By Joseph Wershba
"Nothing enhances a man's
reputation as much as his funeral." William Randolph Hearst had to wait
a half century for a revised obituary. Considering the alternative, it was a
worthwhile wait. In films, television, books and book reviews, Hearst is
enjoying a posthumous resurrection. He has broken out of his Orson Welles
transmogrification as yellow journalism's ineffable monster and now
luxuriates as one of publishing's great--and perhaps greatly
misunderstood--giants. It should not take long before the name of William
Randolph Hearst settles comfortably beside the ever-revered journalistic
names of John Peter Zenger and William Lloyd Garrison. Can beatification be
Two things to remember about Hearst:
First, "Citizen Kane" was a movie--one of Hollywood's greatest--but, withal, a movie. It was not a
biography, not a documentary; it frequently bore little likeness to the real
Hearst, especially to Hearst's ever-loyal mistress, Marion Davies, who could
have been the finest screen comedienne of her time had Hearst let her be
herself. Second, Hearst was always passionate about his crusades--even though
the latest crusade might contradict the previous one. But he was never all
one thing or the other, never a true socialist, never a fascist although
different critics in different periods of his long career made their case
against him in his own words. Hearst was Hearst. His principal interests were
circulation--political power--and himself. Never mind his critics who called
him a pathological egotist who listed Julius Caesar and Napoleon among his
role models; Hearst insisted his true model was always Thomas Jefferson. More
than anything, however, Hearst was a true believer--in himself. Once he
established a truth in his own mind, his fleet of newspapers, magazines,
newsreels and all the engines of propaganda at his command were wheeled into
artillery fire against the non-believers.
This was the man who almost made it to
Mayor of New York City, almost made it to Governor of New York State, almost
made it to President of the United States. To such a man, attention must be paid.
But what was curious about the "new
look" of Hearst--the editor-publisher who was for so long the scourge of
communism in schools, trade unions, motion pictures, churches and government
itself--is that there was little in-depth examination of one of his greatest
and longest-lasting crusades:
The Bolshevik Revolution.
Hearst was for it. Not against
From the winter of 1917-18 until the
winter of 1934 Hearst was one of the greatest American friends Communist
Russia ever found. Hearst welcomed the Bolshevik Revolution, characterized
its leaders as true democrats, sympathized with its aspirations, urged its
diplomatic recognition and continued to be a well-wisher of the Soviet Union--until Adolf Hitler burst upon the world.
Context: Hearst had fought passionately
against U.S. involvement in the Great War that began in
August of 1914. Much of his readership agreed with the populist line that the
war was a struggle amongst imperialist nations for conquest and pelf, and
meant no good for the common man who would have to fight and die for the
wealthy. For the two and a half years before Woodrow Wilson took America into the war--in April of 1917--Hearst had been
trenchantly anti-British, so much so that he gave the impression of sympathy
for the Kaiser's Germany. But once America was in the war, Heart's editorial heart bled
pure patriotic gore. No one hated the Huns more than this former sympathizer.
Hearst's critics, however, smote him ceaselessly as disloyal, seditious,
treasonous, un-American and even a propitiator of pro-German espionage. He
was a well-hated man.
Having failed to achieve direct
political power as Mayor, Governor or President, Hearst sought mastery
through influence. In November, 1917, he marshaled his New York newspapers behind John F. Hylan for mayor. The
opposition decreed that a vote for Hylan was a vote for Hearst and a vote for
Germany. Hearst's editorial response came in the slogan
of that old (and misrepresented) British standby: "Patriotism is the
Last Refuge of a Scoundrel." The European War, already drenched in the
blood of millions, thirsted for more. French and British reinforcements were
rushed to the Italian front; the Italians, according to Hearst's New York American, were conducting a
"masterly retreat"--something the Italian generals had gained a
reputation for perfecting. And worse trouble for both sides was brewing
A two-paragraph squib, stuck away on
page three in the November 3rd issue of The American," was headlined: "Bolsheviki
Crushed in Russian Elections." 643 towns had given the Bolsheviks
only seven percent of the vote. (Though the word "bolshevik" meant
majority, in November 19l7 they were actually a minority.) There were
disquieting stories out of Petrograd quoting Prime Minister Kerensky that Russia was worn out and needed help desperately.
