William Randolph Hearst

By Mitchell, Greg | Editor & Publisher, October 30, 1999 | Go to article overview
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William Randolph Hearst

Mitchell, Greg, Editor & Publisher

William Randolph Hearst Born: 1863 Died: 1951

Career Highlights: His father turned over the San Francisco Examiner to him in 1887. He acquired the New York Journal eight years later; came to own two dozen other papers, as well as film outlets; and started King Features and several news services.

W.R. Hearst may be the newspaper titan of the century, but the century did not begin well for him. Forget "Rosebud." For Hearst, the word that would haunt him for a lifetime was "Czolgosz."

It was 1901. The Hearst papers, in their typically rabid fashion, had been attacking President William McKinley, a Republican, since his election the previous year. Hearst had his eye on the White House and planned to run for president in 1904 as a Democrat. The mud-throwing reached a frenzy with an editorial in his New York Journal proclaiming that "if bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done."

A few months later, the anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz shot and killed McKinley in Buffalo. That was bad enough for Hearst. It got worse when reports circulated that a copy of that Journal editorial was found in the assassin's pocket.

In the uproar that followed, libraries and newsstands boycotted the Journal, and crowds hanged Hearst in effigy in many cities. Circulation dropped. Responding to death threats, Hearst started carrying a pistol, and tempered the sensationalism in his newspapers. But W.R. Hearst was a fighter. A year later in New York, he won election to Congress and his newspaper empire was humming along nicely again. In 1904, he was runner-up for the Democratic nomination for president.

Two decades later, Hearst controlled 22 daily newspapers across the country, from Boston to San Francisco. He was no tree-hugger; it was estimated that his organization was the biggest single user of paper in the world. He also owned nine magazines, radio stations, a photo service, and motion-picture and newsreel companies. He employed 38,000 people.

Love him or hate him, Hearst believed that the press was "the greatest force in civilization" as it could both form and express public opinion. In his early days as a progressive, he crusaded for social reforms, but could never resist crass showmanship, claiming that "putting out a newspaper without promotion is like winking at a girl in the dark - well-intentional but ineffective.

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