Chapter 5 California Press and Landlord

The story of Harry Chandler’s rise to fame and fortune is usually told in the Horatio Alger manner, with the heavily emphasized moral that America is still the land of golden opportunity, and if one combines brain work and leg work it is still possible to become a millionaire—and in this case, a press lord.

The success story in brief is that of a New Hampshire Yankee lad who had to quit Dartmouth on account of his health. He went West in the days the West still called. Eventually he became a “circulation hustler” for a Los Angeles newspaper, came to the notice of Colonel Harrison Gray Otis who owned the Los Angeles Times, became general manager of the paper, married the boss’s daughter, inherited the Times, the ranches, the Mexican acres, the millions, and the policies.

In those days circulation routes were bought and sold, and with his first money Chandler acquired a Times route with 1,400 names and supervised the delivery of papers. With the approval of this newspaper he later acquired the circulation route of the Herald, and also of the Express.

There came a quarrel between Otis and his partner, H. H. Boyce, who then started the Morning Tribune as a rival, and began to cut down on the income of the Times. And then it was that Chandler made the plan by which he became famous. As he himself boasts:

“I went to General Otis and told him the situation. He said I couldn’t do it. I told him I could and not only that but for the Times’ sake I should. My scheme was to starve out the Tribune. With two of the three morning papers’ distribution systems under my control, it would be simple to play them together against the Tribune. If a Times subscriber quit we could swing him to the Herald, whereas he might have gone to the Tribune if left alone. If a Herald subscriber quit we could swing him to the Times. Of course, no one but General Otis would know of my connection. The Herald routes were to be handled through a dummy.”

The scheme, which is legal and shrewd and supposedly good business, succeeded in two years in crowding out the Tribune. Boyce never knew what ruined him. When he was forced to sell out, he got no more than five cents on the dollar. Colonel Otis had tried to buy the defunct rival, but someone under an assumed name had succeeded in getting in on the ground floor. Otis was discussing the matter with Chandler, when Chandler admitted it was he who was now the owner of the Tribune. After that it was natural that Otis made Chandler his manager and finally his successor.

Harry Chandler continued Otis’ policy of attacking labor, his antagonism to the Mexican republic, his general obscurantism. Otis made a policy of perverting the news concerning labor. He published every item which could be twisted and colored to misrepresent the trade unions and all movements by working people throughout the world which aimed at a better life for themselves and their children. Otis, of course, had a reason for his mad hatred. His paper had been bombed in the midst of a labor war. But Chandler continued the policy of labor-baiting, and also Otis’ antagonism to the Mexican republic, and in fact all of Otis’ reactionary and obscurantist ideas. And yet, according to Editor & Publisher, “The Chandlers, a visitor at the Times plant learns, are ‘fine people with old time ideas.’”

Humanitarians, from time immemorial, have dreamed of the emancipation of men and women from the drudgery of daily work. The machine and power age of today has made that possible. With the ultimate development of machinery and the elimination of profits for a few owners, it will be possible to provide all the food, shelter, clothing and even luxuries for the entire American population, with the reduction of the working wee to ten or less hours. At the present moment there are 13,000,000 persons who have not the opportunity to work even one hour a day; under the ideal system everyone will work only a few hours, and all will have economic security and leisure for physical and mental improvement. But so reactionary is the Los Angeles Times editorial mind that even a shortening of working hours is disapproved.

“The inevitable result of too much spare time in the case of at least the majority of the workers,” the Times editorializes, would be to steer them into the only diversions they know—pool, poker, drinking and petty agitation over fancied grievance. … It would be a tragedy to wreck the whole economic program for a few hours more ‘leisure hours’—that nobody would know what to do with.”

Evidently Los Angeles Times editors have never done a day’s physical labor in their lives.

Being the enemy of labor, Harry Chandler has been the enemy of the Newspaper Guild since it began as an A. F. of L. Affiliate, and more intensely since it joined the C.I.O. on September 22, 1935, the Los Angeles Times published from Portland, Oregon, a news story which is notable for its misstatements regarding the Guild. Most newspapers make at least a pretense of confining their unfair reporting, misstatements, and anti-labor bias to the editorial page. The Times states in its news columns that “Seattle radical organizers are at work here. The Newspaper Guild, one of whose purposes is to control new of radical activities by ‘advising’ editors, has about twenty members in one office.” The new item boasts that recent Portland strikes have been “promptly nipped in the bud …” and hints that “should the provocation be sufficient” the governor was anxious to see “just how good the National Guard is.”

So violent did Chandler become in his tirades against Seattle labor dominated by Dave Beck that he painted a picture of the city going to rats and ruin. This was too much for Hearst’s Post-Intelligencer where the Guild strike was on. Publisher John Boettiger, defending Seattle, accused Chandler of being “grossly unfair and misleading” and “hitting below the belt.” The criticism is significant in that it comes from a Hearst paper.

At Christmas time, 1937, the clerks of the May Department Store who had been trying to get more than thirty cents an hour and some improvement in working conditions—without of course the support of the press—thought it opportune to go on strike. The Los Angeles papers, led by the Times, headlined this demand for better wages as “Assassination of Santa Claus” and “Murder of the Spirit of Christmas.” The liberal News participated in this anti-union campaign. All these newspapers were carrying a full page of May Department Store advertising at the time. Naturally enough a few newspapermen thought there was a financial connection between back-page ads, editorial support and front-page hysterics.

Old man Otis had 650,000 acres of land in North Mexico which he got from Diaz, the dictator, at the time Diaz was pocketing the money and literally and figuratively selling out his country. When Diaz was overthrown Otis couldn’t get his cattle out in time. He immediately began a campaign for the annexation of Northern Mexico. Failing in that, he favored the formation of an independent North Mexican Republic, a buffer state, in which his cattle lands would be safe from the Carnage reforms. And Chandler consistently has carried on a campaign against the Mexican Republic.

Upton Sinclair has told the story of how Chandler was once indicted, charged with conspiracy to ship arms into Mexico, and how he was acquitted. Chandler remains one of the largest landowners in Mexico and California. According to the conservative weekly Time (July 15, 1935) Chandler has proved himself “an inspired capitalist.” In 1899, he “launched a syndicate which bought up 862,000 acres in Lower California. He and his associates built Hollywood, founded a vast agricultural colony at Calexico which produced $18,000,000 worth of cotton in 1919. He owns a 281,000-acre ranch in Los Angeles and Kern Counties stocked with fine cattle, a 340,000-acre hunting preserve in Colorado, an interest in another 500,000-acre sporting preserve in New Mexico, is officer or director in thirty-five California corporations, including oil, shipping, banking. The whisper, ‘Chandler’s in it,’ signifies a good thing to most California businessmen.”

Throughout the valleys where Chandler and his associates own and control California crops there is terrorism and the nearest approach to Fascism in the United States (outside the Hague Domain in New Jersey). There is child labor and even peonage. There is starvation in the midst of plenty. There is vigilantism, tarring and feathering, bloodshed and violence. There is also big money for the Chandler crowd.

No one has ever heard Chandler say anything which could be interpreted even vaguely as humanitarian, altruistic, liberal or progressively intelligent. But there must be something in him outside the shrewd Yankee trader who slyly put a rival out of business so he could buy the ruins at five cents on the dollar and become a big shot. If you ask Los Angeles Times employees about the boss they answer that last Christmas he distributed a bonus of $197,000 among them. Somehow the question of money and human dignity get badly mixed up in Los Angeles.

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