Kerensky subsequently corrected any wrong impression his words had made. He
promised firmly that Russia had no intention of quitting the war.
On November 7, 1917, Hearst's two New York newspapers--the Journal and the American--joyously
reported the impressive victory of Hearst's protege, John F. Hylan. For Hearst,
it was a victory over the unholy alliance of Tammany Hall, big business, Wall
Street, monopoly and plutocracy.
Also November 7, 1917: the Italian armies had turned a masterly
retreat into a full retreat from the Tagliamento Line. The British--actually,
the Canadians on the Western Front--were reported to have taken
Passchendaele, one of the war's greatest graveyards.
And on November 7, the Bolsheviki seized
power. Hearst's front page streamer:
"NEW REVOLT IN PETROGRAD."
The Bolsheviks, self-styled followers of
Marx and Lenin, had the support of considerable numbers of Russian troops who
no longer would permit themselves to be used as cannon fodder for ignorant
Russian generals to squander without end. Lenin's slogan was simple and
powerful: Bread, Land, Peace.
Bread for the starving masses; land, to
be seized from landowners and given to the destitute peasantry; peace, with
the Kaiser's Germany, to get Russia out of the war. The power to create a new social
order would be vested in workers' and peasants' councils (Soviets) with
delegates from the soldiers.
In Lenin's profuse writings, speeches
and organizing efforts, he made it clear that capitalist power (the
bourgeoisie) must eventually be swept away, to be supplanted by a workers'
dictatorship (the proletariat). This dictatorship of the proletariat would
revolutionize the entire social order, it would eliminate classes and thus
eliminate class warfare and eventually lead to the "withering away"
of state power.
However, until the "withering"
happened, the Bolsheviks would provide the leadership of state power. Any
opposition by the bourgeois enemy would be crushed without pity. The
Communist Party would be the "vanguard"--the controlling force.
Hearst readers were left in little doubt
as to the all-encompassing nature of the Bolshevik Revolution. Despite all
the chaos of the spreading revolution, chaos compounded by
counter-revolution, civil war and foreign intervention, the confusion in
newspaper reports was understandable. But even at this remove in time, the
Hearst papers' reporting on the first days of the Bolshevik revolution stands
up as accurate.
But where did The Chief--William Randolph Hearst--stand?
Hearst still wanted an honorable end to
the Great War. He moved carefully. On December 28, 1917, the New York American--in an unsigned
editorial--commented that the Bolshevik peace proposals were certain to be
accepted because "The German PEOPLE and the German ARMIES are very
largely in accord with the Russian proposal of peace without annexations or
indemnities or commercial boycott." This was followed on January 7,
1918 in another American
editorial: "The peace terms of Russia are basically the same as those of the United States, and the peace terms of the allies should be
made to conform with the peace terms of those essentially democratic
28, 1918, another
unsigned trial balloon in the American. Whether it was Hearst's balloon or
the individual editor's, it was nevertheless a trial because it was not to be
repeated in any form for another thirty days. The headline said: "In
a True Sense the Great War for Human Freedom is Won." It read:
"How stands the word's great war
today? Which is winning? Imperialism or Democracy?
"The world is democratized at this
"All the governments in the world
are powerless now and henceforth to hinder that fact."
[Redder than the Rose? Wait. There's
"The common people of the
earth--Bolsheviki, proletariats, internationalists--call them what you
will--are marching steadily to victory over the dominions and powers, over
the autocracies, the money-lords and the constitutions, laws, institutions
and traditions which have for thousands of years saddled and bridled the Many
for the Few to ride and spur.
"The old order is not changing. It
HAS changed. It awaits only exterior peace to vanish away completely in swift
revolutionary uprisings in every country in Europe.
