1. At the height of his empire, one in four Americans got their news from a Hearst paper.
In 1887, the 23-year-old Hearst recently expelled from Harvard following a series of scandals, convinced his father to give him control of the San Francisco Examiner, which the elder Hearst had received as payment for a gambling debt. Hearst moved swiftly, hiring some of the best journalistic names in the business, including Jack London and Mark Twain, and quickly turned the Examiner into the Bay Area’s leading newspaper. Just eight years later, he purchased his first New York paper, the Morning-Journal, stealing away much of rival Joseph Pulitzer’s staff. Hearst’s expansion continued unchecked throughout the 1920s as he opened dozens of newspapers in nearly every American metropolis, a series of newswire and newsreel operations and several periodicals still in operation today, including Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan.
2. Hearst helped pioneer “yellow journalism.”
Modeling his business on that of his idol-turned-rival Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the New York World, Hearst filled his papers with increasingly sensationalistic headlines and lurid stories of sex, murder and other vices—many of which had little basis in reality. Sometimes the “correspondents” themselves were entirely fictitious. As the circulation war between the two media titans intensified, they turned their attention to a sure-fire newsstand bonanza—war. When rebellion broke out in Spanish-controlled Cuba in 1895, both Hearst and Pulitzer seized the moment, printing page after page of anti-Spanish propaganda accusing the European nation of committing heinous crimes. When the naval vessel USS Maine, sent to maintain a peaceful transition to Cuban autonomy, exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in February 1898, Hearst and Pulitzer openly railed against Spain, and by April, the Spanish-American War was underway. While many historians believe that the United States entered the conflict to protect its financial interests in the region, and not because of headlines in New York City, there is little doubt that Hearst helped fan the flames of war.