Chapter 17: Farewell: Lord of San Simeon

The reader, if he is a layman to whom American journalism is a closed field, or the reviewer trained to ask for a presentation of “the other side” in every book he reads, may by now be somewhat shocked by the tragic pictures of our great publishers. Is there no good news at all, they may ask. Is there no hope for a better day and a better press?

The answer is that there is really cause for optimism. It is the answer based on the case history of William Randolph Hearst, the first of the great press lords, ruler of a $220,000,000 domain, against whom an enlightened people has at last voiced its anger and disgust. From California to New York, labor and liberals, the unions and the universities, notable men including the President and Senators and the head of the Society of Newspaper Editors, hundreds of organizations and thousands of men and women who are the leaders of the intelligent minority, have taken a forthright stand against Hearst. There has been a great boycott of his newspapers, his magazines, his newsreels and his radio stations. There has been repudiation in Congress, in the press, on the platform and from the pulpit. The episode is one of the most heartening in the history of American journalism.

For more than a generation Hearst posed as “the friend of the people” and many believed him. The Hearst communication system reached at least 30,000,000 people–he claimed that many readers for his newspapers, and many more millions for his magazines, newsreels and radio broadcasts. His power was supposedly tremendous. But less than five years ago, certain leaders made the charge that Hearst actually is the enemy of the people. In recent days he has been called the nation’s No. 1 enemy, a place previously held by Al Capone and Dillinger. The latter two, the reader need not be reminded, were connected with bootlegging and murder, whereas Mr. Hearst has been connected merely with influencing the minds of the common people.

It is of course difficult to say just when the counter-attack began. It must not be forgotten that Hearst has been repudiated before; he was twice hanged in effigy by angry mobs, once when a demented person shot President McKinley after the Hearst papers had published vicious editorials against the President, and a verse about the bullet which had shot a governor speeding its way to Washington; the second time when he espoused the German cause before Wilson led his pacifist nation into the useless World War. These popular uprisings against Hearst did not affect his empire. Nothing is as fickle as the public, nothing as forgetful, nothing as easily misled. But the third, or present attack on Hearst, is made up of something more than emotion and hysteria.

It is first and most important of all, a labor union attack, in which American Federation of Labor, C.I.O., and independent labor organizations are united. It is also an attack from the schools and colleges of the country. It was in 1936 an attack from political leaders also, but that is the sort of reaction which may mean absolutely nothing in the end. The strength of the war against Hearst is the labor and intellectual union against him.

The most important individual blow was that struck by two private citizens, Bernard J. Reis, the certified public accountant and author of an enlightening book on crooked finances called “False Security,” and Paul Kern, civil service commissioner of New York City. Mr. Hearst had applied to the Securities and Exchange Commission for permission to float $22,500,000 in bonds for Hearst Publications and $13,000,000 for Hearst Magazines. Mr. Reis, who can read financial statements between the lines better than most men, objected to a lot of things. He did not like Hearst Publications listing as assets $38,000,000 for good will, franchises, reference libraries; he did not like the fact that four Hearst magazines lose money and six dailies made less in 1936 than ten years earlier; he particularly questioned the financial record of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Chicago Evening Examiner; he did not like circulation losses on six newspapers which he suspected were due to the growing boycott.

Reis and Kern, two public-spirited citizens, filed a brief. They claimed in it that if the money were raised by S.E.C. permission most of it was to be used to purchase a castle in Wales, at a half million more than its assessed valuation, and the good will of a magazine they claimed was losing money; they also charged that the registration statement failed to disclose the fact almost four million dollars were intended to repay loans which Hearst personally guaranteed. They were joined by Labor Research Association in a protest which alleged that profits of Hearst Magazines, Inc., were diverted to holding companies and through them to Mr. Hearst.

No public hearings were held. The application for the bond issues was withdrawn. And so in 1937 Hearst began a series of consolidations of newspapers in which many were killed off, and a general retrenchment in which thousands of employees were fired. On December 31, 1937, most the newspapers of the country suppressed the fact that there was a trial in United States District Court in New York in which a receiver for Hearst Consolidated Publications, Inc., was asked and also an accounting. The plaintiff was a stockholder named Rudolph Kohlroser.

