The year was 1897 and tensions were high in the United States due to the
growing conflict between our close neighbor Cuba and Spain. William Randolph
Hearst, already an established newspaper owner in San Francisco was engaged in
a fierce battle for readers between his newly acquired paper the New York
Journal and Joseph Pulitzer's highly successful New York World. Hearst knew
that a war, particularly a war with the involvement of the United States would increase his
newspaper distribution dramatically. Hearst championed the Cuban rebels and
welcomed a U.S. declaration of war. He launched a scathing series of attacks in
his daily editorials aimed at the Spanish government for its hostile actions
and towards the United States government for not doing anything about it. He
called for war at a time when the country was just healing from the wounds of
theCivil War and was itching for an excuse to flex some military muscle. He
spentuntold sums of money to send reporters and corespondents to Cuba to
capture thestories of Cuban insurrection. When his artist correspondent,
Frederick Remington,arrived in Cuba to cover the anticipated Spanish-American
war only to find therewere no visible signs of war and cabled Hearst for
permission to come home,Hearst reportedly cabled back, ''You provide the
pictures, and I'll provide the war.''This strategy worked, as the Journal sold
more than a million copies during theheight of the crisis. It also foretold of
what was to come in Hearst's newspapers,the fact that a publisher and the
President had an equal right to act for the nation.
It was Winston Churchill who said "A lie gets halfway around the worldbefore the
truth has a chance to get its pants on." No one understood that betterthan
William Randolph Hearst. His newspapers were bigger, flashier and moredaring
than the competitions. Being the first to scoop a news story usually meant
going to press before all the facts were checked. If more newspapers were
soldbecause the truth was stretched a little bit or in some cases thrown right
out the window, so be it, the public would be none the wiser. To quote another
20thcentury figure and onetime Hearst columnist, Adolph Hitler " The victor will
neverbe asked if he told the truth."
Hearst's papers catered to urban working class people, many of whom were
recent immigrants. He felt these people needed to have someone looking out for
them, championing their rights, fighting for their causes and giving voice to their
concerns. Hearst played that role to the hilt as his papers favored labor unions,
progressive taxation, and municipal ownership of utilities. When news was slow
or not sensational enough, Hearst would "create" his own stories, always casting
his paper as the hero fighting against a corrupt politician or municipality. People
felt that Hearst was 'one of them", while in turn Hearst saw his readers as
George Hearst, a mining millionaire and a U.S. Senator from California, gave
his only son the San Francisco Examiner in 1887. It was with the hope that the
young man who had been expelled from Harvard University for raucous behavior
and poor study habits would finally settle down and get on with his life. Hearst had
been spoiled from birth by a doting mother and an absentee father. Quite simply he
was used to getting his way, so it was no surprise that when he finally came of age,
with no desire of completing college, no work experience and no prospects it was
his parents he turned to for assistance. The
Examiner was a money-losing
proposition for Mr. Hearst Sr. and he had his doubts about retaining it, let alone
having his unskilled son assume control. But young William was persistent that he
was up to the task at hand.
In the next decade Hearst spent more than $8 million
of his family's money
to turn around the fortunes of the Examiner. The Examiner building was housed
with the most advanced printing equipment of the day. Hearst wisely spent his
money on securing the best journalists he could find, usually from the staff of his
competition. He proudly proclaimed on the cover of every edition that his paper
was "The Monarch of the Dailies". His passion for journalism and for the
"common man" became evident as he used his paper to write exposes on
corruption, to assail petty municipal abuses and to advocate for civic improvement.
While readers may have thought Hearst noble for his civic righteousness, this was
an era before the advertising age and without a steadily growing circulation there
would simply be no money. While his so-called passion grew, so did his
circulation. Hearst was not only able to turn the San Francisco Examiner into a
moneymaking investment, he was also able to make the paper into the most widely
read daily newspaper in San Francisco. Not content with the domination of the San
Francisco marketplace, Hearst set his sights on something bigger.
