William Randolph Hearst

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William Randolph Hearst (April 29, 1863August 14, 1951) was an American newspaper magnate and leading newspaper publisher. The son of self-made millionaire George Hearst, he became aware that his father received a northern California newspaper, The San Francisco Examiner, as payment of a gambling debt. Still a student at Harvard, he asked his father to give him the newspaper to run. In 1887, he became the paper's publisher and devoted long hours and much money to making it a success. Crusading for civic improvement and exposing municipal corruption, he greatly increased the paper's circulation.

Moving to New York City, he acquired The New York Journal and engaged in a bitter circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer's New York World which led to the creation of yellow journalism — sensationalized stories of dubious veracity. Acquiring more newspapers, Hearst created a chain that numbered nearly 30 papers in major American cities at its peak. He later expanded to magazines, creating the largest newspaper and magazine business in the world.

He was twice elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, but was defeated in 1906 in a race for governor of New York. Nonetheless, through his newspapers and magazines, he exercised enormous political influence, most notably in creating public frenzy which pushed the U.S. into war with Spain in 1898. His life story was a source of inspiration for the lead character in Orson Welles' classic film Citizen Kane.[1]

Contents

Early life

Hearst was born in San Francisco, California to George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson. Following preparation at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, he enrolled in the Harvard College class of 1885, where he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Alpha chapter), the A.D. Club (a prestigious Harvard Final club), and of the Harvard Lampoon prior to his expulsion from Harvard for a crude prank[2]. Heir to a vast mining fortune, at the age of twenty-three Hearst acquired and developed a series of influential newspapers, starting with the San Francisco Examiner in 1887, forging them into a national brand. His New York City paper, the New York Morning Journal, became known for sensationalist writing and for its agitation in favor of the Spanish-American War, and the term yellow journalism (a pejorative reference to scandal-mongering, sensationalism, jingoism and similar practices) was derived from the Journal's color comic strip, The Yellow Kid.

Though he served two terms in the U.S. Congress, Hearst's political ambitions were mostly frustrated. He ran unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1905 and 1909, for Governor of New York in 1906, and for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 1910. He was a prominent leader of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party from 1896 to 1935, but he became more conservative later in life.

His palatial estate, Hearst Castle, near San Simeon, California, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, was donated by the Hearst Corporation to the state of California in 1957, and is now a State Historical Monument and a National Historic Landmark, open for public tours. Hearst formally named the estate La Cuesta Encantada ('The Enchanted Slope'), but he usually just called it 'the ranch'.

Publishing business

Searching for an occupation, in 1887 he took over management of a newspaper which his father George Hearst had purchased in 1880, the San Francisco Examiner. Giving his paper a grand motto, "Monarch of the Dailies", he acquired the best equipment and the most talented writers of the time. A self-proclaimed populist, Hearst went on to publish stories of municipal and financial corruption, often attacking companies in which his own family held an interest. Within a few years, his paper dominated the San Francisco market.

New York Morning Journal

In 1896, with the financial support of his mother, he bought the failing New York Morning Journal, hiring writers like Stephen Crane and Julian Hawthorne and entering into a head-to-head circulation wars with his former mentor, Joseph Pulitzer, owner of the New York World, from whom he 'stole' Richard F. Outcault, the inventor of color comics, and all of Pulitzer's Sunday staff as well.[3] His was the only major newspaper in the East to support William Jennings Bryan and Bimetallism in 1896. The New York Journal (later New York Journal-American) reduced its price to one cent and attained unprecedented levels of circulation through sensational articles on subjects like crime and pseudoscience.

Expansion

In part to aid in his political ambitions, Hearst opened newspapers in some other cities, among them Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. The creation of his Chicago paper was requested by the Democratic National Committee and Hearst used this as an excuse for Phoebe Hearst to transfer him the necessary start-up funds. By the mid-1920s he had a nation-wide string of 28 newspapers, among them the Los Angeles Examiner, the Boston American, the Atlanta Georgian, the Chicago Examiner, the Detroit Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Washington Times, the Washington Herald, and his flagship the San Francisco Examiner. Hearst also diversified his publishing interests into book publishing and magazines; several of the latter are still existent, including such well-known periodicals as Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Town and Country and Harper's Bazaar.

In 1924 he opened the New York Daily Mirror, a racy tabloid frankly imitating the New York Daily News. Among his other holdings were the magazines Cosmopolitan, and Harper's Bazaar; two news services, Universal News and International News Service (along with INS companion radio station WINS in New York); King Features Syndicate; a film company, Cosmopolitan Productions; extensive New York City real estate; and thousands of acres of land in California and Mexico, along with timber and mining interests.