"Amid the thunder of the cannon and
the roll of the war drums, the race of Man has overleaped the breadth of
centuries in three hugely eventful years, and the vanguards of progress and
uplift stand at this very hour where, but for the impetus of the world's
agony, they might not have stood for a hundred years or more to come...
"We are well aware that this is not
the view of the chancelleries and the ministries and that it is not the
"But we think it is the just view,
the really statesmanlike view, the foreseeing view--and the view that will be
finally approved and ratified by the progress of events and the final verdict
But was it the view of William Randolph
Hearst, the single most influential publisher in the United States? Editorials in the Hearst press--signed or
unsigned as this one was--invariably reflected the view of the owner. In this
case the owner begged to differ with his editor: the first editorial did not
go far enough. Thus, one month later, March 1, 1918, in a half-page editorial, eight columns wide,
William Randolph Hearst told his editors and the world where he stood on the
Bolshevik Revolution. The headline read: "In Self-Defense We Should
Hasten to Aid and Hearten Russia's Revolutionary Government" The body of the
editorial, in the form of a signed letter:
"The Breakers, Palm Beach, Fla., Feb 26
"To the Editor of the New York American
"I think our whole cause is likely
to be injured by any delay in recognizing and supporting the Bolshevik
Government in Russia.
"What are the Bolsheviki?
"They are the representatives of
the most democratic Government in Europe.
"Why are we in this war?
"We are in it for democracy.
"Then for heaven's sake, why not
recognize a democratic Government?
"We recognized THE IMPERIAL Government of Russia, but when Russia secures a DEMOCRATIC Government we have so far
not recognized it.
"Does this not seem to discredit
our professions of a war for democracy?
"If the imperial militaristic
Government of Russia should be restored would we hesitate to recognize that?
"The Bolsheviki are fighting
against imperialism and militarism in Russia as well as in Germany. Are we who are in a war against militarism and
imperialism not going to help the Bolsheviki make their fight and, indeed,
make OUR fight?
"We must not lose the ideals of the
war, we must not lose the opportunities of the war, because if we do we will
lose the war--at least as far as our American objects [sic] are concerned.
"Nothing ever said by a public man
in any country at any time was more short-sighted than Lloyd George's
intimation that Germany was at liberty to satisfy her greed of conquest
by helping herself to parts of Russia. If Germany can take part of Russia she can take ALL of Russia; and if Germany adds the domain and resources of Russia to her present vast power and possessions the
end of democracy's safety occurs at that very hour.
"Russia must be saved from Germany.
"Russia must be preserved for democracy.
"The one cannot be done without
recognizing the other, and neither one can be accomplished without
recognizing and aiding in every possible way the democratic Government of
Russia. We have waited so long that it may be too late to save the situation,
but let us not wait a day longer. Let us recognize the truest democracy in
Europe, the truest democracy in the world today.
[emphasis added] Then we can
fight an inspiring fight for democracy with some truth, some sincerity and
That was the Hearst policy as early as
March, l918, and despite the vicissitudes of revolution, counter-revolution
and immeasurable slaughter, that cornerstone of Hearst policy--to give
Communist Russia diplomatic recognition and save her for democracy--would
continue for another sixteen years. Two weeks after the signed Hearst
editorial (March 11) an unsigned editorial appeared in the American under
the headline: "It is an Outrage to Call the Bolsheviki Traitors to Russia." The editorial inveighed against the
spirit of mob violence being pursued by anti-Socialist orators; it pleaded
for a hard look at the history of Czarist barbarism, tyranny and cultural
darkness in pre-Bolshevik Russia, it upbraided the deposed Kerensky for
prolonging Russia's agony in the war, and defended Lenin,
"whose patriotism no intellectual man in Europe ever challenged." The editorial added:
"The Bolsheviks were compelled to
sign an unjust, inconclusive peace for Russia alone because of apathy abroad and treachery at
home. The United States of America did not recognize the Bolsheviki as the
Government of Russia--although they certainly are the actual and
Government of Russia--because the aristocracies of Europe did not want the proletariat of Russia established in power.
