British Apathy/Bad Press
Amid political tensions, strategic dissent, and internal military strife stood the British press. With no shortage of stories to cover, several London media outlets reported on many of the disheartening developments taking place at both home and abroad. Hard-hitting stories produced a unique sort of reciprocating discontent among politicians, military leaders, and the general public.
Growing apathy and disapproval of the war in North America, for example, prompted reporters to cover political and strategic mistakes that, in turn, fueled even more antiwar sentiments. Partisan journalists, often competing for the next big headline, supported their political patrons by running hit pieces that exacerbated an already volatile situation.
Solomon M. Lutnick, was one of the first academics to seriously investigate the impact of British journalism on the outcome of the war. In his 1964 article, “The Defeat at Yorktown,” he shares an interesting episode where several British papers elevated General Cornwallis to celebrity status in the eyes of eighteenth-century Londoners. Period newspapers painted the general as the Crown’s last, great hope for victory in the colonies by embellishing many of his exploits during the closing years of the war. Such media campaigns had the unintended consequence of alienating Cornwallis from his political and military superiors, who were quick to lay blame on the Earl after Yorktown.
In the end, it was the Morning Herald that reported the gradual decline and downfall of British forces near the close of the war. Despite the paper’s fierce loyalty to the incumbent First Lord of the Admiralty, John Montagu, the writing was on the wall. In November of 1871, the paper reported that just over 2,000 French troops landed in Virginia. A week later, Herald reporters raised the number to nearly 3,000. The pro-Tory periodical finally capitulated by releasing word that a French blockade had cut off Cornwallis and his men at Yorktown, who were forced to surrender, which presaged the end of the war.