Thursday, November 02, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 12 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 12

On The Trail of the "Silver Fox" (part 1)

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The art of intrigue prospered considerably under the patronage of W. R. Hearst. Some of the conspiracies and machinations practiced under his indulgent eye measured up to the most exacting Machiavellian standards. There was convincing evidence that Hearst enjoyed hugely the plotting and counter-plotting of lieutenants vying for his favor. It was a matching of their subtleties against his faculties of observation. At the same time, it spread fanciful draperies behind which moved the imagery of an imperial court—a vision that his shrewdest sycophants strove constantly to conjure for his appetent contemplation.

Among the intrigants there was none to outdo Andrew M. Lawrence. From their boyhood together in San Francisco, Andy had studied every facet of Hearst’s temperament. Once, in a burst of confidence, Lawrence told me: “The quickest way to get ahead with W. R. is to have the other fellows ‘knock’ you to him. He’ll figure that you must have something that your colleagues are trying to kill off.”

This advice came before my relations with Lawrence assumed the nature of a clandestine feud. There had been a coolness between us ever since the Democratic national convention in St. Louis, when a slap at him by the machine leaders had left a bruise on me. That incident had raised my guard against Andy. Included in his Chicago headquarters as Hearst’s political manager was a press bureau. It showered me with “hand-outs.” These offerings appeared to me to serve Lawrence’s individual purposes more than Hearst’s interests. So, most of them reached the waste basket.

Lawrence, in genuine indignation, advised my discharge. He denounced me as hostile to my employer’s personal ambitions. Hearst consulted Foster Coates, who had brought me into the organization. Coates shrewdly suggested that the charges be set out in detail. An elaborate presentation was made. The dossier was referred to L. J. O’Reilly, Hearst’s private secretary. O’Reilly was really a confidant and adviser. Between his distrust of Lawrence and Coates’s friendship for me, the accusations fell flat. Long afterward, O’Reilly chuckled to me over the satisfaction he enjoyed in “trumping another of Andy’s tricks.”

There was nothing of the defeatist in Andrew M. Lawrence. If he couldn’t oust me from the American by one method, he could try other lines of attack. A bound volume of many thousands of clippings was' prepared to show that I had been using the columns of the newspaper to boost the political fortunes of Carter H. Harrison, “Hearst’s archenemy in Chicago.” Every cutting showed Harrison’s name in the headlines. And the mass of these cuttings was most imposing. So, it was argued, while I refused to make use of the publicity supplied by Lawrence in behalf of Mr. Hearst, I went to great lengths to publicize his chief opponent in the territory.

It was at the time that these grave allegations of disloyalty passed into documentary form that Richard A. Farrelly became Hearst’s editorial chief in Chicago. He brought with him from New York to his new job in Illinois all the carefully compiled testimony. The first step in his investigation disclosed that instead of a secret alliance between Harrison and me, there had been an open rupture more than a year before. Farrelly himself concluded that, as mayor of Chicago, Harrison had not appeared with undue frequency in the American’s news displays. A retrospective fillip of amusement was added some time later when Hearst and Harrison were cuddling as political bedfellows.

Charles Edward Russell
 Lawrence’s next mining and sapping operation against me was shunted off by Charles Edward Russell, first of the Hearst entourage to be dubbed an “elder statesman.” Russell clung to the imagination. His voice alone held one’s memory. It was unlike any other I ever heard. Even its lowest notes were truly reverberant. He was one of the company of journalistic paladins who transferred allegiance from Pulitzer to Hearst shortly after the Californian entered the New York arena. Russell had left the managing editorship of the New York American to attend, as publisher, the birth of the Chicago American. Poet and philosopher, he turned afterward from executive work to socialism and literature.

Russell came to Chicago twice on confidential missions for W. R. Hearst during my editorial term on the American. Our friendliness began in the week of the Iroquois Theatre fire. He helped me formulate the demand I presented to Superintendent of Police O’Neill for the arrest of municipal officials and building managers for criminal negligence leading to the holocaust. It was during his second visit, fifteen months later, that I learned how he had defended me against one of Andy Lawrence’s secret onsets. Closing the “throne room” door for a conference, he propounded a startling question.

“Why,” he asked, “has the charge been made that you are tied up with the traction interests?”

The anger the query evoked apparently meshed with Russell’s expectations. “You were accused of delivering the Chicago American to the street-railways gang,” he went on. “I have studied the newspaper files for several months back; I have cross-examined the men who wrote the stories; and I can find nothing on which to base the accusations against you. Have you any clue?”

My friendship with R. R. Govin, spokesman for the transit financiers, comprised the only hint I could supply. “Govin,” I added, “has been consulting me on how to stop the losses of two Spanish-language dailies that he owns in Havana.” Russell nodded knowingly. Evidently he had wanted me to tell this. “That checks with my information,” he said. “I have already reported to Mr. Hearst that your skirts are clear.”

