Colonel Robert R. McCormick

By Smith, Richard Norton | Editor & Publisher, October 30, 1999 | Go to article overview

Colonel Robert R. McCormick


Smith, Richard Norton, Editor & Publisher


Colonel Robert R. McCormick Born: 1880 Died: 1955

Career Highlights: Grandson of Joseph Medill, became a lawyer but took over as president of struggling Chicago Tribune in 1911 and held position until his death.

When Col. Robert R. McCormick staged a centennial blowout for his Chicago Tribune, the self-proclaimed World's Greatest Newspaper, it included a pyrotechnic display for 400,000 Chicagoans culminating in a fiery recreation of the bombing of Hiroshima - a bit of historical pageantry considered indelicate, even by 1947 standards.

McCormick didn't care; he had long since accommodated himself to life on the nuclear threshold, going so far as to convert the Tribune Tower, already promoted as "the world's most beautiful office building," into the world's largest fallout shelter. On its roof, the Colonel installed a steamboat whistle, ready to sound the alarm at the first sighting of enemy warplanes. In the building's sub-basement, where earlier he had revolutionized the way American newspapers were printed, McCormick thoughtfully stashed thousands of cans of pineapple juice - said to be highly effective in treating radioactive burns.

"I like to stir up the animals," acknowledged McCormick, shrewdly aware that a well-chosen enemy could sell more papers than "Little Orphan Annie." In this, he harkened back to his grandfather Joseph Medill and the great editor/politicians of 19th-century America, a time when newspapers were read less for their objectivity than for their personality. Thus the isolationist Tribune dismissed the publisher of Time magazine - whose advocacy of U.S. involvement in World War II was insufficient to prompt his enlistment in the armed forces - as White Feather Luce. The radical hotbed of Madison, Wis., was dubbed New Leningrad, and Herbert Hoover "the greatest state socialist in history" - until McCormick's Groton classmate Franklin Roosevelt appeared to retire the title.

To millions of Americans, McCormick, like his equally flamboyant cousins Joseph and Cissy Patterson, was a subject of curiosity - or contempt. This latter emotion was especially pronounced among those who had the misfortune to live outside Chicagoland, McCormick's republic within a republic that stood in contrast to New Yorkers with their "England envy" and flaky Californians living in "the champion boob state. …

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