reading

A Day Without ImmigrantsChinese Restaurant HouseChinese Restaurant SyndromeChinese RestaurantChinese Restaurant Workers Revolt!


"Newspaper War, Waged a Character at a Time", by Joseph Berger, The New York Times, November 10, 2003. Reprinted on the R.K. Chin Web Gallery: (Accessed 4/9/07)

"Chinese Media Denied Access to Clinton Fundraiser" by Eugenia Chien, New American Media Collaboration of Ethnic News Organizations website, February 27, 2007: (Accessed 4/9/07)

"World Journal in Partnership with the Chinese Community" by Sandip Roy and Pueng Vongs, New American Media August 13, 2003: (Accessed 4/9/07)

"The World Journal" NYJPW Chinese-American Arts and Culture Association website: (Accessed 4/9/07)

"The Complete Reference to China/Chinese Newspapers, News Services and News Portal Sites" edited by Weiqing Huang, (Accessed 4/9/07)

"Newspaper War in the Bay Area" by Vanessa Hua, The San Francisco Chronicle, August 3, 2004

80-20 Initiative Blog, December 19, 2005: (Accessed 4/9/07)

The most simple explanation about how screwed-up government information sharing is: (Accessed 4/9/07)

and yes, one more thing: "World Journal," Wikipedia Entry (Accessed 4/9/07)

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