The founding father of yellow journalism, William Randolph Hearst, died 62 years ago today. For the occasion, we present journalist Hamilton Basso's tongue-in-cheek evaluation of all that is Hearst: Americanism, patriotism, capitalism, individualism, anti-communism and ultimately, absolutism—all appropriately punctuated with screaming headlines. Basso's accusations ring particularly true in today's polarized media landscape. "Mr. Hearst, if he doesn't watch out," wrote Basso, "will soon be taking the place of Uncle Sam."
Mr. William Randolph Hearst, in various newspapers, has just published an advertisement. It is a long advertisement. It is two columns wide and runs the full length of the page. Since Mr. Hearst owns a string of newspapers, in which he can say anything he pleases, the fact that he is paying for an advertisement in other newspapers comes under the head of news. The advertisement says, in the headline, that THE HEARST PAPERS STAND FOR AMERICANISM AND GENUINE DEMOCRACY. That is very fine. Mr. Hearst has been publishing newspapers ever since 1887 and it is good, after all these years, to know what the Hearst papers stand for. One would think, although it is somewhat beside the point, that after forty-eight years a publisher would not have to buy advertising space to tell what his newspapers stand for. The advertisement, however, does more than that. It announces what may justly be taken as Mr. Hearst's creed. "This is what I believe. These are my publishing principles. This is my philosophy." It deserves, for that reason, more than passing attention—even though it is impossible to examine every declaration it contains. It should be regarded not only in the light of what Mr. Hearst says, but of what Mr. Hearst has done. Such an examination may reveal, not only the operations of the most powerful newspaper combine in the world, but also the portrait (though not the complete portrait) of a man.
The Hearst papers are American papers published for the American people. They support the American system of government, the American Constitution, American institutions and American ideals.
This is not elucidation but repetition. Mr. Hearst has been saying things about his Americanism for almost fifty years. When, for example, he was foundering, during the early months of 1917, in a rising tide of anti-German sentiment and suspected, not illogically, of pro-German tendencies, he ordered the editor of his New York American to run a border of American flags around the front page: to demonstrate his patriotism, of course. Mr. Hearst has always gone in for patriotism. According to him, there has never been such a patriotic man. Take the Spanish-American War, for instance. Did he whip the country into a state of hysteria and hammer away at McKinley because he thought a good war would be good for circulation, or because certain industrialists whose friendship he had alienated by supporting Bryan had some $50,000,000 invested in Cuban mines, plantations and railroads? Not at all. He started the Cuban war because he was a patriot. The mere accident that the circulation of The New York Evening Journal passed 500,000, while that of The Morning Journal jumped 200,000 in six weeks, meant nothing to him. Nothing at all.
Mr. Hearst was also being a patriot, according to his own editorials, when he tried to force us into a war with Mexico. An editorial in one of his New York papers published April 24, 1916, was a most patriotic document. THE WAR HAS BEGUN, it cried. "The United States and the men enlisting and the ships on their way are going to war WITH A COUNTRY, for the conquest of a country, AND FOR THE ANNEXATION AND PERMANENT PACIFICATION OF THAT COUNTRY. . . . Soon you will read and study the map of a great and new part of the United States, now called Mexico. And that new map, included in the United States, with the Rio Grande running through it, not cutting it off, will be the newest section of the UNITED STATES OF NORTH AMERICA." And if, by any chance, this should seem like jingoism and imperialism to you, Mr. Hearst would have you understand you’re crazy. That's patriotism. And when Mr. Hearst fought the Dean Jennings case, and thumbed his patrician nose at the N.R.A., that was patriotism too. He's a very patriotic man.
The Hearst papers are in favor of American independence, American rights and liberties, free speech, free assembly, freedom of thought and action, and freedom of the press.
