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Annenberg and Triangle


This page looks at the Annenbergs as a point of reference in considering other media czars.


It covers -

  • Moses Annenberg
  • Walter Annenberg
  • studies
  • the Foundation
  • chronology

Moses Annenberg

Arguably Walter Annenberg (1908-2002), like Joseph Pulitzer, will survive as creator of the Annenberg Foundation and other good works rather than as a publishing giant. Money can't buy you love but, say the cynics, does buy a better class of publicist and assorted cultural bibelots.

Father Moses Annenberg (1877-1942) is arguably the more interesting character and publisher but has received less attention than his son. After migrating from East Prussia he built Hearst's newspaper distribution operations in Chicago and Milwaukee at a time when the business involved bruised faces, broken legs or worse.

Newsweek later claimed that Annenberg's name "once struck terror in the hearts of strong men", characterising Moses and his brother as having "pounded their way to fame" and demurely commenting that their employees

are generally given credit for sowing the seeds that made Chicago and gangland synonymous.

Concurrent with successful property development in Wisconsin, New Jersey and New York he served as publisher of the Wisconsin Daily News (acquired by Hearst), clashed with James Cox in Miami and became the dominant publisher of horse racing guides and racing wire services with the Daily Racing Form and Nationwide News Service.

The FBI, accurately or otherwise, estimated his income in 1936 at US$6m per year and it is clear that although Nationwide supplied information to many legitimate newspapers, it also freely sold information to bookies. A perspective is provided by David Hochfelder's 2001 Partners in Crime: The Telegraph Industry, Finance Capitalism, and Organized Gambling, 1870-1920 (PDF).

He moved into mainstream newspapers - notably the Philadelphia Inquirer (claimed to be the oldest continuously-published metro title, previously owned by Curtis and characterised as the "Republican Bible of Pennsylvania") - and a range of scandal sheets on the US east coast. His opinions, like those of his son, were vigorously expressed. Roosevelt advisor Harold Ickes, succumbing to hyperbole, described him "as cruel, as ruthless, and as lawless as Hitler himself". Moses died soon after serving two years in federal prison for large-scale tax offences.

Walter Annenberg

Son Walter established Seventeen magazine in 1944 and TV Guide in 1953. Both were highly lucrative. His Triangle publications grew to include The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, six AM radio stations, six FM stations and six television stations along with a range of minor publications.

He was noted for well-publicised philanthropies - often concerned with journalism education.

The emphasis on editorial standards and journalistic ethics was ironic, considering recurrent criticism of Annenberg for

  • unashamed abuses of power as a newspaper publisher and broadcaster,
  • pursuing vendettas against commercial/political opponents,
  • engaging in McCormick and Hearst-style smear campaigns and
  • maintaining a blacklist that ranged from individuals (sometimes airbrushed out of news photos) to sports teams.

He was a major supporter of the Republican Party and served as US ambassador to the UK under Richard Nixon before retiring to a personal Xanadu in Palm Springs and disposing of his publishing interests. TV Guide and other magazines were acquired by Rupert Murdoch as part of a US$3.2 billion deal; the major newspapers had earlier been sold to Knight.

Studies

Arguably neither Annenberg has gained the biographer that they deserve, one that will acknowledge their achievements while grounding that achievement through discussion of business practice and comparison with

  • similar potentates such as Hearst, Scripps, McCormick, Pulitzer and Loeb (or with figures such as Kennedy)
  • legitimation and image-building of other philanthropists such as Rockefeller and Gates.

Father and son were portrayed in the facile The Annenbergs (New York: Simon & Schuster 1982) by John Cooney and Gaeton Fonzi's Annenberg: A Biography of Power (New York: Weybright & Talley 1970), the latter replete with gems such as

If there is one single factor that has shaped Walter Annenberg's character and, indeed, given guiding direction to his life it is the legend and legacy of Moses Annenberg. No man so venerates the memory of his father. No man is so haunted by it.

Christopher Ogden's Legacy: A Biography of Moses & Walter Annenberg (New York: Little Brown 1999) is more inclusive.