"The modern revolution has not yet
arrived except in Russia, but it will come. Every day of war is bringing
it nearer and surer. 'We will renew the fight,' said Lenine [sic]
pathetically and patriotically, 'when we receive the support of the
proletariat of the world.' But the proletariat of the world are not in power,
except in Russia, and the autocracies and the privileged classes of the world
in this war for 'democracy' would rather see Russia defeated and dismembered,
destroyed and lost to democracy than see the proletariat of Russia survive
and the new revolution succeed."
Thus, the Bolsheviks had found a
constant friend in William Randolph Hearst--leader of the Premature
His newspapers regularly inveighed
against the "yellow peril" of Japan; they carried his signed editorial against Russian
Cossacks who were conspiring with Japan to invade Vladivostok. There was mounting talk that the United States would intervene with its allies in unofficial
war against the Bolsheviks; indeed, American soldiers on the Siberian front
moved against the USSR, ostensibly to rescue some allied troops who had
been surrounded. Hearst papers came to the vigorous defense of Lenin, Trotsky
et al. The American editorial of June 3,1918 was headlined: "It would be Wise to Cease
Sneering at the Bolsheviki." The Reds, in effect, had quit the war. But
the Hearst editorial was a lengthy ode of praise and sympathy:
"It is the part of statesmanship,
wisdom and justice for the American people to inform themselves of the real
character of the Bolsheviki and to understand that the Bolsheviki have
committed no act of treason or disloyalty to their allies; that they have
done nothing that we in their circumstances would not have done; that they
are today working out the problems of democracy as they can never be worked
out by war in Russia.
"Let the American people understand
the Russian people, let the American people sympathize with their difficult
problems and their democratic aspirations and be determined to encourage and help
them in every possible way. Let them discountenance the denunciation of the
Bolsheviki by men who pretend THEY are for this war for the sake of
democracy, but who hate the Bolsheviki because the Bolsheviki are real
"Let the Russian masses be once
convinced that the American people and the American government are really
with them, and all doubt of victory in this war will be over. The whole force
of Russia will be on the side of America."
* * *
1, 1924: the British
Labor Government of Ramsay MacDonald announces that Great Britain will officially recognize the Government of
Soviet Russia. Mussolini's Italian fascist government confers diplomatic
recognition on Bolshevik Russia that same week, followed by Norway and Czechoslovakia. France delays recognition until October, and Japan recognizes Russia three months later, January 1925. The defeated
Germans had already cemented diplomatic bonds of friendship with the
Bolsheviks in 1922.
But despite the powerful campaign of the
Hearst newspapers across the country, a campaign for recognition that had
begun in March 1918, the United States would remain adamantly opposed for ten more
Why had England and the others recognized the Soviet Union? For Hearst, the answer was simple. Diplomatic recognition
had nothing to do with friendship. It had everything to do with the
possibilities of trade. From an editorial in the New York American, February 8,1924, titled: "Why So Slow to Recognize
"Despite the inspired opposition of
our State Department, the United States cannot much longer delay the official
recognition of Russia…It is a matter for regret that our own just appraisal
of the situation has not, long before this, determined renewal of
relationship between the United States and Russia. As it is, the example of Great Britain is certainly a sad one to follow. We may be sure
that no exuberant ideality dictates British recognition of the Soviet Republic.
"Not even chivalrous sympathy
between a Labor Government and the Russian proletariat is responsible for
"Only enlightened self-interest
prompts British international policy--or, for that matter, any other nation's
"Indeed, there is the only safe
basis for relationship--among the nations--and not the misguided sentimentalism
of some Americans who would make us the selfless missionaries among the
"When Great Britain recognizes Russia, it means that Britain wants and expects increased trade and
corresponding improvement for her own economic condition.
"The same argument holds for our
similar action. When Great Britain recognizes Russia, it means her acceptance of the stability of a
government that has been able for more than six years to maintain itself
against internal foes and against all manner of unsympathy and open, active
enmity from most of the powerful nations of the earth.