There you are. What could be braver, nobler or finer than that? Could George Washington have said a more splendid thing—or Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln or Patrick Henry? No matter what way you look at him, seen from any angle, you just can't get around the fact that Mr. Hearst is a patriotic man. It's a privilege to be alive with Mr. Hearst, that's what it is. It's not every nation that can have a man like Mr. Hearst at the head of a chain of newspapers reaching ten million readers, protecting its liberties. Just consider the way Mr. Hearst defended "American rights and liberties" in the editorial entitled "Civil Liberties Union," published in The New York American on March 27 of this year:
Whenever Roger Baldwin, director and moving spirit in the American Civil Liberties Union, appears in print he lifts a little higher the mask of that organization. The mask is red, white and blue. The face that is gradually coming to view under the mask is RED. . . . The mask began to crack and crumble when Roger Baldwin said in The New York Times under date of April 8, 1933: “Civil liberties, like democracy, are useful only as TOOLS for change. . . . I am interested to maintain such freedom of agitation as can be won not primarily as a political principle BUT AS A MEANS OF RESOLVING ECONOMIC CONFLICT WITH A MINIMUM OF VIOLENCE.”
What is this “change” that Mr. Baldwin and his union aim at? It isn't fascism. It isn't MORE democracy. It certainly isn't theocracy. IT CAN ONLY BE COMMUNISM. . . . He again says in another place: “I believe fundamentally in economic liberty as more important than civil liberty.” This “economic liberty” is, of course, the establishment in America of the RULE OF THE PROLETARIAT and the wholesale CONFISCATION OF ALL PRIVATE PROPERTY.
He now comes forward in a long diatribe in a weekly magazine against the “Red scare.” He whines and whimpers and barks and spits at the anti-Red bills now before Congress—invoking for that purpose the secretly despised civil liberties guaranteed by our institutions. He is afraid that these bills menace our civil liberties—these very civil liberties that he admits are only TOOLS in his hand to make “the Red scare” a FACT in America!
When they are threatened, when they have their backs to the wall, these subverters of civil liberty CALL ON THE FUNDAMENTAL AMERICAN DOCTRINE OF CIVIL LIBERTIES TO PROTECT THEM.
CONGRESS SHOULD ANSWER THE AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION BY INVESTIGATING THE POLITICAL BELIEFS AND SECRET ALLIANCES OF ITS MEMBERS.
So there! If that doesn't convince you that Mr. Hearst believes in the Bill of Rights you're hopeless. You're just a nasty old cynic with chronic indigestion and ulcers of the stomach. You wouldn't know a patriot if you stubbed your toe on one. Just consider, you old Stalin-worshiper, how Mr. Hearst came out in defense of our freedom to assemble in his editorial on "Schoolyard Propaganda," published in The New York American on April 9:
Under the incitement of the American League Against War and Fascism—one of the blatant "fronts" of Communism in this country—proposals have been made that pupils in the public schools leave their classes or be permitted to leave for an hour on Friday to demonstrate against war.
Superintendent of Schools Campbell has therefore addressed a circular to the faculties firmly banning the proposal.
The school authorities must stand by that declaration of principle and discipline.
Let the professional agitators keep away from the schools!
Now how, in the name of Bunker Hill, could any man come out more strongly, more militantly, in favor of freedom or assembly? What more do you want anyway? You are obviously the nitwitted sort of person who thinks that if one does not believe in war and getting blown to pieces one has a right to come out and say so. A fine sort of American you are. You ought to be ashamed of yourself. You also ought to take a lesson from the authorities of Hunter College in New York City who suspended six students for participating in the demonstrations. They are real Americans. They know how to safeguard our liberties. And if you think that Mr. Hearst's brave expressions had anything to do with their attitude—and that of the authorities of those other schools and colleges who opposed the strike—you're crazy. You're so crazy you don't know how crazy you are. It's impossible, on account of your being so crazy, for you to realize how valiantly Mr. Hearst was defending freedom of thought in his editorial, "Keep the Faith of Our Fathers," published in The Los Angeles Examiner on February 24:
One hundred Vassar and Skidmore College girls marched to Albany on Tuesday in protest against the Nunan bill, which demands that college students take the oath of allegiance to the United States.
It is difficult to see what possible honorable and reasonable objection these ridiculous young women can find to taking an oath of loyalty to the nation which provides for them the blessings of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and which protects them in the exercise of these invaluable privileges.
. . . There should be an end to mild and mawkish measures in dealing with treasonable attitudes and activities in this country. Those in this land who are protected by the nation, who participate in the benefits of citizenship, and who share in the general advantages which the country offers to the members of its communities, are either loyal or disloyal to the giver of these goods.