Another turning point in Hearst history was his victory in 1934 when the San Francisco general strike was defeated. It will be remembered that the press–with the exception of the Scripps-Howard News–conspired to smash labor as well as the strike, and that the news columns of the California papers generally lied and perverted the news and that false issues were created, and the public fooled into believing that a Red revolution was under way when what really mattered was an attempt of working people to better themselves.

The San Francisco publishers won. They were led by James Francis Neylan, the Hearst attorney, acting directly on instructions received by cable from Mr. Hearst. The press announced it was a victory for public opinion, for the people, as against the Reds, but the labor unions passed resolutions for a boycott. Hearst was singled out for marked attention. The “I Don’t Read Hearst” sticker was ruled off letters by order of Postmaster General Farley but it could not be ruled out of people’s minds. In Bridges’ seamen’s union it is a crime to be caught dead or alive with a Hearst paper in one’s possession. As a result you will find Bridges called a Moscow agent in the Hearst newspapers.

By 1936 there was a Peoples Committee Against Hearst functioning and Oswald Garrison Villard reported 112 American Federation of Labor unions were members of the trades-union committee fighting the publisher. The Farmer Labor Progressive Federation, meeting in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, passed a resolution to boycott Hearst in which he was called “Labor’s Enemy No. 1.” In numerous meetings in Seattle pending the Post-Intelligencer strike Hearst was known as American Menace No. 1. On May 7, 1936, the officers of the United Automobile Workers of America placed all Hearst papers on the “unfair to labor list.” Typical of all resolutions was the Detroit one accusing Hearst papers of having “consistently used every unfair and slanderous method of undermining the organized labor movement.”

The year 1935 marked the height of the Hearst Red-baiting campaign in the universities. It must be remarked here and now that there is no Red teaching in the schools and colleges of the United States, but the institutions of learning of our country still attempt to give their students a liberal education. It is inconceivable that they should do anything else. No school can supply an anti-liberal education, or a Fascist education, as these terms are contradictory. Liberalism and education are one, and all Hearst did was to call liberal education “Red” education.

To this day the Hearst press is filled with Red-baiting articles and attacks upon such notable Americans as Prof. Charles A. Beard, Prof. George S. Counts, of Teachers College; Prof. E.A. Ross, of the University of Wisconsin; Prof. Frederick L. Schuman, of Chicago. Hearst reporters in numerous instances have been sent as students to interview professors or to take courses for the purpose of writing Redbaiting articles. When these reporters found nothing to write about they falsified. In several cases they later confessed.

In the case of Professor Schuman he protested misrepresentation in a report in the Chicago Herald-Examiner and incidentally informed the editor that some quotations on dictatorship which all the Hearst papers attributed to Lenin were probably false as there was no trace of them in the collected works of the Russian leader. Hearst ordered an investigation. Charles Wheeler was sent. He conceded misquoting the Chicago professor and admitted the invention of the Lenin quotation. Professor Schuman asked him how such things could be and quotes Wheeler’s reply: “We just do what the Old Man orders. One week he orders a campaign against rats. The next week he orders a campaign against dope peddlers. Pretty soon he’s going to campaign against college professors. It’s all the bunk but orders are orders.”

Charles Wheeler, Hearst reporter, appeared to be a decent fellow. But shortly afterward Professor Schuman delivered a lecture which Wheeler covered for the Hearst press. This item is described by Professor Schuman as containing statements which were purely products of Mr. Wheeler’s imagination.

“On March 16, 1935,” continues the professor, “the Herald-Examiner–with Hearst papers elsewhere copying–published an editorial, “Schuman of Chicago,” which took out of their context two of Mr. Wheeler’s misquotations and presented them as evidence that I am making a ‘direct challenge to American institutions in the name of Communism.’…the editorial described me as one of ‘these American panderers and trap-baiters for the Moscow mafia’ who should be investigated by Congress and ‘gotten rid of’ as a ‘Red.’