For weeks, two stars of Andy Lawrence’s staff had trailed me diligently. One of them, Lawrence J. Coffey, got a lot of laughs out of the experience. “Fitting my embonpoint into shadow work was rough on the dignity,” he told me some time later, “but it wasn’t as rough as Andy Lawrence’s disappointment.” When he learned that I had dined alone with Govin in a suite at the Congress Hotel five times in twelve evenings, Andy felt sure that I had been trapped in a piece of arrant rascality. What more damning evidence could be dug up against a Hearst editor than “a series of secret meetings with an agent of J. Pierpont Morgan”? Fortunately, Charles Edward Russell dug deeper than Andrew M. Lawrence.

Andy then showed some of the qualities that enabled him for years to resist the efforts of colleagues, put forth individually or in cabals, to oust him from Hearst’s favor. He resorted to a strategy so adroit as to remove all suspicion. His objective was to dislodge me from editorial authority. It didn’t make much difference where or how my base was shifted so long as it was away from the managing editorship—from the power to revise or reject the propaganda Andy intended for publication in the American. If I couldn’t be dumped into the ash can, I might be hoisted into the coal hod. Flank movements should win where direct attacks had failed. At his next meeting with Hearst, Lawrence actually praised me—a laudation for which I never forgave him.

“You might as well know that I’ve changed my mind about Koenigsberg,” he said. “I’m willing to admit that he’s a capable editor. But we’re loaded down with brilliant editorial men. You have so many first-class managing editors that you’re using three at a time on the New York American. On the other hand, you’re overlooking a great bet on Koenigsberg as a business manager. I’m more to blame for this oversight than anybody else. When you instructed me to get you a couple of competent business managers, I searched all over the country while right here under my eyes was the best prospect I could find.”

It is only fair to note that Andy Lawrence made no effort to ascertain my wishes. Possibly they meant nothing to him. Perhaps he did not know that I would bitterly oppose a change, no matter on what terms.

Lawrence supported his recommendation with several arguments. One included an exhibit. It was a copy of the Chicago American special announcing the result of the prize-ring contest between Joe Gans and Battling Nelson in the preceding September at Goldfield, Nev. Theretofore, editions of this character were made up considerably in advance of distribution. Hence, each consisted of type picked up from an earlier paper, many of the stories having meanwhile grown stale or otherwise undesirable. For the Gans-Nelson extra, a different method was devised.

Cylinders on the color deck of each press were dressed with three alternative headlines—“Gans Wins,” “Nelson Wins” and “Gans-Nelson Draw.” No ink was applied to these plates. The newsprint web passed over them without receiving a visible impression. The fourth cylinder on each color tier carried the heading of the current issue, matching the measurements of the unprinted blocks. The body type of the front page was made up to fill the resultant mortise. The running story of the fight was fudged—set at the last moment on linotype slugs with curved bases and clamped to a barrel, which, in revolving, imposed its imprint on space left vacant for the purpose.

Two editions were produced in this manner. The third was under way when the flash came that Gans had won on a foul. That was in the forty-second round. There was scarcely a noticeable pause in the turning of the presses. The ink rollers were lifted away from the main head on the regular run and dropped onto the “Gans Wins” cylinders almost simultaneously. Charles M. Wilson, the mechanical superintendent, timed the operation. He reported that it consumed fifty-five seconds. That snipped several minutes off the shortest period his records showed for the issuance of an extra. Also, it eliminated the need for making over the edition.

These facts were urged on Hearst by Andy Lawrence to prove that I had an aptitude for business management. Hearst laughed. There weren’t two men on his mechanical staff who knew as much as he about web presses. And the stunt that Andy cited so rapturously was scarcely of such a nature as to interrupt the rhythm of pulsation. There would be nothing freakish about its incubation in a normal editorial mind. But Andy had more ammunition. Will was quite right. The incident by itself did not supply conclusive proof. In fact, it was only recalled now, months after it happened, to indicate a bent—a disposition—since confirmed in many ways. For instance, had Will noticed the manner in which the Harvester trust was brought to book in the campaign against tax dodgers? Now there was a case that covered the point. Koenigsberg was proceeding like any other so-so editor and getting nowhere when his business talents asserted themselves. Then he used “the acumen and resourcefulness which are only of passing value in the editorial department but which are always supremely important on the business side.” How Andy did me proud—and in!

A most uncomfortable din placed me at a disadvantage in my first extended colloquy with W. R. Hearst. He heard but part of the racket. The rest of it sounded only between my own ears. We were in the sporting department of the Chicago American— in the noisiest section of the plant at the noisiest time of day. Hearst sat on a table dangling his legs like a schoolboy. “I’m glad of this chance,” he started, “to tell you how much I appreciate what you have been doing. It has been excellent. But I believe you have mistaken your metier. No matter how fine a record you have made with the news department, I feel sure you can do even better on the business side.”

My gesture of dissent didn’t halt the outlining of Hearst’s plan. He proposed to create a new position in which to install me immediately. It would be my job first to consolidate and then to manage the classified advertising departments of the Chicago Evening American, the Chicago Morning Examiner and the Chicago Sunday American.