Hearst promoted writers and cartoonists despite the lack of any apparent demand for them by his readers. The press critic A.J. Liebling reminds us how many Hearst stars would not be deemed employable elsewhere. One Hearst favorite, George Herriman, was the inventor of the dizzy comic strip Krazy Kat; not especially popular with either readers or editors, it is now considered by many to be a classic, a belief once held only by Hearst himself.

Two months before the Wall Street Crash of 1929, he became one of the sponsors of the first round-the-world voyage in an airship, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin. His sponsorship was conditional on the trip starting at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, NJ, so the ship's captain, Dr. Hugo Eckener, first flew the Graf across the Atlantic from Germany to pick up Hearst's photographer and at least three Hearst correspondents. One of them, Grace Marguerite Hay Drummond-Hay, by that flight became the first woman to travel around the world by air.[4]

The Hearst news empire reached a circulation and revenue peak about 1928, but the economic collapse of the Great Depression and the vast over-extension of his empire cost him control of his holdings. It is unlikely that the newspapers ever paid their own way; mining, ranching and forestry provided whatever dividends the Hearst Corporation paid out. When the collapse came, all Hearst properties were hit hard, but none more so than the papers; adding to the burden were the Chief's now-conservative politics, increasingly at odds with those of his readers. Having been refused the right to sell another round of bonds to unsuspecting investors, the shaky empire tottered. Unable to service its existing debts, Hearst Corporation faced a court-mandated reorganization in 1937. From this point, Hearst was just another employee, subject to the directives of an outside manager.[5] Newspapers and other properties were liquidated, the film company shut down; there was even a well-publicized sale of art and antiquities. While World War II restored circulation and advertising revenues, his great days were over. Hearst died of a heart attack in 1951, aged eighty-eight, in Beverly Hills, California, and is buried at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.

The Hearst Corporation continues to this day as a large, privately held media conglomerate based in New York City.

Involvement in politics

A Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives (1903–1907), he narrowly failed in attempts to become mayor of New York City (1905 and 1909) and governor of New York (1906), nominally remaining a Democrat while also creating the Independence Party. He was defeated for the governorship by Charles Evans Hughes.

His defeat in the New York City mayoral election, in which he ran under a short-lived third party of his own creation (the Municipal Ownership League) is widely attributed to Tammany Hall. Tammany, the dominant Democratic organization in New York City at the time (and a widely corrupt one), was said to have used every dirty trick in the book to derail Hearst's campaign. He also sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1904, but found that his support for William Jennings Bryan in previous years was not reciprocated. The conservative wing of the party was ascendant and nominated Judge Alton B. Parker instead. An opponent of the British Empire, Hearst opposed American involvement in the First World War and attacked the formation of the League of Nations. Hearst's last bid for office came in 1922 when he was backed by Tammany Hall leaders for the U.S. Senate nomination in New York. Al Smith vetoed this, earning the lasting enmity of Hearst. Although Hearst shared Smith's opposition to Prohibition he swung his papers behind Herbert Hoover in the 1928 presidential election. Hearst's support for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic National Convention, via his allies William Gibbs McAdoo and John Nance Garner, can also be seen as part of his vendetta against Smith, who was an opponent of Roosevelt's at that convention.

Hearst's reputation triumphed in the 1930s as his political views changed. In 1932, he was a major supporter of Roosevelt. His newspapers energetically supported the New Deal throughout 1933 and 1934. Hearst broke with FDR in spring 1935 when the President vetoed the Patman Bonus Bill. Hearst papers carried the old publisher's rambling, vitriolic, all-capital-letters editorials, but he no longer employed the energetic reporters, editorialists and columnists who might have made a serious attack. His newspaper audience was the same working class that Roosevelt swept by three-to-one margins in the 1936 election. In 1934 after checking with Jewish leaders to make sure the visit would prove of benefit to Jews, Hearst went to Berlin to interview Adolf Hitler. Hitler asked why he was so misunderstood by the American press. "Because Americans believe in democracy," Hearst answered bluntly, "and are averse to dictatorship." [6] For a period of time Hitler wrote a column for the Hearst papers and Hearst supported Hitler up until 1938.[7]

See also

Notes

  1. The Battle Over Citizen Kane, PBS
  2. The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Thirteenth edition, Advanced Placement Edition, copyright 2006
  3. The King Is Dead - TIME
  4. Time magazine: Los Angeles to Lakehurst, 1929-09-09
  5. American's End - TIME
  6. Conradi, Peter. Hitler's Piano Player. Carroll & Graf Publishers, 174. 
  7. PBS interview of David Nasaw


Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.
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