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Herald Tribune, Bennett, Greeley and Whitney

overview


This profile considers the New York Herald and the International Herald Tribune under the control of James Gordon Bennett, Ogden Reid and the Whitney family.

It covers -

* the Bennetts
* the Tribune under Greeley and Reid
* Whitney
* the Paris Herald-Tribune and IHT
* studies

the Bennetts

James Gordon Bennett Sr (1794-1872) - self-described as the "Napoleon of the newspaper" - was born in Scotland and after abortive education for the Roman Catholic priesthood migrated to Nova Scotia in 1819. By 1822 he had moved to New York and during that decade held a variety of positions (including as a translator and newspaper correspondent in Charleston, Washington, Boston and New York).

After attracting attention as the Washington correspondent of the New York Enquirer he founded the Globe in New York in 1832. Its expiry soon thereafter saw his establishment of the Pennsylvanian in Philadelphia during 1833. In 1835 he spent US$500 to launch the New York Herald, priced at one cent paper, with a refreshing disclaimer of "all principle, as it is called, all party, all politics". In a departure from traditional practice the Herald was based on a large circulation and advertising (and reinvestment of profits that by 1867 reached an estimated US$400,000), rather than subsidies by political interests or subscriptions from a small number of subscribers. Accordingly it featured accounts of crimes, society scandals and "natural wonders" such as mermaids and sea monsters for "the great masses of the community."

Bennett prided himself on innovation and investment in news gathering, albeit with less concern for accuracy once news was obtained. During the Civil War he maintained a staff of 63 war correspondents. It is claimed that the Herald featured the first Wall Street financial article (in the year of its establishment) and was the first US title print in full the text of a long speech obtained by telegraph.

A rival newspaper greeted news of his death in 1872 with the comment

James Gordon Bennett has died a natural death, but unfortunately his newspaper survives him. In his own way he was quite as great a man - we are thinking of greatness in its Jonathan Wild sense - as Fisk; but he kept on the safe side of the law, and he was spared the expense of having to share his plunder with the judges. His career is a conspicuous example of prosperous infamy. An American apologist has suggested that his character might be described as good so far as it went, but "defective." He was shrewd, enterprising, audacious, liberal; "visit him, and you see before you a quiet-mannered, courteous, and good-natured old gentleman, who is on excellent terms with himself and with the world." But beyond that there was a blank. "That region of the mind where convictions, the sense of truth and honor, public spirit, and patriotism, have their sphere, is in this man mere vacancy." He was, in fact, an utterly unscrupulous person, who had no desire to do evil for its own sake, but who had made up his mind to push his way in the world, and who was ready to follow any road that seemed to suit his purpose. It was his combination of rare shrewdness and profligate audacity which rendered his example so corrupting and dangerous. When, in the course of some quarrel, his adversary called him a pedler, he at once adopted the name. He "peddled," he said, in thoughts, and feelings, and intellectual truths, and he was going in for a wholesale business in the same line. A pedler has a prescriptive right to call his wares by such names as he pleases, but the commodities out of which Bennett began to make his fortune were, in plain language, obscenity and personal defamation: The New-York Herald, which he invented and continued to manage to the last hour of his life, was at first an obscene, scurrilous print, sold at a cent, printed by stealth on other people's types, and published in a cellar. The office of the Herald is now one of the grandest houses in Broadway; the paper itself is one of the richest literary properties in the world, and it has cast off the revolting grossness of its early years. But it has always been conducted on the same principle - the principle of providing any thing that seemed likely to pay, without regard to the moral texture of the article. The justification of the commodity was simply that people were willing to buy it, and Bennett never troubled himself about any thing else.

Son James Gordon Bennett Jr (1841-1918) was educated in France before assuming day to day responsibility for the Herald in 1867. He continued his father's practice of circulation building through high-profile events and series, including finance for the 1869-71 expedition by Henry Stanley to find David Livingston, the 1879 De Long arctic expedition and various speed events.

After 1877 he primarily resided in Paris, directing his newspapers by cable. He had worn out his welcome in polite society after urinating into the fireplace (or a grand piano) at a New Year's Day party at his then fiancée's home in New York. During 1883 in partnership with John Mackay he founded the Commercial Cable Company, an offshore counterpart of Associated Press and United Press (UP).

Bennett Jr established London and Paris daily editions of the Herald. The Paris edition has been characterised as a sincere - and unprofitable - attempt to "promote international goodwill" but arguably reflected the owner's ego.

