The Forty-year Run

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It was a curious article. When it came out, Theodore Roosevelt—who called Hearst “the most potent force for evil we have in our life”—told William Howard Taft “that ’tho faintly condemning [Hearst] it is in reality an endorsement.” This would have pleased Steffens: twenty-six years later, when he published his Autobiography , he confessed that in the article “I did not say what I really thought.” He was too much influenced by the American editors who wanted him to write an “exposé” of Hearst. “I compromised in it with my colleagues to keep my job,” said Steffens. Nevertheless, he added, “I did not understand myself then what a part dictatorship has to play in democracy.” As long as Hearst was on the side of the little man, Steffens thought he was a “great man.”

In 1906 Hearst made a deal with Tammany to get the Democratic nomination for governor of New York, and his papers turned to attacking his Republican opponent, the progressive Charles Evans Hughes, whom Hearst had once supported. It was an ugly campaign, and as election day approached, the Republicans became frightened, and President Roosevelt sent his Secretary of State, Elihu Root, to New York to enter the fray. Root attacked Hearst’s personal life and said that President Roosevelt personally held Hearst responsible for the assassination of President McKinley.

The excesses of his past had caught up with the publisher. Hearst was defeated by 58,000 votes out of 1,500,000 cast. And he knew the importance of this loss. Among other things, it cost him his seat in the Congress, which he had to give up to run for governor. For the first time in his life he became uncharacteristically bitter and even lost interest in public life. “I won’t look at a paper, not even French papers,” he wrote his mother from Paris the following summer. “I have the same aversion to news that I once had for stewed pears.”

That Hearst, however, still planned to play a major role in the nation’s affairs could be seen from the fact that in 1907 he refused to sell his Boston American , despite its continual losses. Another presidential election year was coming.

In 1908 it was Bryan again for the Democrats and William Howard Taft for the Republicans. Hearst still controlled the Independence party, but knowing it could not be a major force he declined its presidential nomination and chose instead Thomas Hisgen, a Massachusetts businessman who had once battled Standard Oil and won. Hearst hoped that having Hisgen on the ticket would help dramatize his trump card—the stolen Archbold letters. They bombed. Their revelations hurt the careers of a few politicians and ruined one—Sen. Joseph Foraker (R-Ohio)—but they had little real impact on the campaign, for they implicated both major political parties equally. Taft was elected. The Socialist third-party candidate, Eueene Debs, received 420,000-plus votes, and as the fourth-party candidate Hisgen received 86,000-plus votes, one-third of them in New York City. Hearst was openly identified with Hisgen. It was another humiliating defeat, and he was known for a while as William Also-Ran-dolph Hearst.

The campaign got ugly. Hearst said Smith killed babies; Smith called Hearst “this pestilence that walks in the darkness.”

Hearst was undaunted. He made plans to run for lieutenant governor of New York, but his Independence party collapsed. One of his lieutenants, Moses Koenigsberg, was continually traveling around the country, trying to feed what he called Hearst’s “obsession for the ownership of a newspaper in every advantageous center in America [so] he could command the performance of any program he favored.” One center of weakness was the South; Hearst tried to correct this with the addition of the Atlanta Georgian , which would cost him more millions to operate. Along the way, Koenigsberg sold Hearst comics, columns, and cartoons, ultimately developing perhaps Hearst’s most enduring contribution to journalism—syndicated features.

With his Independence party dead, Hearst returned to the Democratic party. In 1912 he supported House Speaker Champ Clark for the Presidency, all the while watching for the opportunity for a “dark horse” (himself) to emerge. New Jersey’s governor, Woodrow Wilson, was the strongest challenger, so Hearst put Alfred Henry Lewis to work writing hatchet pieces about the governor and published some new Archbold letters in Hearst’s Magazine . But Clark’s association with Hearst hurt him at the Baltimore convention, and with Bryan supporting Wilson, the governor passed the Speaker on the thirtieth ballot and went on to the nomination and Hearst’s coveted White House.

In 1916, for the first time in twenty years, Hearst took no active part in the presidential process. His papers supported Wilson on their editorial pages but also ran stories attacking him, and Hearst made himself more unpopular than ever when his New York American tried to argue that the sinking of the Lusitania had been justified. When war came, Hearst supported it, but his critics successfully branded him pro-German.