“This is but one of numerous instances of slanderous and libelous attacks upon American educators in the Hearst press. This strategy is exactly comparable to that of the Nazi press in Germany between 1920 and 1933. Mr. Hearst has evidently been taking lessons from Goring, Goebbels, Rosenberg and Hitler. No individual can defend himself effectively from these assaults. If American universities and colleges are to be spared the fact which has befallen such institutions in Germany, if American scholars and educators are to be protected from Fascist bludgeoning of this type, if American traditions of freedom are to survive, Mr. Hearst must be recognized as the propagandist and forerunner of American Hitlerism and must be met with a united counter-attack by all Americans who still value their liberties.”

In 1936 the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution demanding a boycott of Hearst as “the outstanding jingoist of the country” and a “constant enemy of academic freedom,” and finally and more important, as the “chief exponent of Fascism in the United States.”

The 1936 political campaign also had something to do with the universal discredit in which Hearst found himself in November of that year. However, politics make strange bedfellows, and politicians pass from bed to bed without public disapproval. There is for example a certain Alfred Emanuel Smith, a reactionary, a member of the American Liberty League, a millionaire, a Red-baiter, a discredited liberal. In his youth he was on the other side of the fence. He was not rich, he was liberal, he was one of the courageous politicians who denounced the Red-baiting of the Lusk committee and the expulsion of the five Socialists from the New York state legislature. And, on the night of October 29, 1929, in Carnegie Hall, Manhattan, he said of Publisher Hearst:

“I know he has not got a drop of good, clean, pure red blood in his whole body. And I know the color of his liver and it is whiter, if that could be, than the driven snow.” He continued to denounce the Hearst newspapers for publishing “deliberate lies,” and for “the gravest abuse of the power of the press in the history of this country.” For thirty minutes Governor Smith of the State of New York denounced the publisher who was such a power in Tammany Hall, and concluded by asking the people of “this city, this state, and this country…to get rid of this pestilence that walks in the darkness.”

Today Millionaire Smith and Millionaire Hearst have everything in common and each other’s endorsement.

Perhaps another of the little group of leading Democratic politicians of that era will not emulate Smith the renegade. Franklin Delano Roosevelt who once had the support of Hearst, was forced in the 1936 campaign to issue a statement against “a certain notorious newspaper owner” who tried to “make it appear that the President accepts the support of alien organizations hostile to the American form of government. These articles are conceived in malice and born of political spite. They are deliberately framed to give a false impression–in other words to ‘frame’ the American people…”

F.D. Roosevelt thus added his damnation of Hearst to that of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt, among Presidents.

In Congress there were field days when Senator (now Justice) Black was conducting his lobby investigation into Hearst and Associated Gas affairs. Black himself did not get very angry but he did point out the incongruity of Hearst’s action in trying to prevent the investigation. “Year after year,” he said, “this man has sponsored the most ruthless invasion of the privacy of people’s lives, yet now he stands on his ‘Constitutional’ rights to keep the Senate from looking at his telegrams. He can own property in Mexico and try to start a war between that country and the United States–but he can’t be investigated.”

Senator Minton,* [*Congressional Record, March 26, 1936] answering Hearst editorial attacks upon the investigation, accused the publisher of prostituting the press; he said that to Hearst the words freedom of the press meant “license to traduce and vilify public officers as swine and traitors to their country”; and as for the Hearst charge that a subversive Congress was being led by Roosevelt administration officials into a dictatorship, Senator Minton assured that “the dictatorship we have to fear in this country is that of a purse-proud, insolent, arrogant, bull-dozing newspaper publisher like William Randolph Hearst.

“He is the greatest menace to the freedom of the press that exists in this country, because instead of using the great chain of newspapers he owns, and the magazines, and the news-disseminating agencies of the country that he controls to disseminate the truth to the people, he prostitutes them to the propaganda that pursues the policy he dictates.

