05 April 2010

News and Media: William Randolph Hearst

By Isabel Roman

You shouldn't believe everything your read. Predatory pricing, outrageous propaganda, and questionable advertising--no, I don't refer to Walmart, Target, or Amazon, but to the practices of William Randolph Hearst. He was one of the original national snake oil salesmen.

In 1896, Hearst and his New York Morning Journal later New York Journal--American went head to head with the more popular New York World newspaper. He under-priced them by selling his paper at a mere 1¢ and began a systematic alternation of the paper's news practices designed to trounce the New York World.

Upton Sinclair, in his 1919 The Brass Check, accused Hearst's "Universal News Bureau" of re-writing the news of the London morning papers in the Hearst office in New York and then fraudulently sending it out to American afternoon newspapers under the by-lines of imaginary names of non-existent "Hearst correspondents" in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Berlin, and so on.

He made up stories from nothing and often exaggerated the story around simple incidences. He could sensationalize a young boy scraping his knee into a horrific accident where all four limbs were lost. Remember the Maine? Hearst made sure every American did, hence the Spanish-American War.

His were not the first predatory business practices in the U.S. but they were the most defining in American media.

Today, I could name the tabloids of The Star, The Worldwide News, The National Enquire, and The Sun, but these days the more established media such as The New York Times seem to be following suit. Yellow Journalism, unfortunately, seems to be with us still today.