There is a perspective in Memoirs of a Maverick Publisher (New York: Simon & Schuster 1962), an intelligent account by Philadelphia rival J. David Stern.

The foundation

The Annenberg Foundation has assets of around US$3 billion, with major programs in arts and public education.

Philanthropies by Annenberg included large gifts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, establishment of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (ASCP) (US$239m) and the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California (ASC) (US$177m), US$131m to his old school and purchasing a baby elephant for the Philadelphia Zoo.

His personal assets were estimated in 2002 at around US$2 billion, including US$1 billion of impressionist art.

Philanthropy Magazine, apparently underwhelmed by his largesse (in contrast to the fawning tone of many journalists and media studies academics), characterised him as a "bold entrepreneur and timid philanthropist". It sniped -

Consider Annenberg’s best known grant, a 1993 $500 million contribution to school reform. Some of this money will go to useful causes, such as $50 million to the National Institute of School Reform at Brown University. ... But most of the rest appears to have been given to study groups, consultants, researchers, bureaucrats, and people who make a living thinking about schools. Parents and children will be lucky to see 25 cents on the dollar by the time the money gets to them.

Jack Shafer of Slate suggested that the obituaries might have appropriately been titled "Billionaire Son of Mobster, Enemy of Journalism, and Nixon Toady Exits for Hell—Forced To Leave Picassos and van Goghs at Metropolitan Museum" and commented

The ugly arc of Annenberg's life rivals that of fellow press baron William Randolph Hearst or even his fictional stand-in, Charles Foster Kane. It's a life that proves that you can earn polite notices in death no matter how you lived if you give away a billion dollars to the right places before you croak

Chronology

1885 Moses Annenberg migrates to US from East Prussia

1906 founds Chicago News Company, acting as distributor for Hearst

1908 founds Milwaukee News Company

1908 Walter Hubert Annenberg born in Milwaukee

1913 Moses founds International Souvenir Spoon Co

1915 expands into parking, theatres, billiard parlours and other property in Milwaukee and New York

1917 becomes publisher of Wisconsin Daily News in Milwaukee

1919 Hearst buys Wisconsin Daily News

1920 Moses moves to New York

1920 Moses buys New York-based Daily Racing Form for US$400k

1924 buys Elizabeth Times

1925 Philadelphia Daily News founded (later bought by Annenberg)

1927 buys 50% of General News racing wire service for US$650k

1929 buys Morning Telegraph

1932 launches Baltimore Brevities, Washington Brevities, New York Hush, Chicago Hush scandal sheets

1932 launches Screen Guide magazine

1934 founds Nationwide News Service racing wire

1934 buys out partners in General News

1934 buys Miami Tribune

1937 sells Miami Tribune for US$600k

1934 FBI estimates that earnings are US$6m per year

1936 Moses buys The Philadelphia Inquirer for US$10.8m

1937 launches Click photomagazine

1939 Moses indicted for evading $3.26m income tax

1942 Moses dies after release from prison

1944 Walter sells wire services

1944 founds Seventeen magazine

1945 buys WFIL-AM and FM Philadelphia for US$190k

1948 sells theatres for US$1.75m

1948 launches WFIL TV

1948 TV Guide founded in New York by Lee Wagner

1952 Walter buys TV Guide for US$1.5m, and TV Digest for US$600k

1953 launches TV Guide as national magazine

1953 launches Quick magazine

1954 Quick folds

1957 buys Philadelphia Daily News for US$3m

1962 funds Annenberg School for Communication at Uni of Pennsylvania

1969 sells Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News to Knight for US$55m

1969 becomes US Ambassador to UK under Richard Nixon

1970 sells nine stations (inc WFIL Philadelphia, Hartford, New Haven and Fresno) to Capital Cities for US$110m

1970 sells 7 stations for US$16m

1971 funds Annenberg communications school at University of Southern California

1973 sells cable operations for US$11m

1973 launches and closes Good Food

1978 TV Guide sells 21m copies per week

1985 relaunches Good Food

1988 sells TV Guide and rest of Triangle to Murdoch's News for US$3.2bn

2002 death of Walter Annenberg