“The question was raised by Mr. Hearst in the name of the Constitution, in the name of our ancient liberties, in the name of the freedom of the press. He would not know the Goddess of Liberty if she came down off her pedestal in New York harbor and bowed to him. He would probably try to get her telephone number. He would not know the freedom of the press if it sprang full panoplied from the constitution in front of him.”

Spokesman for the administration, and opening gunner of the Roosevelt defense against the publishers’ coalition, was Senator Schwellenbach, who told the Senate that from 1895 on, the decent editors and publishers in America had criticized and fought Hearst. But nowadays, “Mr. Hearst and his stooge, Elisha Hanson, rush behind the Constitution, and use the Constitution and the freedom of the press to protect them in their right to reduce wages…

“The securing of news by larceny and bribery was the charges which the Associated Press made and sustained against William Randolph Hearst, this man who talks about the sacredness of the press and the sacredness of telegraph wires. He bribed a telegraph operator and stole the news. And let it be said to the eternal disgrace of the American newspaper profession that the Associated Press did not have the courage to remove Mr. Hearst from membership in that organization.”

Resuming his speech a few days later the Senator quoted Elihu Root’s account of a talk with Theodore Roosevelt regarding the assassination of McKinley, and added: “Can there be a more clear delineation of the fact that the then President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, directly charged William Randolph Hearst with the murder by assassination of President William McKinley?” (Mr. Hearst replied by calling the Senator a “prize pole cat.”)

While he was building his Bavarian castle in California, Hearst three times cut the pay of his employees, the Senator charged. And in conclusion, he fired this blast:

“It is a peculiar thing that the leader of the movement in this country today toward Fascism, the man who when he returned after a visit with Mr. Hitler in Germany editorially praised Mr. Hitler, the man who more than anybody else is advocating Fascism in this country–and under Fascism Senators know what remains of personal liberty or freedom of the press–this man is the same William Randolph Hearst who today is so ardent in his protection of the rights of the people under the Constitution.”

Protestant church organizations have denounced Hearst. Several noted leading Catholics, clergy and laymen, have also done so but inasmuch as the Hearst press has been the most pro-Catholic press in America, that Church has refrained from criticism. In fact, when Hearst joined Cardinal Hayes in supporting the Fascists in their campaigns in Spain, which included the slaughter of women and children in non-military zones, the Catholic press sang the praises of Hearst louder than ever.

The Ministers’ Council for Social Action of New York, which includes ministers of Methodist, Baptist, Congregational and Jewish churches, joined in a plan to preach an anti-Hearst sermon the weekend of Sunday, June 28, 1936. Said their official statement: “No single man has exercised so destructive and immoral an influence in dragging into the gutter those very ideals for which all religious institutions stand” … as W.R. Hearst, Metropolitan Church Life, organ of the Greater New York Federation of Churches, asking preachers to quit supplying Hearst with editorial page texts, said, “We can ill afford to believe that the Protestant Christian Church will make common cause with Hearst.” The Christian Century seconded the motion.

The Artists’ and Writers’ Union has picketed the New York Daily Mirror. The League Against Yellow Journalism has been organized in Berkeley, California, to boycott Hearst. In the motion picture, “Gold Is Where You Find It,” the gold-rush figure of Senator Hearst is introduced. He remarks jokingly he does not know what to do with his son. “Willie wants to be a journalist.” Instead of a laugh the line got many boos in many cities.

It may indeed be a great satisfaction to William Randolph Hearst to know that his name was powerful enough to bring 6,000 persons to the Hippodrome, in New York, where they paid for the privilege of being a mass jury in the trial of the publisher. The indictment accused Hearst of:

1. Distorting the news in his purposes. 2. Using his press for strike-breaking purposes. 3. Supporting Fascism in American and Europe, and notably Hitler. 4. Using his jingoistic press to foment wars. 5. Being anti-libertarian.