In 1895, New York City residents had almost a dozen
newspapers, each with
their own niche, competing for their hard-earned pennies. Hearst, riding high on
the success of the Examiner and with unlimited funds from his mother began to
search for a floundering paper to acquire. It can be said that Mr. Hearst was
strikingly different from all of the newspaper editors that preceded him. Most, if
not all were born into poverty, and created their newspapers out of the sheer force
of their wills and personalities while Mr. Hearst utilized
his vast family fortune to
buy his way into the marketplace. While Hearst was a man of considerable wealth,
he realized that the majority of his readership was not and made sure his dailies
were priced a penny lower than the competitions. This was a gimmick intended to
build loyalty from the public while at the same time taking away circulation from
Hearst finally settled on the New York
Journal and immediately launched a
battle against publishing titan Joseph Pulitzer and his New York World. It was
under the bright lights of the information capital of the world that William
Randolph Hearst honed the skills that would establish his empire and also cast him
as one of the most hated and feared men in America. Utilizing the game plan that
made the San Francisco Examiner a success, Hearst began experimenting with
every aspect of newspaper publishing. In the process, he was responsible for
pioneering many innovations, including multiple-color presses, the first halftone
photographs on newsprint, the first comic section printed in color and the wire
syndication of news copy. Just as in San Francisco, Hearst
searched for the best
newspapermen in the city to work at his paper. Unfortunately for Mr. Pulitzer,
most happened to be in his employ. With a bottomless pit of money and the sheer
desire to dominate the market, ii was not often that Hearst couldn't buy his man.
Most newspaper owners at the turn of the century took
the position of
Mr. Adolph Ochs. Mr.Ochs, owner of the New York Times and other successful
newspapers believed that his opinions should be kept out of his newspapers. His
editorials were fair and impartial as he felt it was up to the readers to formulate
their own opinions. This was the exact opposite approach of William Randolph
Hearst. Hearst was always opinionated and could be quite persuasive
argumentative editorials. It did not matter so much if Hearst was correct in his
opinions and beliefs, it was the fact that he knew most people will believe anything
they read. With millions reading his dailies Hearst knew his pen was mightier
than the sword.
Everyone, especially politicians feared the wrath of Hearst.
An unkind remark or
an unfavorable stance on a political issue could cause you to be the focal point of
his scathing attacks. It has been said that F.D.R. in the first years of his presidency
consulted with advisors to gauge Hearst's opinion on political matters, sometimes
changing his mind or holding off on key decisions to avoid being a target in
Hearst's editorials. The President would also sometimes endure the added insult of
having his likeness presented in a mean-spirited caricature designed to embarrass
him for making the mistake of disagreeing with Hearst.
Hearst was not primarily after money; he was after power, and
indispensable to the attainment of it. While he proclaimed to be a newspaperman,
Hearst was really just a salesman. Circulation was his "God" and he put it before
everything else, "news" became only the commodity that made circulation. Since
the Hearst papers depended on stories of sin, crime and corruption, the makeup of
his papers was usually limited to these subjects. This formula was not novel; it had
existed in newspapers years before Hearst came along. he just perfected the art
and kept on practicing it, adding his considerable wealth to show the publishing
world what a few million dollars would do to the equation.
As Hearst continued to accumulate more newspapers in major
media empire continued to grow. By the turn of the century, he was a national
force. He began using his power and influence to pursue political office. In 1902,
he was elected to Congress from New York, running on a ticket
working class and immigrants. Much like Congressmen today, Hearst felt the
position was a stepping stone to loftier goals as he seldom voted and only appeared
on the floor to promote his own pet projects. It was the Presidency that Hearst
yearned for, and he would take any elected office along the way to reach that goal.
In 1904, Hearst finished second in the balloting for the Democratic
nomination. Undaunted, he also ran for mayor and governor of New York but was
also rebuffed. Many believe it was the radicalism of Hearst's newspapers that
made him a liability to the Democratic party. Although Hearst would never realize
his Presidential aspirations, he would remain throughout the decades a confidant of
world leaders, entertainers and opinion makers. If he could not make the key
decisions he felt the country needed to make, then he would make sure he could
influence the people who did.
While his political prospects were bleak, Hearst could always
count on the
comfort and safety of his newspaper editorials. But the preaching, coddling and
scolding parental figure Hearst had become was beginning to wear thin. In the
1930's, he was no longer the innovator in publishing he once was. Others now beat
him at his own game with more pictures, livelier writing and more appealing
politics. Hearst no longer seemed in tune with the American public, as his shift in
political ideology began to change. Historian David Nasaw explains
" Hearst took
unpopular stances on political issues such as his support of Adolph Hitler in the
early days of his regime and by viciously attacking President Roosevelt's "New
Deal" convinced that readers would realize that he was right and come back to his
newspapers no matter how mad he might have made them."
