The Forty-year Run

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By early in the twentieth century, Hearst had begun to think seriously about controlling the nation in a more direct manner. He started attending Tammany meetings and political dinners. At first no one took him seriously, but in 1900 the National Association of Democratic Clubs elected him president—in exchange for his agreeing to start a Democratic paper in Chicago. He fulfilled his part of the bargain by founding the Evening American , a task he accomplished—as he had in New York—by almost doubling the wage scale for reporters in the city.

So now he had three newspapers with which to attack President McKinley for his refusal to renounce the trusts. And, as usual, the Hearstmen went too far. When Kentucky’s governor-elect, William Goebel, was shot and killed in an election quarrel, Ambrose Bierce responded in his Journal column with a savage quatrain:

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast Cannot be found in all the West. Good reason, it is speeding here To stretch McKinley on his bier.

The Journal ’s attack on McKinley became so virulent that Hearst had to send an aide to Washington to apologize to the President. But then a Journal editorial declared, “If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, the killing must be done.” When Hearst heard about it, he stopped the presses and had the offensive lines removed. But his enemies would not forget that a Hearst paper had called for the assassination of an American President.

From 1904 on, Hearst saw his newspapers not as a voice to plead the cause of the common man but as tools to secure the Presidency.

In June 1900 Hearst again saw the power of the press—his press—when the Republicans nominated Theodore Roosevelt for Vice President over the mild opposition of President McKinley and the heavy opposition of Mark Hanna and the GOP conservatives. Hanna wrote the President after the convention, “Your duty to the Country is to live four years from next March.”

The month following, at the Democratic convention, Hearst was for William Jennings Bryan, although Hearst was against free silver and, like Roosevelt, was an imperialist, which Bryan was not. But Bryan was against the trusts, and Hearst went along with him, overcoming his distaste for public speaking and giving some speeches for the Great Commoner. Hearst was getting ready for 1904.

McKinley and TR won, and the following year, of course, McKinley was murdered. The first anti-Hearst reaction came from his enemies in the press who printed his papers’ deathwish items as well as their ugly antiMcKinley cartoons. Hearst was burned in effigy; there were threats against his life, and he started carrying a pistol; some organizations called for the banning of the Journal . But Hearst remained convinced that he was a man of destiny and his destiny was inseparable from the nation’s.

He changed the name of his paper to American and Journal , and with Tammany’s help Hearst ended up the congressional candidate from the Eleventh District in Manhattan. The Eleventh was a Tammany district, and victory was certain. But Hearst and his papers went all out; he was after a greater quarry.

He started wearing more subdued suits (“Of late,” reported a colleague, “his dress has been the usual uniform of American statesmanship, combining the long frock coat and the cowboy’s soft slouch hat”) and to cap the image of probity, he married a beautiful young woman named Millicent Willson. But this latter came too late; for the rest of his political life opponents would call him a playboy who corrupted women and lived with them out of wedlock.

He also broadened his communications network by buying the Los Angeles Examiner . But when Congressman Hearst went to Washington in 1903, he simply did not get along with his colleagues. He co not compromise. He tried to run the Congress the way he ran his newspaper. “The Hearst Presidential boom,” I writes Swanberg, “now in full cry, was the joke of the new century.”

 

Hearst workers, however, were going from state to state lining up delegates for 1904, and their boss started another newspaper—the Boston American —to broaden still further his network in an important population center where he was not well known. And the money kept pouring out of the “Hearst barrel.” Said one politician: “Perhaps we shall never know how much money was spent, but if as much money was expended elsewhere as in Indiana a liberal fortune was squandered.”