The Early Years, 1863-1910
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An intensely detailed but still superficial chronicle of the media baron’s life through early middle age. Hearst newspapers didn’t tell the news; they used it as a means for conveying a point of view. When the news did not fit the mold Hearst envisioned, he and his minions reshaped it until it did. Procter (History/Texas Christian Univ.) tells this part of Hearst’s story extremely well. Hearst revolutionized journalism by demonstrating how powerful it could be as a means to an end, with making money far less important than promoting Hearst’s political causes and aspirations, and vilifying those who opposed them. Contrary to Hearst’s popular image, the causes he relentlessly promoted when he was first building his empire were remarkably progressive: an eight-hour day, utility and railroad regulation, the right to organize. Muckraking works like Sinclair Lewis’s The Jungle were serialized in Hearst papers, and Tammany Hall, scared that Hearst would end corruption if he became mayor of New York, blatantly stole the election. Procter worked hard on this book, reading, he says, every issue of such Hearst newspapers as the New York Journal (later the New York American) and the San Francisco Examiner over several years. But just as Hearst newspapers often revealed little of the facts beneath the hype, Procter reveals too little of the man who orchestrated the show. We have no idea, for example, whether Hearst pursued progressive causes out of true conviction or as a means of mobilizing America’s burgeoning urban working class as readers of his newspapers and soldiers marching behind his banner. One fears that the promised second volume will be as frustrating as the first—that we will learn as little about why Hearst swung so sharply to the right in his later years as we do about why he was so progressive early on. Procter’s biography, like the Hearst newspapers of the period he chronicles, is great reading, but too much on the surface, shedding too little light on the realities underneath. (20 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1998
ISBN: 0-19-511277-6
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1998


NonfictionNEWSMAKER by Patricia Beard
by Patricia Beard