To illustrate just how powerful and influential William Randolph
during the first half of the 20th century, in the year 2000, the ABC, NBC and CBS
evening television newscasts were watched by approximately 7 million people. In
Hearst's heyday during the 1930's over 20 million people read or listened to his
newspapers and radio programs. This comparison is even more amazing since the
size of the country's population has more than doubled since then.
While Hearst was a man of considerable wealth, he sympathized
"common" man on the street. As noted Hearst historian David Nasaw explains
"Hearst did care for the common man, because his father was one, but he also
wanted to build his circulation". Hearst was a true believer in the American dream,
which for him was founded on democracy and free-market capitalism. His father,
who had arrived in California with no money or prospects was able to amass
millions of dollars through sheer desire and hard work. The theme in all of
Hearst's papers was that he would speak for those without a voice and fight for
those who could not fight. No one except Hearst can truly say if his actions were
heartfelt or only an exploitative gimmick designed to sell newspapers.
Granted that heading into the 21st century,
newspapers do not wield the type of
influence they once did, I asked Hearst historian David Nasaw what kind of impact
on journalism would William Randolph Hearst have today. Mr. Nasaw made a
comparison to a present day "megalomaniac" Rupert Murdoch. The similarities
between Hearst and Murdoch are quite interesting. Murdoch, born in Melbourne,
Australia in 1931, also inherited a daily newspaper from his father. He built a
substantial newspaper and magazine publishing empire in Australia, Hong Kong,
and the UK. He moved into the American market in 1976 with the purchase of The
New York Post, then acquired The New York Magazine Company, whose titles
include New York Magazine, New West, and The Village Voice. He also has major
business interests in other media industries, especially television, films and
publishing, on three continents. Rupert Murdoch seems to have followed the
blueprints created by Hearst on how to run a media empire. Much like Hearst, his
preference for a journalistic formula is crime, sex and political scandals with
plenty of personal opinion and lecturing for his audiences who presumably don't
know any better. I believe William Randolph Hearst would do just fine in the 21st
century. The American publics appetite for sensationalistic news stories has only
continued to grow since Hearst first went into business back in 1887.
History will remember Hearst on many different levels. He'll
for his racist attacks on the Japanese and Mexicans to his open support of the Jews
and their desire for a Homeland. From his faith in the belief of "freedom of the
press" to his war with RKO Studios to have the movie Citizen Kane suppressed.
Hearst may have been full of contradictions, but it is his convictions that he should
be best remembered for. He stood his ground and fought for <wrong or right> his
beliefs, never wavering under pressure or concerned of the outcomes. If most
Americans were given the money and power that Hearst fought so hard for, would
they really be any different?
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The Hearst Monologues
A fictitious debate featuring William Randolph Hearst
The year: Mid to Late 1930'sThe place: New York City, the radio station WNBC
The reason: A live debate regarding the increasing popularity of "sensational news coverage" in Hearst owned newspapers.
The participants:Adolph Ochs. Born in 1858, he began his newspaper career at the age of 11, as a delivery boy. In 1878 he borrowed $250 and bought half interest in the floundering Chattanooga Times. Believing that a newspaper should be "clean, dignified, and trustworthy" and possessing an acute business sense, Ochs built the Times into one of the strongest newspapers in the South. By the age of 38, Ochs was able to gain control of the then ailing New York Times. Upholding a policy of thorough, nonpartisan, and unsensational coverage of news, The New York Times tripled its circulation within a year.
William Randolph Hearst. Born in 1863. Took over the San Francisco Examiner from his father and turned it into the most successful newspaper in San Francisco. Through his families fortunes he was able to slowly start buying newspapers in every major market in the United States. Hearst believes that his newspapers should be "easy to read", big flashy headlines that can get the story across easily.
Moderator: Good evening. We are here to night to address the growing concern of sensational journalism in today's newspapers. William Randolph Hearst, owner of more than a dozen newspapers throughout the country has often be vilified for his role in the tasteless, insensitive and outrageous headlines that grace the pages of America's newspapers. He is here this evening to debate these charges against Mr. Adolph Ochs, a fellow newspaper magnate and current owner of the New York Times. We will start things off with Mr. Ochs.Adolph Ochs: Mr. Hearst. Good evening. Before we begin, let me mention what a wonderful time my family and I had at your estate least week. The children really loved the new additions to your zoo . And my wife simply adored the diamond bracelet given out during your cocktail hour. Your hospitality knows no boundaries. Putting our personal affairs aside, I am here tonight to discuss the current state of our chosen profession, Journalism. It seems to me that some newspapers, particularly your newspapers Mr. Hearst, are more interested in sensationalistic eye catching headlines that snare readers into spending their hard earned pennies, only to have them find that the story does not live up to the hype or sometimes even the facts that you have supplied. When I read the headline of a newspaper that screams in big bold letters "HUNGRY, FRANTIC FLAMES" I expect to read about an unfortunate fire that had maybe devastated a landmark in our city. Not a story about the a small fire that was quickly doused at the Mayors Barbecue. A barbecue that just happened to be a fundraiser for the mayor. The same mayor that you and your newspaper are openly supporting for reelection this coming fall. I find that not only misleading, but quite in bad taste Mr. Hearst.