If they are disloyal, they should not be allowed to possess the benefits of citizenship; and when they cease to be citizens, they should be subject to deportation for any further subversive activities threatening the peace and safety of the nation.
. . . What is to be done with the associate professors of Soviet education, those members of the advisory organization of the Moscow University, those authorized disseminators of Communistic propaganda in the United States? . . . What is to be done with teachers like Hallie F. Flanagan, professor at Vassar College; and Susan M. Kingsbury, professor at Bryn Mawr College? What is to be done with Professors George S. Counts and John Dewey and I. L. Kandel and William F. Russell of Columbia University? What is to be done with Professors Henry Pratt Fairchild and Harry Woodburn Chase and John W. Withers and Harry W. Zorbaugh of New York University? What is to be done with Professors Robert M. Hutchins and Charles H. Judd of the University of Chicago; and Professors Frank P. Graham and Howard W. Odum of the University of North Carolina?
. . . How long are such teachers and such teachings going to be tolerated by the loyal citizens of the United States? . . . How long is our GOVERNMENT going to permit seditious activities to be continued, and subversive propaganda to be spread under the very noses of our legislators?
You may not recognize it, being the sort of person you are, but all this is a defense of freedom of thought. This is a restatement of the principles on which this country was founded. It's Americanism. It was also Americanism when Mr. Hearst sent his reporters disguised as students to interview some of the professors at Columbia and Syracuse universities, with instructions to get them to say they were Communists; and then came out with screaming headlines DRIVE THE REDS FROM THE CAMPUS. It's simply impossible for any thinking person to believe that this is a Red scare. All these people who say that Mr. Hearst is trying to bring about a wave of terror and intimidation in the colleges are just so many stray cats howling on the back fence. Mr. Hearst's papers stand for Americanism and Genuine Democracy. If you don't think so, read his advertisement. That ought to convince you. Yes, sir, there's no way of getting around it. This country never has had a real, sure enough American like Mr. Hearst. Who but such an American would say of a professor at the University of Chicago that he was a trap-baiter "for the Moscow mafia" who should be got rid of as a Red? When the time comes for getting up a list of the most patriotic, 100-percent Americans this country has had, Mr. Hearst's name will lead all the rest—in 72-point Gothic bold. They might even erect a statue to him.
The Hearst papers are advocates of rugged individualism and of the industrial independence and enterprise which have made our country the richest and greatest in the world. . . . They believe in the capitalistic system, so-called, which is the only practical system of proven worth and with adequate reward for merit.
No one, surely, will quarrel with Mr. Hearst about this. It should be remembered, however, that Mr. Hearst is not only our most powerful publisher. He is also one of our greatest capitalists. His fleet of newspapers, valued at several hundred million dollars, represents only a small part of his fortune. He has large holdings in the San Luis mine at San Dimas, Mexico (which might have had something to do with his annexation campaign of 1914), the Ophir mine in Nevada, the Ontario mine in Utah, the Anaconda mine in Montana and the Homestake mine in South Dakota—the latter the richest gold producer in the world today. The Homestake, in 1933, alone showed a net operating profit of $8,735,225 and paid an extra dividend of $18 a share in 1934 and a $4 extra dividend in February, 1935. He is also one of the principal owners of the Cerro de Pasco Copper Company of Peru, a corporation whose assets are listed at $40,000,000 and which owns 730 mineral claims covering more than 5,000 acres.
To these holdings Mr. Hearst has added a principal interest in the American Metals Company, which imports and exports ores, whose assets, in December, 1933, were reported as $77,771,443, and other holdings in northern Rhodesia, New Mexico, Cuba, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. He is also heavily involved in the Pacific Title and Trust Company, the National Surety Company, the Irving Trust and the Santa Eulalia Mining Company. Not the least valuable part of Mr. Hearst's inheritance from his father was the latter's financial adviser, Mr. Edward H. Clark. This self-effacing gentleman, intensely devoted to Mr. Hearst, not only supervises the Hearst dominance of such enterprises as the Homestake Mining Company, of which he is president, but also participates as a director on the boards of the Hearst film, radio and newspaper properties. New York real-estate companies and varied California agricultural holdings.