During the newspaper wars of the 1890s the Herald was outstripped by Hearst's Journal and Pulitzer's World. Decline reflected managerial inattention, Bennett's absence in Paris and demands for capital. Bennett established the James Gordon Bennett cup as a trophy in international yacht racing. Another Gordon Bennett Cup was awarded from 1900 to 1905 in France for auto racing. The first Gordon Bennett balloon competition was held in Paris in 1906, with the first air race held in 1909.

The ailing Herald merged in 1922 with the New York Tribune.

the Tribune under Greeley and Reid

The New York Tribune was established in 1841 by Horace Greeley (1811-1872).

Greeley was born in Amherst, New Hampshire. After working as a printer he moved New York City, building the Tribune into a nationally-recognised publication.

As a Whig Greeley initially supported the rights of the US Southern states to secede but became an ardent abolitionist and a supporter of the North in the Civil War. He served as a Whig Congressman from 1848 to 1849, thereafter running unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives in 1850, 1868 and 1870. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate (in 1861 and 1863) and for US President in 1872, failure partly attributable to a personal guarantee of bail for Jefferson Davis.

Greeley gained attention for enthusiasms and catchphrases - such as the famous "Go west, young man" - and for anecdotes about matters such as his illegible handwriting. In one tale he fired an inept reporter, providing a long letter detailing that reporter's faults. It was unreadable except for Greeley's signature; the reporter claimed it was a letter of recommendation and was accordingly hired by one of Greeley's competitors.

Concentration on those distractions was reflected in loss of the Tribune to Whitelaw Reid (1837-1912). Greeley's final moments were supposedly enlived with a dying comment to Reid "You son of a bitch, you stole my newspaper". Reid's account differed, claiming that Greeley's last words were "I know my redeemer liveth".

Reid graduated from Miami University of Ohio in 1856, becoming a reporter during the Civil War and forming a friendship with Greeley. By 1869 he was managing editor of the Tribune, strengthening his position by marrying the daughter of millionaire Darius Ogden Mills (1825-1910). He was US minister to France from 1889 to 1892 and was ambassador to the UK from 1905 until 1912.

In 1892 he ran as the Vice Presidential candidate with Benjamin Harrison, subsequently endorsing William McKinley and becoming a member of the Peace Commission for the Spanish-American War. Reid's included After the War (1866), Ohio in the War (1868) and Problems of Expansion (1900).

Under his son Ogden Mills Reid (1882-1947) and wife Helen Rogers Reid (1882-1970) the paper continued a slow decline. In 1922 it merged with the New York Herald to form the New York Herald Tribune, which continued to be run by Reid until his death in 1947. In 1958 the Reids sold control to John Hay Whitney, heir to a family fortune from Standard Oil, tobacco, street railways and real estate.

Whitney and Whitney Communications Corp

John Hay Whitney (1904-1982) inherited over US$30 million in 1927 and by 1964 was worth an estimated US$250 million, partly through success at investment bank Lee, Higginson & Co. and his venture capital firm, J H Whitney & Co. He had served as an ambassador for President Eisenhower, had dabbled successfully in Broadway and film finance (notably Pioneer Pictures with Selznick), worked with Nelson Rockefeller in the motion picture section of the wartime Office of the Coordinator on Inter-American Affairs, had been an early backer of Newsweek with Vincent Astor and was brother-in-law of CBS founder William Paley.

The paper was affected by weakening demand, managerial indecision - arguably exacerbated by over-reliance on advice from McKinseys and other consultants - and by poor industrial relations (in particular two major strikes by the typesetters' union during 1962-63 and 1966).

Whitney Communications Corporation expanded into newspapers, magazines (eg Parade, Interior Design, 50 Plus, Boating Industry and Art In America), broadcast television (with Corinthian Broadcasting stations in Kingston, Mt Kisco, Mineola and New Rochelle later sold to Dun & Bradstreet), radio and cable tv. It reportedly pumped US$40 million into the Herald Tribune. The New York Times commented in 1966 that

despite his enormous wealth, Mr Whitney finally decided he could no longer afford the luxury of more losses in the Herald Tribune, and economics overcame his political convictions and strong sentimental feelings for the paper.

Its US successor was the afternoon New York World Journal Tribune, an ungainly three-way combination of the Herald Tribune, Hearst's New York Journal American and the Scripps-Howard New York World-Telegram & Sun.

