By John Adcock
I continue my series on propaganda in World War I with the story of a different type of propaganda; propaganda on the home-front against a native-born American. Between 1914 and 1918 William Randolph Hearst was public enemy no. 1 in all the Allied countries. By 1916 Hearst’s long record of opposition to an Allied victory against Germany resulted in the banning (in 1916) of Hearst’s International News Service, and all Hearst newspapers, in France, England and Canada. Only Hearst’s comic supplements continued circulating in Canada. In February 1917 British Intelligence passed on a decoded telegram from Arthur Zimmerman to his Ambassador to Mexico and on 2 April 1917 the United States declared war on Germany.
During the first year of American entry into the war, William Randolph Hearst owned eleven newspapers, one printed in German -- the New York based Deutsches Journal. The latter was refused a license from the United States government and discontinued publication on April 20 1918. Hearst owned the New York American, New York Evening Journal, Boston American, Boston Advertiser, Chicago American, Chicago Examiner, Atlanta Georgian, Atlanta American, San Francisco Examiner, and Los Angles Examiner. Hearst papers had been in favor of American isolationism since before the Great War started in Europe in the summer of 1914. Hearst had always been a target for invective from the opposition papers but was used to the bad press. On 28 April 1918 the New York Tribune began publishing a venomous series of sensationally illustrated articles titled Hears-s-s-s-t Coiled in the Flag, by a theatrical writer, Kenneth Macgowan. Macgowan wrote, of the “American millionaire,” that >
“It is not a very difficult thing to intern an enemy alien who ventures to reflect on our war attitude. It is safe and easy to assist in the tracking down of a spy who is a citizen of an allied country. There is comparatively little rumpus when a native citizen, who is also a member of the I.W.W. or of the majority faction of the socialist party, or who edits a small and ultra-radical magazine, comes into collision with the espionage act. An American millionaire is another matter -- he is a figure that will, apparently in the nature of things, be left alone so long as he doesn’t supply unquestionable, continuous and invariable evidence of disloyalty.
Which brings us to the second reason for Hearst’s present freedom. It is the ingenuity with which he and his writers have crossed and recrossed their tracks, which lead toward the Wilhelmstrasse; the skill and abandon with which they have dragged the red herring of patriotism across their trail; the verve and brio with which they have pounded the big drums of “America first!” as they circled the Jericho walls of our effective participation in the war.”
On 28 Jun 1918 Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who the Tribune would have preferred to prosecute the war, over Woodrow Wilson, sent thousands of pages to the Senate denouncing President Wilson, Secretary Baker, Postmaster General Burleson, and the Hearst newspapers, which were printed in the Congressional Record. Hearst was not intimidated, he answered back with a paid advertisement titled Mr. Hearst Answers Colonel Roosevelt, in which he claimed that “From the very first day of the war the Hearst newspapers have believed that victory would be won by the united effort and energy of all our people, and not by the fault-finding and bickering of all our people,” and listed all the things that he had done in aid of the war.
Hearst had collected 2,000,000 signatures asking Congress to pass a Conscription Act when the leaders of both parties in Congress opposed it. He agitated in countless editorials for conquest of the air and a government built merchant marine to take on German submarines. To aid the first Liberty Loan “914 columns of news, editorials, and cartoons were published in the Hearst newspapers alone. Many thousands of posters on the Liberty Loan, drawn by Hearst cartoonists were posted in all the great cities of the country. One of them, published may 24, 1917, was so effective that R. W. Wooley, director of publicity for the Treasury Department, Washington, requested copies for every Federal Reserve Bank in the United States -- 7700 in number -- and they were furnished free.”
Among his many accomplishments Hearst created and manned recruiting stations throughout the Union and the President’s messages were printed in color and furnished gratis to Government departments, Department of Education, New York Public Library, and the Y.M.C.A. Hearst and his employees subscribed half a million dollars to Liberty Loans and fifty thousand dollars to the Red Cross.
“As far as I can see, Mr. Roosevelt has done nothing but savagely and sensationally attack the president of the United States and his Cabinet during this critical war period, and has done this for partisan political purposes and, what is worse, for pay.
As far as I can see, one of the main objects of Mr. Roosevelt’s latest furious attack on the Administration was to aid and advertise those magazines and newspapers which pay and support him and to reflect upon those magazines and newspapers which do not hire him or admire him.
As far as I can see, no matter what the motive of these continued attacks may be, whether it be partisan and personal, or well intended and merely misguided, the result can only be harmful to our Government, harmful to the spirit of our people, harmful to the morale of our armies, harmful to our country and our country’s cause.
After the war is over, therefore, or better, after this present crisis is over, I shall be glad to debate with Mr. Roosevelt upon the public platform whether his critical efforts or my constructive efforts have accomplished the more toward helping America bring this great war to a successful and speedy conclusion.”
Despite Hearst’s championing of Woodrow Wilson the admiration was not reciprocated. Wilson shared Roosevelt’s belief that Hearst’s attitude to Great Britain and Germany was suspect. The New York Tribune began a cartoon war against Hearst on June 30, 1918, with a caricature of Hearst by Kansas cartoonist Clarence Daniel Batchelor, and continued through 10 Dec 1918, when a Senate hearing on German Propaganda read Hearst’s private telegrams into the record. One of them, signed “Doctor,” was addressed to S. S. Carvalho at the New York American. This telegram, purportedly written by Hearst, declared the “famous” Zimmerman telegram was “probably a forgery,” more damning, the forgery was prepared by the Attorney General. Dozens of Hearst’s telegrams were posted in the Hears-s-s-s-t articles on 11 December. Much of the material was supplied by the Attorney General’s office with encouragement from Washington. One cartoon by George W. Rehse was reprinted from Pulitzer’s New York World, showing that the Tribune was not alone in attacking Hearst’s patriotism.