Then, on top of all this (which does not pretend to be a complete itemization of Mr. Hearst's fortune) are added his vast agricultural and real-estate holdings. Mr. Hearst owns so much land in California that nobody, probably not even Mr. Hearst himself, knows just how much he does own. His estate at San Simeon, where he lives like a feudal lord in a fantastic castle known as "The Enchanted Hill" (La Cuesta Encantada), alone covers more than four hundred square miles. In Mexico, where he has another ranch, he must travel seventy-three miles to reach his own house and, once he gets there, he can still travel sixty miles in the same direction without crossing his property line.
It is not hard to understand, therefore, why Mr. Hearst and the Hearst newspapers believe that capitalism is the only practical system of proven worth and with adequate reward for merit. One puzzles a bit, however, over the word merit. How has Mr. Hearst merited his kingly fortune? The newspaper business, before he entered it, was fairly respectable. It can hardly be called respectable today. Mr. Hearst, with his mania for power and circulation, kicked whatever integrity and decency it had out of the window. He has never permitted the significant to stand in the way of the sensational. He has taken crime and sex out of the inside pages and spread them all over the headlines. He has utilized, in publishing his papers, every brand of faking, distortion, misquotation and dishonesty. He has filled his papers with claptrap, triviality, sob-stuff and tripe. And, in doing so, he has debauched the minds, tastes and emotions of millions of his readers—glorifying all that is mean and tawdry, damning or ignoring all that is worthy and important. He is, like George Washington, one of the fathers of his country. He may be proud of his offspring, but the offspring sometimes gets sick of its parent. And Mr. Hearst's fortune, for what he has done, is his reward of merit—but "adequate" mind you, merely adequate.
The Hearst papers believe with Thomas Jefferson that the least governed country is the best-governed country, particularly in view of recent political experiments, which have done nothing but proven that the most governed country is the worst governed country.
If you don’t know what country Mr. Hearst means by the "most governed country" and "the worst governed country," he means Russia. The Russian bear, says Mr. Hearst, is full of lice. And, in order to show just how swarming with lice it is, he has been running, in his New York papers, long articles about the Russian famine.
The first of those articles, published during February and the early part of Mardi this year (just about the time many states were considering anti-sedition legislation), were written by a correspondent named Thomas Walker. Space does not permit a complete discussion of Mr. Walker's compositions, but it is enough to say that they were so written as to give the impression that the people of Russia are, at this very moment, starving to death. It should also be noted that, according to Soviet records, Mr. Walker was in Russia but thirteen days, in the late fall of 1934; and that Mr. Lindsay Parrott, Moscow correspondent for Hearst's International News Service, denied all of Mr. Walker's implications and said that, at the present time, there is no trace of any famine. All other dependable reports from Russia substantiate Mr. Parrott's and say that the country is now enjoying the benefits of two bumper crops.
Mr. Hearst followed Walker's articles with a second series by Mr. Harry Lang. Mr. Lang, a member of the editorial staff of the Jewish-language newspaper, The Daily Forward, has been accused of exaggeration. In any case, he states that the conditions he describes were observed in 1932-33, but Mr. Hearst has presented them in a way that insinuates that the present condition of the Soviet population is little or no better. It is certain that there was a general shortage of food throughout the country in 1932-33, and that it reached famine proportions in localized parts of the Ukraine, the Lower Volga and the North Caucasus. Mr. Hearst said little about the food shortage when it actually occurred—though it was then discussed at considerable length in The New Republic and other magazines. But two years after the end of the shortage he reports it as current news, exaggerates it, changes the time of it in order to use it as part of a campaign directed, not only at communists, but at all persons who do not believe as Mr. Hearst believes. Which is to be listed, as you probably have already gathered, under the head of patriotism. Mr. Hearst, if he doesn't watch out, will soon be taking the place of Uncle Sam.
Mr. Hearst concludes his advertisement, after various affirmations that include the statement that the Hearst newspapers are opposed to intolerance as well as fanaticism (come, come, Mr. Hearst), with a thumping peroration:
The Hearst papers believe in genuine democracy, the rule of the majority. They believe that America should be for Americans and that Americans should be for America. Those who do not approve of these policies would better not take these papers, because these are the policies which will be adhered to as long as they are published.
So there you are again. You can take it or leave it. Mr. Hearst is boss and he's going to stay boss—just as long as he can. He has an awful lot at stake.