“Any man who has the brains to think and the nerve to act for the benefit of the people of the country is considered a radical by those who are content with stagnation and willing to endure disaster.” (William Randolph Hearst)
When William Randolph Hearst was in his late 50s and at the height of his power, journalist Robert Duffuss observed, “His career is unique in American history, or, for that matter, all history. Compared with him the Bennetts and even the Pulitzers are small…his acquaintances…credit him with personal charm, but do not deny his ruthlessness in business operations. Shopkeepers and his nearest rivals are simply not in his class. Here is success on a dizzying and truly American scale. Here is journalism as large as the Rocky Mountains or the Painted Desert.”
However, despite his massive success, and perhaps in large measure because of it, many of Hearst’s contemporaries depicted him in negative ways. As Duffuss also noted, when it came to the newspaper magnate’s reputation, there was “a curious suggestion of lath and plaster about it, and far from being universally honored and admired as other self-made men have been, Mr. Hearst is regarded by multitudes of his fellow citizens with extreme aversion and distrust. Indeed, his career is almost never examined dispassionately and for this reason some of the salient facts about him are worth setting down in a somewhat cold-blooded manner.” This was never more apparent than during the release of Citizen Kane, a barely veiled biography of Hearst that managed to cut him so deeply that he forbade his papers from making reference to the critically acclaimed classic.
It is only right to keep every positive and negative viewpoint in mind when looking at the life of a man who built his own fortune with money inherited from a father who literally grubbed it out of the ground with his own hands. While the senior Hearst may never have gotten the soil of old California from under his nails, William Randolph would never know what it felt like to live a life of manual labor; instead, he founded his empire on another kind of dirt, that which he was able to dig up and publish about the people, great and small, of his day. He would also stir up a good bit of dirt himself, living a high life with his mistress in California while his wife raised their children and did charitable work back in New York. Eventually, he would go too far and nearly lose his empire when he backed Adolf Hitler over Franklin D. Roosevelt. By the time he died, it is fair to say that he had seen it all, done it all, bought most of it, and lost much of it. In spite of all this, he left behind an empire that continues to dominate the publishing business to this day.