The Forty-year Run

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Meanwhile, Hearst told one friend that he considered “journalism an enchanted playground in which giants and dragons were to be slain simply for the fun of the thing.” Now, after making a success of the Examiner , he wanted to buy The New York Times or the Chicago Record , but they were too expensive, and his mother would not put up the money. In time, though, Willie prevailed, and Phoebe sold her share of Anaconda Copper for $7.5 million and gave it to her son. In 1885 Hearst bought the New York Journal for $180,000 and challenged the World for supremacy in New York.

The new owner immediately let Pulitzer know that money was no object by lowering the price of the Journal from two cents to one cent, and raiding the World staff, offering salaries double what Pulitzer paid.

Another raid on the World staff gave the language a new phrase. In the early days of the Hearst-Pulitzer war, the entire Sunday staff, including the cartoonist R. F. Outcault, defected to the Journal . Outcault was the creator of Hogan‘s Alley , a comic strip featuring a gap-toothed, yellow-smocked New York street youngster called the Yellow Kid. And he was so popular that the World had to hire the cartoonist George Luks to do another strip, giving both papers a Yellow Kid. So New Yorkers began calling the PulitzerHearst brand of newspapering “yellow journalism.”

In those early days at the Journal , Hearst still commanded respect from his colleagues and the progressive muckrakers, and he was great at writing credos: “I consider a newspaper to be the retained attorney for the public, and I believe a newspaper which is faithless to that trust is as much of a traitor as an attorney who betrays the interest of the client who employs him.”

But Hearst’s main goal was to outdo his chosen rival. The World wrote about murders with ghoulish delight, but Hearst sent Journal reporters out to solve the murder—and then took credit for it. And when Cuban patriots rebelled against Spain, the World and Journal competed fiercely to exploit the situation. Hearst won hands down, along the way sending one of the most famous cables in the history of journalism to the illustrator Frederic Remington who was in Cuba covering the insurrection for the Journal : YOU FURNISH THE PICTURES AND I’LL FURNISH THE WAR .

 

And he did: the Spanish-American War of 1898, “our war,” as Hearst referred to it with his staff. He staged a number of phony stories to get the country ready, and then, when the U.S. battleship Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor, the Journal immediately indieted Spain, although to this day there is no evidence that the Spanish did so stupid a thing.

 

The brief conflict taught Hearst and Pulitzer very different lessons. For the World ’s publisher, it was a realization that the press was going in the wrong direction—and he had had enough. He never visited the famous goldendomed Pulitzer building on Park Row but had his top executives read the assembled staff the new gospel: “The cardinal principle, the basic idea which made it possible to rear this great modern contribution to modern journalism, the Pulitzer building, is truthfulness and absolute accuracy.… Sensational? Yes, when the news is sensational”—but every story must be truthful. And Pulitzer meant it. By the 1920s the World was the place to work in American journalism.

Hearst’s reaction was the opposite. The outbreak of war had put him “in a state of proud ecstasy,” said one newspaperman, because Hearst knew he had forced President McKinley into a war he didn’t want, and later he realized that he had virtually created McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, by handing him the war and then glamorizing his charge up San Juan Hill.

Hearst had tasted the power and knew where it came from. On February 17, 1898, he printed an editorial in the Journal that came as close as anything ever did to explaining Hearst the journalist. Newspapers, he said, were the “greatest force in civilization.” They could “form and express public opinion,” “suggest and control legislation,” “declare wars,” “punish criminals,” and, as representative of the people, “control the nation.”