Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

William Randolph's Hearse

Story Changes Radically

MOVIE PRODUCER SHOT ON HEARST YACHT screamed the headline in the morning edition of the Los Angeles Times on November 16, 1924. However, by the time the afternoon edition of the paper hit the streets, the Category 5 hurricane churned up by the early edition had been swiftly downgraded to a tropical depression. Later editions reported that Thomas Ince was taken off the boat with a case of acute indigestion and was sent home to be with his family, where he died two days later.

What was it that changed the story so radically? Was the early edition premature and misinformed? Perhaps, but credible accounts appear to suggest otherwise. What very likely happened was that a powerful man exerted his considerable influence over the media.

Even though the Los Angeles Times was not one of those owned by Hearst, so mighty was the clout he wielded that even rival newspapers dared not cross him. No further stories appeared in any newspapers that week that even hinted of foul play.

Who was William Randolph Hearst and how did he get so powerful? The classic rags to riches story belonged not to him but to his father, George Hearst. The elder Hearst, who started out in life with nothing, became a multimillionaire mine owner and rancher. His silver mines in Nevada's legendary Comstock Lode were estimated to be worth about $400 million long before the turn of the 20th century.

George Hearst
George Hearst

William Randolph Hearst was born on April 29, 1863, in San Francisco, the only child and heir of George Hearst and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, who doted notoriously on her son. In 1887, at age 23, W.R. became proprietor of the San Francisco Examiner which his father accepted as payment for a gambling debt. In Citizen Kane, Kane takes over ownership of a fictitious San Francisco newspaper almost as a lark; something he thinks will be fun to do. In real life, the situation was not much different. When Hearst took over the Examiner, it was more from a sense of adventure than one based on work experience.

Hearst quickly turned the flagging newspaper's fortunes around by running sensational stories designed more to titillate than inform. He was one of the pioneers of banner headlines and he used them to maximum effectiveness; the larger and bolder the better. Hearst turned the Examiner into a combination of reformist investigative reporting and lurid sensationalism. He also hired some of the best journalists available, including Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, and Jack London.

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