"It is not for the United States, born in revolution, to pass hostile judgment
upon another revolutionary government, firmly de facto and therefore
worthy of recognition as the government de jure of the Russian
British recognition of Russia coincided with a period of significant events.
Lenin had died only a few days before. But the revolution he fathered went on
without him. In retrospect, the easiest part of the revolution had been the
seizure of power in October-November,1917. Then had followed the Great Civil
War which lasted, roughly, until 1920. A baker's dozen of foreign powers--the
States included--had sent troops into Russia, first to keep the Germans out, then to do the
Russians in. The intervention had failed, from Moscow to Vladivostok. The allies, in Churchill's phrase--had failed
to "crush Bolshevism in its cradle." But the country lay
devastated. Military communism had given way to a temporary restoration of
capitalist trading known as the NEP (New Economic Policy). The
"dictatorship of the proletariat" had been refined into the
dictatorship of the Communist Party. The Hearst press noted that Trotsky was
calling for the liberalization and decentralization of power from the party
directorate to the broader base of workers and peasants. The Russian people
were hearing of a hitherto obscure Bolshevik named Josef Stalin. And in Munich, a Bavarian citizen named Adolf Hitler went on
trial, with General Von Ludendorff as co-defendant, both charged with treason
against the German Weimar Republic.
In the United States that first week of February l924, the heart of
Woodrow Wilson expired; he had dreamed of a League of Nations which would keep the world safe for peace.
Hearst had spurned and castigated that dream as much as Wilson had spurned and castigated Hearst.But on the day
of Wilson's death, the Hearst papers and the nation paused
to mourn greatly his passing.
And then both Hearst and the nation
returned with insatiable appetite for details of the greatest scandal of
government corruption the American twentieth had yet produced: Teapot Dome. Teapot Dome,
the attempted bribery of President Harding's cabinet member, Albert Fall, by
oil speculators seeking release of naval oil field reserves for private gain.
It was a story that fulfilled all the
dire prophecies of William Randolph Hearst. For almost thirty years he had
warned that predatory monopolistic capital always sought to corrupt
government officials, and that democracy could never be secure until it had
expunged this menace from the nation's body politic.
Further: for the Hearst press, Teapot Dome helped to explain why the rulers of the American
government had refused to extend diplomatic recognition to Bolshevik Russia.
18, 1924, from an
editorial in Hearst's New York American:
"Revelations in Washington make it perfectly clear to the intelligent
citizen why Russia has not been recognized by the United States. The scandal in oil is only typical of the condition
to which our government and our politicians have fallen. It is the curse of
the political control by organized, rapacious Big Business..
"There is just one remedy--that is
to remove the conditions, remove the temptations which make men dishonest. Remove
the contact between government and Big Business whenever and wherever
"Whenever it becomes necessary for
a government to deal constantly with a quasi-public function like the
railroads or the telephone or telegraph companies, or the coal mines or the
mine fields, the government should take possession of them and operate them
as a public function..
"It is the kind of corruption in
government which is making America--which ought to have been the first nation to
recognize the Russian republic--the last to do so."
And Hearst's other New York paper, the Journal, piled it on:
"Great Britain and Italy recognize Russia. Shall we ride with the band or wait and hang on
to the tailboard of the calliope? Meanwhile, other nations get in on the
ground floor of Nature's greatest storehouse of resources and possibilities.
"If [Secretary of State] Hughes
can't recognize Moscow because he thinks she tried to get us to trade Uncle
Sam for a fellow with long whiskers, Mr. Hughes should have refused to sit in
a cabinet meeting with Mr. Fall, who cut more ground out from under Uncle Sam
than anybody else.
