William Randolph Hearst was a newspaper magnate and powerful newspaper publisher in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His first paper, the San Francisco Examiner dominated the San Francisco market. His other publications included the popular New York Daily Mirror, known for its sensational stories, and the magazines Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar. Despite his success, in 1933, Hearst’s media empire was on the brink of collapse. Offering his beloved San Simeon estate as collateral for a six hundred thousand dollar loan from a Los Angeles bank, Hearst was unaware that Harry Chandler, the bank’s majority stockholder, chose to carry the note himself. When Hearst defaulted on his payments, Chandler extended the loan, which was eventually paid back in full.
Upton Sinclair was a noted author and socialist who made a run in 1934 to be California’s governor. Due to the failing economy, he initially gained considerable support. But he was met with severe opposition from the Los Angeles Times, which considered him an affront to capitalism and corporate America. The Chandlers used the paper as a platform to attack Sinclair daily, describing him as anti-Christian and a supporter of sexual promiscuity. The attacks worked, helping to drive voters from socialist Sinclair to the Republican incumbent, who won the election by a wide margin.
During Norman Chandler’s reign as Los Angeles Times publisher, the paper helped launch the political career of Richard Nixon. Political editor Kyle Palmer, known as “the kingmaker,” helped orchestrate Nixon’s successful campaigns for Congress and the Senate. Often, Nixon’s campaigns accused his adversaries of Communist proclivities. The Times’ loyalty to Nixon ended when Otis Chandler became publisher. When Nixon lost the 1962 race for California governor, he blamed the press—specifically the Los Angeles Times. By the time Nixon was president, the schism between him and the Chandler family had grown so wide that he asked the Secret Service to keep tabs on Otis Chandler and his family.
Ruben Salazar was the Los Angeles Times’ first Mexican-American journalist. In 1970, while Salazar covered a Chicano demonstration against the Vietnam War, a riot ensued between demonstrators and sheriff’s deputies. Salazar was struck by a tear gas canister and killed. A coroner’s inquest blamed poorly trained deputies for the accident, but no one was indicted. His death gained nationwide attention when Rolling Stone magazine published a Hunter S. Thompson article discussing Salazar’s death and the response by the Chicano community.
William Mulholland, chief engineer of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power at the turn of the 20th century, masterminded a 233-mile long aqueduct to reroute the water from the Owens Valley to the San Fernando Valley. It took a workforce of 3,000 men six years to build the aqueduct. Water reached the reservoir in the San Fernando Valley in 1913. At the opening ceremony, Mulholland famously said: “There it is. Take it.”
Wyatt Thomas Johnson succeeded Otis Chandler as Los Angeles Times publisher; he was the first publisher since the paper’s inception that was not part of the Chandler family. Close to Chandler, Johnson made an effort to maintain the policies that his predecessor had put in place. Encouraged by the conservative wing of the Chandler family, corporate management at Times Mirror eventually had Johnson removed. Johnson later moved from print to television journalism, serving as president of cable news channel CNN.
Union agitators and brothers James and John McNamara were indicted for the 1910 bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building. The bombing was symptomatic of the increasing tensions between the Los Angeles Times and organized labor. Publisher Harrison Gray Otis was committed to having Los Angeles remain a union-free town in order to guarantee it economic prosperity, and his sentiments were echoed by Harry and Norman Chandler. The Times described the bombing as “the crime of the century” and brutally attacked labor and the McNamaras. The brothers, defended by Clarence Darrow, opted for a plea bargain. Although Otis wanted the men executed, Harry Chandler convinced him the executions were not in the newspaper’s best interest as they would enflame tensions with the unions. A plea bargain was reached, and the McNamaras admitted their guilt and were given life sentences.
The John Birch Society is an intensely anti-Communist group founded in 1958 at the height of the Communist scare. In 1961, the Los Angeles Times ran a pointed five-part series attacking the organization. At that time, Norman Chandler’s brother Philip and his wife Alberta were members of the John Birch Society, so family tensions widened. In response to the article, 15,000Times customers canceled their subscriptions. Publisher Otis Chandler responded with a front-page editorial standing behind his newspaper’s reporting. While the John Birch Society does not have the same clout it had in the mid-20th century, the society still exists today.