|REMEMBERING "THE CHIEF"|
Sepbember 7, 2000
Before the advent of today's multimedia newsroom, there was the vision of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Author David Nasaw discusses his legacy.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.
SMITH: William Randolph Hearst was the archetypal baron of the American
press. He was born in San Francisco in 1863, the only child of a wealthy
mining speculator. At age 23, Hearst inherited the failing San Francisco
Examiner, and began a colorful career in celebrity journalism that included
a long affair with movie star Marion Davies. By the early 20th century,
Hearst had built a synergistic media empire of newspapers, magazines
and films that rivals the conglomerates of the 21st century. Hearst
was shameless about using his newspapers to promote his own political
career. He ran repeatedly for public office, served two terms in Congress,
and tried to become President. While legends run deep about this media
mogul, who owned a castle on 60 acres in the California mountains, a
new biography presents him in a different light. The book is entitled,
The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst. The author, City
University professor and historian David Nasaw joins us now.
Mr. Nasaw, welcome. We're pleased to have you. You describe him, Hearst, in the early pages as a man of contradictions. What do you mean?
|A man of contradictions|
DAVID NASAW: He was a man who was-- it's a cliché, but I'll use it anyway, I can't find any other way-- he was a man who was larger than life. He was a huge man. He had a squeaky little voice. He was a Californian who lived half his life in New York. He was an autocrat who couldn't fire anybody. He was a man who wielded enormous power, unbelievable power, and yet he was shy, he was withdrawn, he was very difficult to talk to.
TERENCE SMITH: What conclusions did you come to after doing all this research, on the influence he had on his time?
DAVID NASAW: He had just an enormous influence. I don't know that it's... It's not easily quantified. He had, at the height of his career in the 30s, in the early 30s, he had 20 million daily readers -- another 10 million magazine readers. The two top newspaper chains today have a total of about 11 million. The nightly news, the three network news programs, have about seven million. In the year 2000, the population is double what it was when Hearst had 20 million readers a day. He used his newspapers, and his magazines, and his newsreels, and his radio stations as a bully pulpit, to say what he wanted the American people to hear, and to urge the people to tell their politicians to do what he thought needed done.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, he used it as well, did he not, to promote himself for political office?
DAVID NASAW: He very much wanted to be President. He was convinced that he could be a better President than anyone else around him. He thought that Teddy Roosevelt, his earliest rival for the presidency, was a lightweight, a man who was a dandy, a phony cowboy, not a leader and a lightweight intellectually, and he believed that he knew what this country needed, that he had grown up on the West Coast, had lived on the East Coast, knew what ailed the farmers in the Midwest, what the working people and the immigrants in the East needed, and that the country needed a leader like him to bring capitalism into the 20th century by reforming its excesses.
TERENCE SMITH: And yet that was his early approach, both to political issues and political life. It evolved from that populist, democratic position into something quite different, didn't it?
DAVID NASAW: Yes.
TERENCE SMITH: Over his life.
DAVID NASAW: Yeah. He changed remarkably. And one of the reasons he changed, I think, was that early in life, he could afford to be a populist. He could afford to be a reformer. He could afford to take on the trusts, because he didn't have a gigantic fortune himself. He didn't have estates, he didn't have real estate all over the world. He was not a fabulously rich man, and he thought that he was going to lead the revolution to reform capitalism. When, in the 1930s, it became clear that he was not going to lead this revolution, that it would be Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Dealers, and that this revolution was going to be such that it was going to reform capitalism by, in one way, reducing the inequities in the American system, by taxing the millionaires, like Hearst, Hearst was against it. He wanted nothing of reform that he could not control.
TERENCE SMITH: Was that, then, the true Hearst? Was this sour grapes at work?
DAVID NASAW: I wish I knew. I don't think so. I think that Hearst was a true believer. He was a true believer as a leftist. He was a true believer as an anti-Communist and anti-New Dealer. He believed that in the hectic days of the 90s and the go-go days of the early century that the trusts-- the Southern Pacific Railway on the West Coast, the gas trust and the milk trust and the power trusts in every city on the East Coast-- had engineered corrupt bargains with the politicians; that too much money in the system had destroyed democracy.
|Hitler and Mussolini|
TERENCE SMITH: He had an odd relationship and view of both Adolf Hitler and Mussolini. Tell us about that.
DAVID NASAW: Well, he had at one point working for him... because he had 20 million readers, he had a large number of politicians in the United States and world statesmen who wanted to write for him, who wanted to reach his audience. At one point or another in the 20s and the 30s, Winston Churchill, David Lloyd George, Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler all wrote for him. Hitler wrote for him from the time that his Nazi Party became the second-largest party in Germany until Hitler became the leader of the German state, at which point he demanded of Hearst that he be paid as much as Mussolini because he, too, was now a chief of state. Hearst denied him that request. Hearst said to the editor who was corresponding with Hitler, "Hitler doesn't write well enough, he doesn't meet his deadlines, he promises us exclusives he doesn't give us-- we don't need him." And they instead used Goering.
TERENCE SMITH: Did he have an image or a sense of Hitler's wider ambitions?
DAVID NASAW: He certainly did, and in the beginning he supported him because he believed that Hitler was going to bring a generation... a century of peace to Europe.
TERENCE SMITH: And how long, how long did he cling to that view?
DAVID NASAW: Much too long. Much too long. In 1934 he visited Hitler, and he had a private interview, and he told Hitler, "you can be a world leader, you can secure a century of peace, but in order to be a world leader you must stop the persecution of the German Jews." What was most tragic was that Hearst, who was in his seventies by this time, convinced himself that Hitler was going to listen to him, and from 1934 until Kristallnacht in 1938, Hearst defended Hitler, he supported Hitler because he believed that Hitler was going to stop his persecution of the German Jews.
TERENCE SMITH: But he eventually changed his view.
DAVID NASAW: By 1938 and Kristallnacht, he realized that he was wrong.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Final point: You make an interesting parallel in the book about the way that Hearst used different media. Today that would be called synergy or convergence, these are the buzzwords. He understood it way back then, did he not?
DAVID NASAW: He understood it from the very beginning, the very beginning. In 1898 he joined with Edison to create the first newsreels, though they weren't called that, of the Spanish-American War. By the early part of the 20th century, in the 1910s, he realized that the film industry was not going to go anywhere without the newspapers, that the newspapers created the stars, created the buzz about the movies, and published the schedules of where the movies were playing. So he figured he would get into the business. Why should he create wealth for somebody else? So he produced "The Perils of Pauline." He produced the serial. It was... every episode began to be shown on a Monday. On Sunday he published the story of that episode with stills in his newspaper, promoted the film version, and when "The Perils of Pauline" was finished with its 14 or 16 or 18 episodes, he published it all as a book.
TERENCE SMITH: Mm-hmm.
DAVID NASAW: He went on to create what we now call a synergy between his different media components. By, for example, in 1916, he wrote the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine: "From this point on, I want you, the editor of Cosmopolitan, to buy short stories only that can be made into movies. So that when you buy those short stories, when you buy those short stories, you get an option on the film."
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Sounds like today.
DAVID NASAW: It certainly does.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. David Nasaw, thank you very much.
DAVID NASAW: Thank you.
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