July 2, 2010
Hearst's Modified Limited HangoutBy Stuart Schwartz
Helen Thomas to the contrary, it is reassuring to know that there is love in the Hearst media empire. They may despise, for example, the Connecticut Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Linda McMahon, who is the former CEO of cable content giant World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). And they may have channeled their inner Helen Thomas when it comes to conservatives, American Thinker writers, wrestling fans, and just plain folks asking questions about their coverage of McMahon, an outsider who thinks we the people are getting the short end of the stick from the politicians and media.
But the same folks who gave us the terrorist crank Helen Thomas are now showing signs of love.
Helen Thomas covered the White House for more than fifty years, the last decade for Hearst newspapers. She retired after saying publicly what she had been saying privately for years, that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go back" to Poland and Germany. Now, for a long time, Hearst management and Washington media colleagues had found her anti-Semitism quite beside the point, thank you. After all, her heart was in the right place (somewhere to the left of Joe Stalin), she was a popular amongst the academic set (Have Mao, Will Travel), and her charm curdled all but organic milk.
So if you are rather powerful employees of one of the largest communications companies in the world, founded by Citizen Kane (a.k.a. William Randolph Hearst) more than one hundred years ago, and you have for years owned a goodly portion of the mainstream media covering Connecticut, how do you respond when American Thinker asks a simple question: What has prompted your negative coverage of McMahon?
Answer: You do what many of those you report on do when asked a hard question...stonewall. Scrunch your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and sing "Anthem of the Palestinian Revolution." (Okay, cheap shot: After all, you can't employ someone as your top White House correspondent, listen to her periodically opine that the world would be a better place without the kind of people who eat matzo ball soup, and be expected to take her seriously -- right?)
This happened when, provided the opportunity to visit with the McMahon campaign in a few weeks, I asked the Hearst Connecticut newspapers for the chance to pose a few questions while in the state. I was polite, charming even, emphasizing my willingness to meet with whomever -- editors, publishers, columnists -- whenever and wherever they wished. I'd even pop for the Starbucks!
Hearst has led the state mainstream media with hostile coverage of McMahon, echoing and then some the elite media in the adjoining markets. New York Times columnist Gail Collins, for example, says McMahon at best provides "entertainment value" since it doesn't take savvy and skill to build a $1.2-billion entertainment juggernaut.
The Hearst Corporation owns four daily newspapers and a host of weeklies in Connecticut. It has had a virtual monopoly on news in the wealthiest areas of the state adjoining New York City and has been a steadfast supporter of the Democratic status quo in a deep blue state that has seen its share of corrupt politicians.
And along comes Linda McMahon, outsider. The Hearst newspapers led the charge in urging Connecticut voters to save the state from "the truly humiliating prospect" of a McMahon win. One of its political commentators, Jonathan Kantrowitz, managed in a single column to use the following terms and more in connection to her campaign: "sleaze," "rape," "vulgarity," "adultery," and "violence."
My request was greeted with silence. I then fired off a second round of painstakingly polite e-mails to a Hearst publisher, the editor, and Kantrowitz. I added gravitas by offering to provide a reference from Thomas Lifson, the publisher of American Thinker. Again, silence from the executives, but an acknowledgment from Kantrowitz: "I think I'll pass."
Hmm. Judging from the campaign coverage, these are people who have no difficulty sharing their opinions. In fact, according to the biography conveniently provided by Hearst, Kantrowitz is quite opinionated, having been a Connecticut Democratic Party official and twice a Democratic congressional candidate, and now offering an insider's view of Republican McMahon.
Can't be shyness, I thought -- must be me. And so I fired off a new round of e-mails, emphasizing my willingness to meet briefly, "at your convenience, your call as to place," and offered to bring anything they want from Starbucks to their offices -- even blueberry scones.
Silence from the executives, but clearly Kantrowitz was overwhelmed. His reply fairly glowed on my monitor: "sorry, no."
He had tried to hide it, but I was clearly winning him over in ways that the McMahon campaign had not. I tried another round. The executives were impressed with me, for their silence seemed lighter. And Kantrowitz was, perhaps, a single reassurance away from BFF status. So I wrote:
His reply was dazzling in its brightness: "Ok a few questions but I assume you are a conservative."
Now we were getting somewhere. He needs reassurance, I thought. Again, I looked to his biography and the answer jumped out at me: He had graduated from Harvard Law School. Obviously, he had noted the Liberty University domain (world's largest evangelical Christian university) and feared exposure. I was quick to reassure him: I'm a "rather eclectic conservative," I texted, of the non-rabid kind. Why I even "have a daughter who works in Manhattan, and she's quite liberal despite my best efforts."
I waited anxiously. Meanwhile, a Hearst publisher contacted me, offering to talk with his "team" about my request. Awesome -- just one or two e-mails away from sharing a vacation rental in the Hamptons. And then Kantrowitz replied.
"E-mail best," he gushed, but only two questions.
And so I asked if being an active Democrat affects his coverage of the McMahon campaign for the Hearst newspapers, to which he replied "absolutely not" but "probably does." My second question: "In your opinion, does McMahon's leadership of WWE as a business have some positive effects (as well as the negative that you've expressed) on her ability to do the work of a U.S. Senator?" He replied, "none that I can think of."
I shook my head in wonder. I felt like Sally Field accepting her Oscar: "You like me -- you really like me!" And so I continued my charm offensive, making sure to touch upon anything that might be an issue for a Hearst/Harvard/Democrat kind of guy, real or imagined:
I haven't yet received a response. But I have no doubt, after visiting with Linda McMahon and her team, that it will be Hamptons time with the Hearst folks. I can feel the love.
Stuart Schwartz, a former retail and media executive, is on the faculty at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.