Say what you will about San Francisco's daily newspaper of broken record, it never actually started a war with another country. William Randolph Hearst did. Hearst is also known as one of the pioneers of yellow journalism, who would use his papers to smear his enemies with fabricated evidence and out-and-out lies.
Considering Hearst's love for sensationalism and his disregard for truth, it's weird that Chronicle Executive Editor Phil Bronstein is vowing to emulate the late newspaper magnate. Bronstein told Editor & Publisher last week about his new campaign for “journalism of action,” in which the paper will not just report the news, but also tell readers what they can do to solve problems with, say, Muni. “Noting William Randolph Hearst's historic use of his papers … to bring issues to light, [Bronstein] said the Chronicle could do so today,” E&P reported.
While it's curious to hear a solid newsguy like Bronstein say he wants to be like Hearst, there are some undeniable parallels between the two: Hearst loved a famous Hollywood actress of the day, Marion Davies; Bronstein married Sharon Stone. Hearst engineered the invasion of the Philippines; Bronstein engineered the invasion of Imelda Marcos' shoe closet. Hearst kept a zoo of exotic animals at his Central Coast castle; Bronstein was once bitten by a Komodo dragon at the San Francisco Zoo.
Here are some other low points of the man in whose footsteps Bronstein's trying to follow, along with contemporary counterparts that we hope the local daily doesn't try:
Columnist Hitler: You read that right. Hearst solicited guest columns from Adolph Hitler. Is it possible to be any more on the wrong side of history?
Columnist Kim Jong Il: Every week the potentate America loves to hate dishes in the Chronicle on whether or not he's planning to nuke us, and why he needs grain. (Sean Penn will write the counterpoint!)
Yellow Journalism: Hearst's papers routinely published personal attacks with unsubstantiated rumors as evidence.
Yellow Journalism: Matier & Ross start an “all anonymous sources, all the time” format. Oh, wait — isn't that what they do already?
Screaming headlines: Hearst's papers used giant, misleading headlines to pull attention to sensational stories.
Screaming headlines: The Chronicle uses giant, misleading … oh geez … they're further along than we thought. This isn't funny anymore.
If Bronstein stays true to his word, you can expect the Chronicle to latch on to causes that fit his preconceptions and send teams of reporters out to find any evidence — however flimsy — to make the case. And then San Francisco will have two Guardians.