Frank A. Nankivell drew the majority of cartoons starting on 15 August 1918 with the cartoon captioned “Across the Little Bridge at Midnight…” Nankivell was just feeling his way into the character. He soon evolved an oddly appealing caricature of Hearst that was visually arresting; a gangly-bodied pie-faced pro-German with a skull on his hat. Other characters appeared in the daily cartoons; Hearst’s tubby sidekick New York Mayor John F. Hylan, who served from 1918 to 1925, and various German spies. A few times Nankivell borrowed cartoons from Winsor McCay “with apologies,” and reworked them to show Hearst in a bad light, but they were uninspired compared to his vicious originals. Under Nankivell’s skillful hands Hearst became a recurring character in a cardboard drama.
Frank A. Nankivell, known to his friends as “Nankey,” was born at Maldon, Australia in 1869 and attended Wesley College in Melbourne, studying architecture and engineering. He was employed by the railroads until 1891, contributing drawings to various Australian publications. In 1891 he set sail for France, intending to study art, but ended up in Japan where he worked as a cartoonist for the English-language Box of Curios. Nankivell taught editorial cartooning to Rakuten Kiazawa, who went on to found the comic journal Tokyo Puck. In 1894 Nankivell moved on to California where he published and illustrated a short-lived comic paper called Chic, and contributed caricature and illustrations to the Examiner and the Chronicle. On the failure of Chic he was employed by the San Francisco Call, drawing mostly editorial cartoons.
His work caught the attention of the proprietors of Pulitzer’s New York World and he was offered a position on the staff. His stay on the World was short-lived and he moved on to Hearst’s New York Journal. Schwartzman, one of the proprietors of the comic paper Puck, offered him a situation on June 1, 1896, where he worked under the editor Gibson. He was reportedly one of the “best paid artists in this city” but did not work exclusively for Puck. He designed a series of posters for Hearst’s New York Journal, one popular picture being known as “Nankivell’s Dancing Sailor Girl.” He also designed the book-cover for Posters in Miniature, which reproduced the best poster art from around the world.
The New York Herald Tribune had been started by Horace Greeley as the Tribune in 1841. Whitelaw Reid took over after the death of Greeley died in 1872. Whitelaw Reid was a staunch militaristic and imperialistic supporter of Theodore Roosevelt. Reid died in 1912 and was succeeded by his son Ogden Mills Reid, who was supported in publishing the Tribune by his wife Helen Rogers Reid, and associate editor Clinton W. Gilbert. Mrs. Reid was a strong woman and is generally believed to have been the “brains” behind Ogden Reid, and exercised great control over the newspaper.
Clinton W. Gilbert, who wrote as “The Gentleman at the Keyhole,” was a political writer, who began his career in 1891 as reporter for “the old New York Press.” From 1913-1918 he was associate editor of the New York Tribune. In 1918 he moved to Washington as correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger. He contributed weekly political article for Collier’s Weekly and was author of Mirrors of Washington, and Behind the Mirrors.
The toxic crusade against Hearst was meant to destroy Hearst’s integrity and ruin his newspaper empire. Mobs in several cities gathered to burn him in effigy along with his newspapers. His writers, editors, and cartoonists loyalties were suspected of disloyalty and treason. Winsor McCay, disgusted and embarrassed, wrote a public defense of his employer, describing his enemies as “privileged interests and featherbed patriots.” Hearst and his employees were investigated by the American Protective League, a government sponsored vigilante group that helped carry out the “slacker” raids in 1918, raids which were even denounced by the Tribune.
Spy hysteria had led to the forming of numerous vigilante groups, many sanctioned by the Department of Justice, who ran roughshod over America, engaging in mob action, beating, torturing, tar and feathering, jailing, silencing, and lynching their enemies. Every vigilante brought to trial was acquitted. The list was a long one, the American Defense Society (whose honorary president was Theodore Roosevelt,) National Security League, American Protective League, Home Defense League, Liberty League, Knights of Liberty, American Rights League, All-Allied Anti-German League, American Anti-Anarchy Association, Sedition Slammers, Terrible Threateners, Ku Klux Klan, Boy Spies of America, and the Anti-Yellow Dog League. The Brooklyn-based Anti-Yellow Dog League were boy detectives, some as young as ten years old, who spied on their neighbors, listening for seditious comments and handing out warnings. Theodore Roosevelt congratulated the Anti-Yellow Dogs, writing “It is our duty to insist upon a 100 per cent Americanism in this land and to tolerate no divided allegiance.” With the tacit approval of the government, and active encouragement of the partisan press, law and order took a holiday.
Hearst fearlessly laughed it all off, but in December 1918 a subcommittee of the Senate judiciary held hearings on German propaganda in the United States during the war, and Hearst was crucified in the newspapers. Hearst went into action, creating a Soldier’s Service Bureau on 13 Jan 1919 with offices in the American. Headquarters were in Washington with branches in cities throughout the Union. The use of shrewd publicity, advertising, and showmanship, and rising public disgust over the slacker raids, finally brought an end to the campaign to tar Hearst as a pro-German.
William Randolph Hearst died in Beverly Hills, California of a heart attack on 14 August 1951. Helen Rogers Reid attended Hearst’s funeral. Frank Nankivell died at Florham Park, New Jersey, July 7, 1959. He had become a renowned book illustrator, etcher, and portrait painter, with much of his work held at The Smithsonian in Washington, D. C.
*Thanks to Rick Marschall and Leonardo De Sá for conversation and clippings.
**The New York Tribune for the period can be browsed HERE. Click on images to enlarge, dates for individual cartoons illustrated are in the menu bar.
***The most thorough account of this period is Opponents of War 1917-1918, Peterson & Fite, University of Wisconsin Press, 1957.