Literate biography of the real-life Citizen Kane.
William Randolph Hearst parlayed a fortunate early life—his father was a U.S. senator, his mother a famed socialite—into a fortune, though his vehicle was an unusual one in a time of robber barons, railroad and shipping magnates and great bankers. As Maclean’s publisher and editor-in-chief Whyte shows, Hearst, shut out of his father’s will, bought a struggling New York daily newspaper, the Morning Journal, and turned it into a muckraking tabloid, sometime force for social good and advertising moneymaker that pushed him to prominence. Hearst was a hands-on publisher whose journalistic method might be called Social Darwinist. While running a San Francisco newspaper at the start of his career, he called, for instance, for “men who come out west in the hopeful buoyancy of youth for the purpose of making their fortunes and not a worthless scum that has been carried there by the eddies of repeated failures.” For all the flaws Orson Welles would rightly ascribe to him, Hearst was a model publisher, as Whyte clearly appreciates. At all his newspapers, he was closely involved with not only the daily content but also with design, advertising, circulation, staffing and every other aspect of its operations. He also insisted on hiring the best writers he could find, and he let them write. Somewhere along the way, when the riches poured in and the political power accrued, Hearst determined to bring his white-man’s-burden message home, gaining renown—notoriety, many would say—for turning his budding newspaper empire to the cause of overthrowing the last of the Spanish Empire, eagerly advocating the armed interventions that would become known as the Spanish-American War.
Whyte capably charts Hearst’s trajectory to the early 1900s, so there’s plenty left for a sequel. Meanwhile, this volume is a solid entry in the history of journalism, and of the American Empire.