Friday, August 27, 2004

A Thousand Hearsts

We rather fortuitously finished David Nassaw's excellent biography, a choice driven by a summer visit to San Simeon, and the article by Lewis Lapham in Harper's about the "rise of the Republican noise machine". The link between the two is Lapham's slightly contradictory contention that the rise of this machine, one intellectually incoherent, can nevertheless be viewed as a single movement.

But even the briefest examination of William Randolph Hearst's activities in the 1930s would provide us with a picture of a wealthy paranoid crybaby prepared to wrap, admittedly less consciously, self interest in broad, sometimes incoherent political clothing. I make, as Nassaw maintains Hearst did, a distinction between his personal and commercial activities. Certainly it is the latter that the current Hearst Corporation, and its current tenant at San Simeon, want to emphasize. Lapham, torn between trying to minimise the modern right's vigor, and wanting to present it as a new phenomenon, allows us to remember the rich, manipulative, tycoons and heirs of days gone by.

But another point is worth considering. With Hearst's brand of journalism you knew what you would get, even if some of it, for instance Easley's anti-communist raving, was probably made up. While writers on the left today currently bewail the slant of the right-leaning press today, they would be a great deal less upset if they had as well-funded, fearless and progressive a set of allies as the Hearst papers were in the 1900s. And that, dear reader, is why the Times and CNN feel the need to lend credence to the nonsense pumped out by the Swift Boat people. Remember the dictum that Hunter Thompson is fond of assigning to LBJ, who was believed to have accused an early political opponent of carnal knowledge of his livestock. An aide said "but that's not true". Said LBJ "let's see the bastards deny it."


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