The most serious charge of all was that made by the Governor of Minnesota, Hjalmar Peterson, who concluded the opening speech of the prosecution with the following words: “William Randolph Hearst is being judged tonight by the jury of public opinion. I submit he is guilty in the first degree of attempting to destroy democracy.”

The witnesses who gave their testimony included: Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of The Nation; Robert K. Speer, Professor of Sociology at New York University; Charles J. Hendley, president of the American Federation of Teachers of Greater New York; Rabbi Israel Goldstein, National Conference of Jews and Christians; the Rev. William Lloyd Imes, St. James Presbyterian Church; Representative Vito Marcantonio, Osmond K. Fraenkel, constitutional attorney. Arthur Garfield Hays, counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, was prosecuting attorney. Hearst was found guilty of “betraying the United States” and the court sentenced the audience to boycott the Hearst newspapers and other enterprises.

If the reader thinks mock trials are somewhat naive and stickers with “Don’t Read Hearst” ineffective, the proof that he is wrong has now been furnished by a survey made by Fortune magazine and published in its July, 1936, issue. It does not tell us what has caused the American people to lose all faith in the Hearst propaganda machine, but it proves that those who are intelligent enough to think about the matter disapprove of Hearst in about a three to one ratio.

Throughout the country 27.3 percent of the people asked, replied they considered Hearst influence bad for America, 10.7 percent thought it was good, but what is more interesting, the figures against Hearst were bigger in the cities where he has newspapers. Forty-three and three-tenths percent said Hearst influence was bad, 10.5 percent thought it good, and 46.2 percent didn’t know anything about it.

Still more significant is the fact that the survey was made during the 1936 Presidential campaign when almost the entire press was for Landon and where Hearst had joined in the popular journalist yapping.

The Fortune survey also proves that after forty-five years of instructing the American people to follow his principles and candidates the American people are overwhelmingly against Hearst. There is perhaps no happier sign in either the journalistic or political heavens at present.

There is but one unfortunate situation to report. The people are growing aware of Hearst, and are repudiating Hearst, but the newspapers, including many which fought Hearst for two generations, generally stood by his side when he turned Republican. Most of them had the good sense to keep quiet. But the same hypocrisy prevailed as many years ago when the courts found a Hearst news service guilty of the theft of news from the Associated Press and neither the A.P. nor the American Newspaper Publishers Association had the courage to expel Hearst.

Among the small minority which exercised the freedom of the press to expose their fellow publisher were the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Seattle Star, the New York Post, and the New York Herald Tribune which published an interview with William Allen White who said prophetically that “I believe that Hearst as an ally of any politician is a form of political suicide.”

In Seattle the Star answered the Post-Intelligencer’s charge that the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America was Communistic because it co-operated with the American Civil Liberties Union by saying, “It is a deliberate, gratuitous, malicious, insulting, damnable lie. And W.R. Hearst knows it is a lie. In his campaign of frightfulness with which he has undertaken to browbeat and stifle all Americans who won’t accept his brand of politics this mad hatter of yellow journalism has at last gone too far. It is high time for the pendulum of public opinion to swing back the other way and to bump this bullying, would-be dictator off his paper throne.”

In the Post, Ernest L. Meyer wrote: “Mr. Hearst in his long and not laudable career has inflamed Americans against Spaniards, Americans against Japanese, Americans against Filipinos, Americans against Russians, and in the pursuit of his incendiary campaign he has printed downright lies, forged documents, faked atrocity stories, inflammatory editorials, sensational cartoons and photographs and other devices by which he abetted his jingoistic ends.” It has taken forty-five years for the intelligent minority of the American people to turn against Hearst. But the turn has come. Despite the fact that he controls the channels of communications which reach 30,000,000 readers and more movie goers and radio listeners it has been possible through a few newspapers, a few liberal organizations, the small liberal press, some books, some speeches in Congress, to arouse public opinion sufficiently to boycott the man generally admitted No. 1 enemy of the American people.

The history of Hearst should be a lesson to the other reactionary publishers of America, but it probably will not be. The American people will have to exercise eternal vigilance against the smaller Hearsts in the House of Press Lords.

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