Ben Bagdikian comments on the monopolization capers of Hearst and Gannett in l937 and Hearst, Singleton, and Gannett in 2007
A note from B3: Ben Bagdikian knows more and has written more about the monopolization of the press than
just about anybody. He is the author of six editions of the media classic, "The Media Monopoly," and dean emeritus of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California- Berkeley.
In Bagdikian's first media monopoly book in l983, he wrote that 50 or so conglomerates controlled most of the U.S. media. With each edition the numbers shrank and for years, whenever I would speak on journalism, I would call Bagdikian and ask him what the current magic monopoly was. It went from 26 in l987 to 23 in l990 to ten in l996 to five with his latest edition, "The New Media Monopoly."
He is retired from teaching and living in Berkeley in the shadow of the Hearst and Singleton empires. But since I haven't seen him quoted in any of their papers, I sent him an email asking if he would like to weigh in with any comments on the latest monopoly proceedings of his local papers and on the upcoming Reilly vs. Hearst antitrust trial. This is his answer.
By Ben Bagdikian
When Judge Illston ruled recently that she may open the secret deals that turned the San Francisco Bay Area into a newspaper monopoly paradise, it's possible that like the biblical Adam and Eve paradise, the parties ---- Singleton, Hearst, McClatchy ---are stark naked.
For while crazy things were happening that looked like the bad old days when monopoly was the standard newspaper mode of operation while government and judges looked the other way.
Hearst owned the wobbly afternoon Examiner and Nan McEvoy, the minority De Young stockholder in favor of avoiding monopoly, got outvoted by the new model newspaper shareholders. Hearst was about to toss the Examiner into the Humboldt Current to freeze to death while Washington Anti-Trust cops in Washington were asleep in a nice warm bar provided by the Bushies (the Bushies have a knack for finding Attorneys General whose approach is "tell me what you want and I'll tell you it's legal"). Most of the de Young heirs, like most third and fourth generation newspaper stockholders, sold their Chronicle stock for seven-plus-digit lump sums instead of annual dividends. They sold the Chron to Hearst.
At this point San Francisco made newspaper history. Some angry San Franciscans said bad words to the Anti-Trust Division which whispered to Hearst, "For god's sake, take us off the hook --- do something with the damn Examiner." So history was made when Hearst paid someone to buy his old paper. It would have made The Chief, William Randolph Hearst, whirl in his mausoleum up the hill at Cambria. "The Monarch of of the Dailies" as Hearst modestly called his Examiner, paid $56 million to a local publisher of weeklies to "buy" his Examiner. So far as I know, it is the only time in news history that anyone paid someone else to buy him out with his own money.
There are genes that seem to run in newspapers. Hearst and Gannett have a long history of sleight-of-hand:
Now you see your local and paper and now....
In 1937, Frank Gannett, the originator of it all, had two dailies in Albany, New York, where they had local competition from two papers owned by William Randolph Hearst. In those days, cities had competing morning papers and competing afternoon papers. The year before he had run a full-page ad that said his papers were not run for profit to the owners "But profit to the communities in which they are published."
One year later, Frank Gannett killed both his Albany papers. That gave Hearst a monopoly in Albany. At about the same time, Hearst killed his two Rochester papers, giving Gannett a monopoly in Rochester. One of two possible things caused these twin killings occur. Theory Number One is that Gannett let it be known that he'd kill his Albany papers to give Hearst a monopoly in that city if Hearst would kill his Rochester papers, giving Gannett a monpoly in Rochester. That would be collusion and it would give the lie to Gannett who has said he ran his papers for "the communities in which they are published."
That would mean Frank Gannett had lied in his
fulll-page ad saying he ran papers for the benefit of the community. But maybe he hadn't lied. The alternative theory is that the Angel Gabriel flew down to Earth and whispered into the ear of William Randolph, "you and Frank make a deal to give each other monopolies." Chose your theory.
B3 note to the editors of the "competitive" Hearst and Singleton papers ringing the San Francisco Bay area (and Gannett and Stephens, the other partners in the monopoly deal) : Feel free to quote from Bagdikian's piece. Or contact him and get your own quotes. He is quite articulate on the impact of chains and monopolies in the newspaper business. Wouldn't it be a good idea to to get some token comments from an expert on the other side on this critical issue?