* * *
November, 1933. Soviet Foreign Commissar
Maxim Litvinov sets sail for the United States to fulfill--at long last--the Hearstian
objective of Diplomatic Recognition.. The regular features section of the
Hearst November 5th American Sunday edition, was alive with commentary
by world-known figures--something like today's op-ed articles--and
exceedingly sympathetic to the pro-Soviet view. Leon Trotsky, a protean
figure of the Bolshevik Revolution was writing from exile, whither he had
been forced and hunted down by his tenacious rival, Josef Stalin. The
headline over the Trotsky article read: "Trotzky [sic] Sees Vast Trade
Advantages in Relations Between U.S. and Soviet. Their Economic Collaboration
Would Attain A Sweep Unheard of in History." Trotsky's words followed:
"If there still remains on our planet that is torn by disorder, in the
atmosphere of new war dangers and bloody convulsions, an economic experiment
that deserves being tried out to the end, it is the experiment of
Soviet-American collaborations. In another article, novelist Maxim Gorki's
piece on Nikolai Lenin was headed: "Lenin Glowed with a Passion to
End Human Woe in Russia, Gorki Declares." And Anna Louise Strong hailed the identity of
interests--peace and trade--between the average Russian and the average
But 1918 and 1933 were times with a vast
difference. Japan's conquest of Manchuria forebode its assault on China. Hitler made it clear he would re-take Germany's lost territories--and more. The Great
Depression engulfed the world. The United States had never seen such long breadlines.
Hearst had helped Roosevelt get the Democratic nomination, and become
president in 1933. But Roosevelt had alienated Hearst with New Deal regulations
and spending programs. The hard-edged Hearst of 1933 was not the horn-blowing
revolutionist of 1917. Hearst was no longer in labor's corner; he saw unions
as a threat to his newspaper empire. Taxation was driving him to the wall.
Yes, he still backed diplomatic recognition--but only if the Russians, in
return, used any money loaned to them by the U.S. to buy American goods and services. In short,
recognition was not the conferring of a favor, but a mutual convenience based
on quid pro quo.
Still, recognition of Bolshevik Russia
had been a Hearst crusade.
There was time for a subdued three
cheers and one last hoo-rah. On November 17, America recognized the Soviet Union. On November 22, Hearst's American permitted
itself that subdued editorial three cheers.
"On the initiative of President
Roosevelt," the editorial said, "the United States and Russia have
at last resumed normal relations on terms that are entirely honorable, mutually
advantageous and in harmony with 'a happy tradition of friendship' which
existed between these two great peoples for more than a century.
"As the Hearst newspapers in their
long advocacy of the restoration of friendly relations with Russia have repeatedly pointed out, friendly political
relations promote trade relations, and trade relations, when maintained on a
fair basis, promote friendly political relations.
"Consequently, the return of
Russo-American relations to normal should mean the revival of a commerce
between Russia and the United States that will greatly benefit both countries and
strengthen the ties that bind the two peoples in the same powerful friendship
which they once were proud to claim and with renewed pride they can claim
(In hindsight of the acrimony that would
soon begin between Hearst and the godless Bolshevik government, the editorial
sounded almost as tortured as Peter Sellers, the American president in
"Dr. Strangelove," informing the Soviet premier that a U.S. rogue
bomber was about to incinerate one of his cities--whilst all the time
protesting his deepest affection and undying respect for the Soviet premier
and his people.)
There was, however, one big hoo-rah
left. Arthur Brisbane, Hearst's star columnist, chief editorial writer, often
regarded as Hearst's conscience, a multi-millionaire himself, but a longtime
cheer leader for the radical current in American life, Brisbane composed an essay of unrestrained joy to the
world. It was fed to 125 newspapers, both Hearst and others in the King
Features syndication. The headline on Brisbane's column in the New York American, November 19:
"Three Cheers for Roosevelt"
"Russia Recognized at Last"
"Hard Blow for Depression"
"By Arthur Brisbane
"Copyright 1933, King Features
"Miami, Fla., Nov. 18--At last this country decides to
"recognize" and deal with Russia. The public will exclaim:
"Thank heaven that's over."
"Russia is more than twice as big as the United States, its population is by forty millions greater
than ours, and all at work, by the way; its wealth and natural resources may
prove, under a government for the people and not for the Czars, Grand Dukes
and Monte Carlo's gambling tables, to be even greater than our
"Financiers foolishly lent money to
Russia, particularly to the comic opera Kerensky.