Whitney's estate later sold Picasso's 1905 painting Boy with a Pipe (acquired in 1950 for US$30,000) for US$104 million. The family is reported to have donated US$300 million of Impressionist, Modern and American paintings to the National Gallery of Art, MoMA (New York and Yale University during the lives of Whitney and his wife; cynics have questioned whether overall expenditure on the Whitney racing stable equalled investment in the Tribune.

the Paris Herald-Tribune and IHT

In 1887 Bennett Jr launched the Paris edition of the Herald, with control passing to the Reids as part of the 1922 merger of the New York Herald and New York Tribune. The merger was reflected in rebadging of the paper as the Paris Herald Tribune.

In 1959 John Hay Whitney in turn acquired the Paris Herald Tribune through purchase of the New York Herald Tribune. During 1966 the Whitneys sold 50% of the Paris Herald Tribune to the Washington Post. The New York Times Company bought a 33% stake in the Paris paper during the following year, with that title becoming the International Herald Tribune (IHT).

In 1991 the Times and Post jointly acquired the Whitney family's 33% stake in the International Herald Tribune, which later established an alliance with the Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ). During 2003 the Times bought the Post's stake in the IHT for US$65 million.

studies

Context for the Bennett era is provided by The Creation of the Media: The Political Origins of Mass Communications (New York: Basic 2004) by Paul Starr.

For Bennett see Oliver Carlson's The Man Who Made News: James Gordon Bennett (New York: Duell Sloan 1942), Douglas Fermer's James Gordon Bennett & the New York Herald: a study of editorial opinion in the Civil War era, 1854-1867 (New York: St. Martins 1986), When Giants Ruled: The Story of Park Row, New York's Great Newspaper Street (New York: Fordham Uni Press 1999) by Hy Turner and James Crouthamel's Bennett's New York Herald and the rise of the popular press (Syracuse: Syracuse Uni Press 1989).

Eric Homberger's Mrs. Astor's New York: Money and Social Power in a Gilded Age (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2002) may induce sympathy for Bennett Jr rather than the piano. Don Seitz' The James Gordon Bennetts, Father and Son (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill 1928) and Bernard Weisberger' The American Newspaperman (1961) have been superseded, as has Seitz' Horace Greeley: Founder of the New York Tribune (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill 1926).

An account of Bennett Jr at play appears in The Bonehunters' Revenge: Dinosaurs and Fate in the Gilded Age (New York: Houghton Mifflin 1999) by David Wallace and Patricia Cohen's The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-Century New York (New York: Vintage 1999). Issac Pray's 1853 Memoirs of James Gordon Bennett and his Times (New York: Arno Press 1970) remains of value.

For Greeley see his An Overland Journey: From New York to San Francisco in the Summer of 1859 (New York: Knopf 1963), Glyndon Van Duesen's Horace Greeley: Nineteenth-Century Crusader (Philadelphia: Uni of Pennsylvania Press 1953) and J. A. Isley's Horace Greeley and the Republican Party, 1853–1861: A Study of the New York Tribune (1947).

For Reid see the authorised but insightful The Life of Whitelaw Reid (New York: Scribner's 1921) by Royal Cortissoz and Whitelaw Reid: Journalist, Politician, Diplomat (Athens: Uni of Georgia Press 1975) by Bingham Duncan.

For Whitney see the indulgent account by E J Kahn in Jock: The Life and Times of John Hay Whitney (Garden City: Doubleday 1981), Edwin Hoyt's The Whitneys: An Informal Portrait, 1635-1975 (New York: Weybright & Talley 1976) and W A Swanberg's Whitney Father, Whitney Heiress (New York: Scribner 1980). The Sisters: Babe Mortimer Paley, Betsey Roosevelt Whitney & Minnie Astor Fosburgh - The Life & Times of the Fabulous Cushing Sisters (New York: Random 1992) by David Grafton provides a gossipy perspective on the US Astors and William Paley of CBS.

For the Herald Tribune and IHT see Richard Kluger's The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune (New York: Knopf 1986) and Charles Robertson's The International Herald Tribune: The First Hundred Years (New York: Columbia Uni Press 1987). There is an affectionate account in Waverley Root's The Paris Edition: The Autobiography Of Waverley Root, 1927-1934 (San Francisco: North Point Press 1989), Charles Robertson's An American Poet in Paris - Pauline Avery Crawford and the Herald Tribune (Uni of Missouri Press 2001) and Barbara Mahoney's Dispatches and Dictators: Ralph Barnes for the Herald Tribune (Corvallis: Oregon State Uni Press 2003).