IN 1904, WILLIAM Randolph Hearst launched a major bid for the office of president of the United States.
Shy, tall, loved and hated, Hearst at 41 years old was already a giant of the American newspaper industry when he decided he would seek the nation's top administrative post.
A Hearst campaign button from the time gives us a lasting image of the man: Hair parted near the middle and crowning a heavy face with somber gaze. This was Hearst, the man whose candidacy was ridiculed by experts in both parties; the man who won a seat for himself in Congress as a way to gain the legitimacy of elected office, which he knew he needed if he were to be president.
Hearst arrived at the July 6 Democratic Convention with more than 200 of the 1,000 delegates committed to him. His hopes were high, and he had good reason to be confident. Hearst had mustered all the power of his great chain of newspapers to promote himself; in fact, his efforts were historic--the first time an American presidential aspirant advertised his own virtues in his own papers.
However, not even the great force of his newspapers could deliver the presidency: Hearst's great dreams were crushed by Alton Parker, a New York judge who was able but uninspiring. In the balloting, the Hearst wave crested at 263 votes, and Parker went on to wage a futile campaign against the popular Republican Theodore Roosevelt.
Hearst, the monarch of what was then called yellow journalism, was not the only person with media ties to have lofty political ambition. Several have tried for the nation's top office and a few have actually attained their goal in the years covered-1900 to the present.
All of the candidates covered had major party support because only Republican and Democratic contenders in the conventions and primaries were considered in order to keep the research manageable.
In addition, only candidates who received votes outside their home states were included as were those with genuine connections to media: positions with either management or staff of a print, broadcast, advertising or public relations outlet.
The work had to have been done prior to his or her initial presidential bid. Work on college papers was out; a professional connection seemed more valid.
In this century alone, 31 men and one woman have met the criteria, and, just as Hearst did, they have left behind reminders of their campaigns--trinkets and buttons, which are still a favorite target of collectors.
The candidates themselves range from Hearst and William Jennings Bryan to Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy. More recently, we have seen Ronald Reagan win the presidency, and Pat Buchanan fizzle in his attempt in 1992.
Some, like Hearst, used their positions as journalists to further themselves.
By 1894, the silver trumpet of populism, William jennings Bryan, had lost his job as a congressman from Nebraska and was looking around for work. He found a job at a newspaper, the Omaha World-Tribune, which was struggling financially when Bryan arrived.
Western silver barons loyal to the dynamic politician and his call for free silver had raised about $20,000 to subsidize the World-Tribune on the condition that Bryan be the new editor in chief Bryan got the job, but he refused the silver money. Instead, he contributed $2,500 from his father-in-law and $500 from other sources to keep the paper afloat.
He drew a small salary each week but saw the value of a position from which he could cast his views to three states, advocating free silver at 16 to 1, direct elections of senators, arbitration of labor disputes, and positions on other issues.
By 1896, Bryan was in place to run for president, capturing the Democratic nomination in 1896, 1900 and 1908 but losing in each year in an era of Republicanism.
Later in the century, a Texan named John Nance Garner would battle for the Democratic nomination but fall victim to another piece of bad timing. …