Obituary: William Randolph Hearst Jnr

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The Independent Online
William Randolph Hearst, journalist, newspaper proprietor: born New York City 27 January 1908; married (two sons); died New York City 14 May 1993.

WILLIAM Randolph Hearst, editor-in-chief of the Hearst newspaper chain, was a man whose own achievements were overshadowed by the fact that he was forever seen as his father's son - the second of five sons. His father was the newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, on whose life the film Citizen Kane was based.

In 1887, at the age of 23, Hearst senior inherited the San Francisco Evening Examiner from his father, George Hearst. In 1896, George Hearst and his competitor Joseph Pulitzer feuded over rights to a popular comic strip called The Yellow Kid. Thereafter sensationalism as a tactic in newspaper circulation wars was called 'yellow journalism'.

William Randolph Hearst senior once sent an illustrator to cover impending war in Cuba, but the artist found all quiet in Havana. That's when Hearst sent the immortal cable to the illustrator: 'You furnish the pictures and I'll furnish the war.'

In 1925, Hearst seniormoved the family into its new home in San Simeon, California, La Cuesta Encantada, which overlooked the Pacific on 240,000 acres of land, cost dollars 50m to build and had a permanent staff of 50. The younger William Randolph was 17 at the time.

By 1930, daddy Hearst owned 33 daily newspapers with a combined circulation of 11 million. His son William Randolph had been force-fed what it takes to succeed, but it was only after an undistinguished academic career and some low-level work in the family newspapers that he made his own headlines - he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Europe in the Second World War. Even then, his father, who was also his editor, told him not to send another dispatch on a bombing raid until he himself had been on one. The young Hearst, who later wrote that 'Nothing in the world was more important to me than the old man's approval,' dutifully took off on a bombing mission.

In 1941 Orson Welles launched his film Citizen Kane, in which Welles played a character, based on Hearst senior, whose idalism is corrupted by power. The elder Hearst tried to stop the film's release and Citizen Kane was never reviewed in a Hearst paper.

After his father's death in 1951 Hearst took charge of the family newspaper chain. In 1956, he took two colleagues to Moscow where they interviewed four Soviet leaders and identified Nikita Khrushchev as the likely next leader of the Soviet Union. With characteristic fairness, Hearst credited his colleague Joseph Kingsbury-Smith with the scoop.

But Hearst was resolutely unfriendly toward the political Left. While his father had tempted the sympathies of working-class Americans by running the biggest soup kitchen in New York during the Depression, Hearst junior is recalled more for his fervent support for Senator Joe McCarthy, the Republican famous for branding progressives as Communists in the 1940s and 1950s.

For the past 40 years, Hearst wrote a column which ran in all of his papers, but reviews of his career in the past few days have been conspicuously free of praise for this body of work. The New York Times commented instead that '(Hearst's) professional and social lives blended as he socialised with celebrities like John Wayne and Bing Crosby, New York power brokers and night club socialites . . . he flew planes and was fond of high-performance cars.'

In 1974 Hearst's position as a scion of the Establishment, supporting the US in its war against Vietnam and the dominant class in its reluctance to grant civil rights for African-Americans, was thrown into dramatic relief by the kidnapping of his niece Patty by the self-described Symbionese Liberation Army, a radical black-led political group. The kidnappers demanded that the Hearst family distribute dollars 240m worth of food to the poor and some free food was handed out to placate them. Several months into her imprisonment, Patty Hearst took the name Tanya and joined her captors in a bank robbery. After police mowed down her few SLA colleagues, Patty Hearst stood trial for bank robbery. Following this family crisis, William Randolph Hearst led a more low-profile life.

The Hearst Corporation, which is still a privately held company, owns the San Francisco Examiner, magazines, radio and televison stations, a cable television programming company and the King Features Syndicate. One of Hearst's sons, Austin Hearst, is President of Hearst Entertainment and Syndication. The other son, William Randolph Hearst III, is the publisher of the San Francisco Examiner.

(Photograph omitted)