"Now they weep because Russia won't pay. It should be remembered that Lenin,
who is to Russia what George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are
to the United
States, saw his brother die under the knout, an unpleasant Russian lash,
by order of the czar. [Poetic License. Lenin's brother was hanged for
complicity in the assassination of an earlier Czar--and did not see his
brother die.] He would not feel like paying the Czar's debts, and Lenin's
devoted disciple, Stalin, who set aside the whole calendar of Russian saints
to put the embalmed body of Lenin in their place will not pay the Czar's
Also, the Czarist-Kerensky debt to the United States amounts to only $289,073,000, not much compared
to the twenty-two thousand million dollars that Europe owes us, including interest. Concerning that debt, Europe says calmly:
"Don't you hope you may get
"And we don't refuse to recognize Europe.
"The truth is that our "Best
Minds," up to their necks in a depression of their own making, have been
afraid that Russia's experiments would succeed and put dangerous
notions in the American minds. That is why those best minds have not wanted Russia recognized.
"Russian recognition will do more
than a hundred theories to end our depression. President Roosevelt is to be
congratulated. Everyone hopes that he will enjoy and profit by his visit to Warm Springs, Georgia and come back with another idea as good as
[Here endeth the Brisbane column.]
Evidently, Roosevelt had no good ideas left. Hearst began a
long-running hatred of the President, calling many of his views communistic
and strongly implying that the President was a communist himself. Hearst
quickly developed an implacable hatred of the Soviet Union and promoted a keen interest in the good works
of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler--an admiration that would, of necessity,
end when the United States went to war with Nazi Germany.
* * *
William Randolph Hearst departed this mortal
coil in August of 1951. For more than four decades his was the most powerful
single voice in American communications. For much of his life he was, in his
own oft-repeated words, "a militant progressive," a conscientious
radical. For almost two decades he had raised his voice on behalf of the
It will forever be a closed book on how
much the government of the United States was influenced by Hearst on the question of
recognition--and how many young readers were drawn to the American Communist
Party through the sympathetic characterizations of Soviet communism in the
Hearst press. One can only salivate with speculation of how Joe McCarthy and
J. Edgar Hoover would have red-baited W.R. Hearst with guilt by association,
simply by identifying his signed editorials.
Indeed, Hearst and his Hearstlings had
already prepared a defense against charges that Hearst had been a
propagandist for Bolshevik Russia. The way was prepared as early as 1924 when
Hearst's bureau chief in Moscow
"Five years ago, the Russian
Revolution, the vastest democratic tide which ever swept over a section of
the earth, was attacked from without by all the great military powers of the
world. Intervention stultified the normal development of the social upheaval
which rocked Russia. Instead of democracy, it forced militarism upon
the freedom-hungering people of this country. Instead of decentralization,
autonomous self-government, it imposed an absolute dictatorship of the
Central Committee. Early in 1919 this dictatorship was proclaimed and it has
remained in effect ever since."
This was the judgement of Moscow bureau chief Isaac Don Levine who, within 15
years, would be shepherding Whittaker Chambers through the State Dept with
accusations against Alger Hiss. Levine's reference to the Bolshevik
revolution as "the vastest democratic tide which ever swept over a
section of the earth" was close to Hearst's view of 1917-18. But
Levine's conclusion that it was foreign-power intervention which stultified
the Bolshevik's revolutionary democracy would not have sat well with critics
who believed that what was at fault from the start was the inherent
contractions between Bolshevik dogma and Bolshevik deeds.
Ten years later, after the glow had fled
the rose, Hearst insisted he was right all along--that the czars had been
overthrown by a Social-Democratic revolution during the first world
war--which was good--but then a minority within the Bolsheviks had usurped
power with the connivance of German militarists--which was bad. The evil ones
had betrayed Russia. What was just as reprehensible, they had
betrayed the trust of Mr. Hearst and his newspapers. And that was why Hearst
found it necessary, first, to condemn bolshevism in Russia, and second, to oppose communism in all its manifestations
in the United
States. And anyone who opposed Hearst's crusade was a Soviet dupe--or
In short, Hearst was never wrong--except
for the time when he thought he was wrong--and even then, he was wrongly
thinking he was wrong.