The idea struck me like a blow in the solar plexus. All my wishes and ambitions had been tied to an uninterrupted pursuit of the editorial art. In addition to a long series of news coups, there had been signs of notable successes with features. A number of illustrated specialties, giving the effect of a magazine to the Saturday editions, had been reproduced by other Hearst papers. Foster Coates, my mentor, had been lavish with compliments by mail and wire. What did all these triumphs mean if they didn’t demand a continued concentration of my efforts in this sphere of work ?

It might at first thought seem both ungrateful and injudicious to decline an opportunity on which Mr. Hearst placed so high an estimate, I told him; but a definite distaste for the business department made it probable that I’d prove a disappointment there. I felt sure that congeniality of employment was essential to the performance of one’s best work. Hence, it was my desire to remain an editor. Later, it became clear that Hearst was both astonished and annoyed at my answer. But I detected no sign of his displeasure. Few men could present so inscrutable a countenance.

Events soon taught me that no delinquency excited more of Hearst’s umbrage than the declination of an assignment. His cognizance excluded any ties or bonds limiting the geographic or technical availability of employees. Neither home nor hope should hold anyone rooted to any one spot in his service.

Arthur L. Clarke
Leisure to consider these and cognate phenomena was suddenly thrust upon me. Three days after my talk with Hearst, Arthur L. Clarke appeared beside my desk. We were long-time acquaintances. But we had exchanged no word since he left Chicago three years before for an executive desk on the New York Journal. He had been one of my predecessors as city editor of the Chicago American. A decade later, he became the first managing editor of the New York Daily News, his son following him in that post a score of years afterward. Now he presented a note marked “To Whom It May Concern” and signed by S. S. Carvalho, general manager of the Hearst newspapers. It was a curt announcement that Clarke had been appointed managing editor of the Chicago American. There was no message addressed to me. Nor was there any intimation of what I might be expected to do. A direct question to Clarke elicited a shrug and a wry smile. He was plainly embarrassed. Patently, he had been cautioned to say nothing.

This was a quandary for which I could find no solution in precedents or parallels. Had Hearst said anything to me that might simplify the conundrum? Had I missed something while accustoming myself to the incongruity of his giant torso and the almost feminine timbre of his voice? A review of our talk, phrase by phrase, supplied no clue. Perhaps additional developments were forthcoming. I must wait awhile. Poise could be maintained by dressing my plight in comedy. But at the end of ten days even my sense of humor began to frazzle. Members of the staff evaded me in manifest nervousness. They had been instructed to ignore any order I might issue. When the third week elapsed without explanation of my status, I telegraphed Carvalho over the office leased wire: “Are there any instructions for me?” The reply was as prompt as it was terse: “Come to New York.”

The crazy-quilt pattern of administrative psychology which covered those three weeks is recalled less as an individual experience than as a characteristic peculiarity of America’s greatest newspaper chain. In following years I had frequent occasion to watch—in order to sidestep—the internal politics of the Hearst dominion. It was a patchwork of oriental conception but of less velvety execution. It was not extraordinary for an executive to find his position made untenable by a colleague or subordinate jockeyed into his job for the purpose. And this devious device might be employed—for of all reasons—to save somebody’s feelings! In such a case, it would shield the chief from a private appeal or reproach. Or it might have been the easiest way to remove an unsatisfactory appointee of Brisbane or of some other lieutenant—the “white-haired boy”—in high favor at the time. Also, it was a method not to be overlooked when a personal service contract became onerous. It was part of the unique picture that could not have been conceived or completed without that inexplicable mixture of ruthlessness and delicacy that was Hearst himself.

Few journalists have been called upon to form and dissolve more professional comradeships than befell me; and none of these vicissitudes occasioned a sharper wrench than the separation from my fellow workers in Chicago. They had been companions through the darkest hours and the brightest triumphs of the five most eventful years of my experience. They were a gallant company. After a quarter of a century, I reckoned the local staff of the Chicago American, during the period of my attendance, as the equal, if not the best, of any on any American newspaper. There are no accepted standards by which such a judgment may be affirmed. If a scoring system could be devised—column for column of published type matched against dollar for dollar of payroll—I believe it would establish the supremacy of my favorite Chicago team.

The potency of that highly individualistic group was traceable in their later careers. Some of them moved to distinction on other stages—literature, the drama, politics and finance. While Jack Lait led the van in conspicuousness of success, there was no sort of leadership that could blanket such striking personalities as Carl Van Vechten, Hugh S. Fullerton, Guy Cramer, Frank X. Finnegan, W. H. Briggs, Francis V. Hackett, Ben H. Atwell, Ernest L. Pratt, Louis R. Weadock, Sam Gerson, Paul Warden, William E. Moore, Sam Watkins, Carl Pancake, Arthur James Pegler (father of Westbrook, the columnist) and George Horton.

Chapter 12 Part 2 Next Week   
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