William Randolph Hearst: Forgive me Mr. Ochs. You did say this was a business didn't you? Besides the love of a good story, we are in this for a buck or two aren't we? I give my readers everything they want. So what if my headlines are flashy. It's flashy that sells. I stand by my headlines and more importantly I stand by my reporters and their facts. My editors follow strict guidelines, established by me, that ensure continued quality in the Hearst product.
Adolph Ochs: Lets talk about those guidelines, Mr. Hearst. I have before me tonight a copy of the so-called "Commandments" that are to be followed at your newspapers. Let's start with the first one, "Be fair an impartial. Don't make a paper for the Republicans or Democrats or Independents. Make a paper for all the people and give unbiased news of all creeds and parties". Mr. Hearst, it's no secret that with the exception of a few years where you disagreed with Party Policies, you have been a lifelong Democrat. But you would already have surmised this if you head read a Hearst owned newspaper. Your papers give favorable coverage to Democratic politicians and little or negative coverage to the opposing party. Politicians who fell out of your favor or you did not support, found it nearly impossible to get elected in certain districts without the mighty Hearst Empire supporting them.
William Randolph Hearst: I cannot help it if the working class man identifies with the Democrats and their policies. I am simply an outlet for the people and the policies that they choose to see championed. If my readers where all Republicans or Independents, you may be assured that my papers would reflect that too. Adolph Ochs: Lets move on to another of you so called Commandments of Journalism, Mr. Hearst. I quote: "Omit things that will offend nice people. Avoid coarseness and a low tone. The most sensational news can be told if told properly". Before the movie Citizen Kane came out, Mr. Hearst, you were convinced and rightfully so might I add, that the film was about your life. You had your newspapers embark on a vicious mud slinging campaign with anyone associated with the picture. Louella Parsons a favorite Hearst columnist threatened the executives from RKO Studios that she would print fictional versions of their lives in her column if the movie were not pulled from release.
William Randolph Hearst: You have absolutely no proof of any of this. I defy you to supply any shred of evidence. Years ago Aldous Huxley came out with a novel called "After Many a Summer Dies the Swan". A quite unflattering novel based in part on my life. You did not see me go after Mr. Huxley did you? No, on the contrary, Mr. Huxley continues to write columns for Hearst newspapers to this day. So, why should I lose any sleep over this Citizen Kane. If I truly wanted to, I could buy RKO Studios and burn this rubbish.
So yes, Mr. Ochs those commandments are mine. And I make sure that they are always carried out. It means something for a newspaper to have the Hearst name on it.
Adolph Ochs: Mr. Hearst, I am informed we only have a few moments before we go off the air tonight. So let me bring up one final Commandment for your newspapers. "Please be accurate. Don't allow exaggeration. It is a cheap and ineffective substitute for real interest. Reward reporters who make the truth more interesting and weed out those who cannot."
Facts, important facts I might add Mr. Hearst, are often incorrect and sometimes left out of your stories altogether. Might I remind the audience of a story that takes place before the onset of the Spanish American War?Upon arriving in Cuba in 1897 to cover an anticipated war, your artist correspondent Mr. Frederick Remington cabled you Mr. Hearst, to say that nothing was happening and to ask permission to come back home to the States. You Mr. Hearst cabled him back and stated ''Stay where you are. You provide the pictures, and I'll provide the war.''
William Randolph Hearst: I'll have you know Mr. Ochs, that my papers live up to an exceptionable standard of excellence. The simple appearance of the Hearst name on a newspaper, magazine, newsreel, movie production or radio program means unsurpassed quality. I personally oversee what does or doesn't go into one of my newspapers. Unlike you Mr. Ochs, God gave me a voice and I intend to use it. I know the man on the street. I know what he eats, what he breathes, what he thinks. I am the man on the street Mr. Ochs! Someone needs to hear their voice. I just simply supply the vocal chords. Good Night!