In his last twenty years, Hearst's
legacy was an unremitting hunt for any stirrings of communism in the schools,
libraries, churches, unions, motion pictures, book publishing, broadcasting,
government. His papers were quick to welcome Senator Joe McCarthy in whom
they recognized a kindred spirit, and with whom they traded information. It
was called the Age of McCarthyism--but William Randolph Hearst had been there
After his death, his papers came under
the control of Bill Hearst Jr. and a core of top editors. On January
15,1955, the Hearst
International News Service (INS) reported from Berlin that "William Randolph Hearst Jr., chairman
of the editorial board of the Hearst Newspapers, left East Berlin today for Moscow on a trip which he termed 'strictly journalistic.'"
The front page headline of Hearst's now-combined Journal-American was
emphatic: "Strictly Journalistic Visit" original italics).
The emphasis was reinforced by an editorial parenthesis:
"(Editor's note: David Sentner,
chief of the Hearst Newspapers' Washington Bureau, said Soviet visas for Mr.
Hearst and his party came through within a matter of days despite the
well-known and long-standing editorial opposition of the Hearst Newspapers to
communism. 'The Russians were fully aware of the long anti-communist fight of
the Hearst Newspapers when they granted the visas,' Sentner said. 'There were
no illusions about that. We were told the Communists regarded Mr. Hearst's
father as their number one American critic of the past generation.'"
The emphasis on "strictly
journalistic visit" may have been intended to assure faint-hearted
Hearst readers that young Bill was not defecting to Moscow. But the description of Hearst Senior as the
Soviet "number one American critic of the past generation" was
stretching the truth--either that, or in the best Orwellian tradition, all
library issues of Hearst papers from January 1918 through November 1933 had
simply disappeared--or never existed.
Then, in 1991, Bill Hearst, Jr.
published his memoirs and told how David Sentner suggested he go to Moscow to find out what the post-Stalin leadership was
planning. The suggestion bowled Bill over--he was sure the Soviets would
never let him in. In fact, one of his top editors predicted "the
Russians would slip some beautiful ballerina into bed with me and bingo--Siberia." But Sentner prevailed: "Bill, I
think you can break the silence of the Iron Curtain for the first time since
Stalin's death," he said, adding: "I have a hunch. Your father
campaigned against the global threat of communism ever since the first days
of the Bolshevik Revolution. The fact that he was anathema to the Commies
might be a very good reason for Moscow to give you a visa. Bill, I think they're
hurting and want to get more of their views out to the West. I believe you
may get a visa." It was clear that neither Sentner nor Bill, Jr. had
done his homework on Hearst, Sr and "the first days of the Bolshevik
Revolution," but the myth was protected once again. Hearst,Jr and his
two colleagues went to Moscow,
met the top brass, sent back their reports--and won the Pulitzer Prize.
Incidentally, Bill,Jr wrote in his memoirs that he had never seen
"Citizen Kane"--"out of principle and deference to the old
man. However, our lawyers and others who dissected it scene by scene filled
me in on the details. I feel as if I've viewed every frame." On the
basis of what he was told, Bill, Jr pronounced the film "cinematically
outstanding but morally reprehensible." It was a novel way to review a
If the "Rosebud" of
"Citizen Kane" was not the key to the core of Citizen Hearst
perhaps the Dead Hearst Scrolls of the Independence League may offer up some
tantalizing clues. The League was a minor but influential third party which
Hearst had helped found and which backed him in his struggles for high
office. Some lines from the League's platform of 1924 may illustrate the
difference between the ideal and the real in the life of William Randolph
"We hold that the greatest right in
the world is the right to be wrong, that in the exercise thereof people have
an inviolable right to express their unbridled thoughts on all topics and
personalities, being liable only for the abuse of that right.
"We hold that no person or set of
persons can properly establish a standard of expression for others."
table of contents