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Reviewed by James Rosen
Sunday, February 8, 2009

THE UNCROWNED KING

The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst

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By Kenneth Whyte

Counterpoint. 546 pp. $30

If the New York Journal, William Randolph Hearst's legendary organ of Gilded Age yellow journalism, were around today to report on The Uncrowned King, Kenneth Whyte's determinedly revisionist account of the publisher's rise to power, the headlines might read:

Scoundrel Redeemed

W.R. Hearst, Long Vilified

As Cynical Warmonger, Wasn't So Bad After All!

J-School Deans Spitting Mad

Arguing that Hearst has been the victim of "a serious misapprehension" over the last century, that his journalism "was far more nuanced and balanced than has been credited," Whyte, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Canadian newsweekly Maclean's, relies heavily on -- and counterpunches furiously against -- an already sizable literature.

The Hearst canon includes, most famously: W.A. Swanberg's controversial Citizen Hearst, denied the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for biography despite unanimous selection by the Pulitzer advisory board; The Chief, David Nasaw's 1998 bestseller, acclaimed as "definitive" and winner of the Bancroft and J. Anthony Lukas Prizes; and Ben Procter's William Randolph Hearst, a two-volume biography whose first installment, The Early Years, also published in 1998, matches Whyte's focus on Hearst's first five decades, from his birth in 1863 through his transition from hands-on journalist to multimedia magnate and politician.

These earlier authors are the chief villains in The Uncrowned King. In classic revisionist style, Whyte faults his predecessors for gullibly retailing the views of "unreliable," "uncorroborated" or jaundiced sources, such as Hearst's acidulous cousin Anne Apperson Flint and Morning Journal editor-in-chief Willis J. Abbot; for suppressing the complimentary things these sources had to say about Hearst; for selectively prosecuting Hearst for journalistic crimes committed by all of New York's major newspapers of the day, including Joseph Pulitzer's World and Charles Dana's Sun; and for slighting Hearst's enormous accomplishments.


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