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[Jack Wilson]

From Our West Coast Correspondent

On Freedom of the Press and Movies

(February 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 5, 3 February 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

William Randolph Hearst and the freedom of the press are two things that don’t go together. Labor hates Hearst for obvious and well-known reasons. His anti-unionism, his red-baiting, his race prejudices, his corruption and senility.

Currently, the Lord of San Simeon, that fabulous million acre estate is engaged in a dirty job of browbeating the press and blackmailing Hollywood.

His power is still sufficient to put an almost nation-wide ban on a sensational news story about the movie produced by Orson Welles, America’s bogey-man. Mr. Welles had the temerity to produce and portray Citizen Kane.

The New York Times, the New York Sun, Time magazine are thus far the only publications that have dared to print at least part of the story around this forthcoming movie. Hedda Hopper, a Hollywood movie columnist who is a rival of Hearst’s columnist, Louella Parsons, also discreetly said a little about the situation. Welles wrote and acted in this movie, which does a very good job of exposing the role of the Hearst press in America. It shows how the Hearst war-mongering created the hysteria for the Spanish-American war. It reveals the story of Hearst’s corruption of the press, and of the movies insofar as he is responsible.

This movie is almost as sensational as Welles’ notorious Invasion from Mars radio broadcast, und more powerful. It strikes a blow at the propaganda for war, at the role of the venile capitalist press. It’s social dynamite.

Plain and Fancy Blackmail

Such is the power of Hearst that, when the Madame Parsons demanded a special private preview of Citizen Kane, it was granted. Now Welles claims – and perhaps somewhere man exists who will believe -- that his story of a putrid publisher was not intended to portray Hearst. He neatly has placed Hearst in the position of “If the shoe fits, wear it.” The shoe fits.

How powerful capitalist interests influence Hollywood movies, and therefore the ideas of movie-going people, is revealed in the events subsequent to the Parsons-Hearst complaint against Citizen Kane.

RKO lop officials were directly contacted. As a hint of days to come, all RKO pictures either got poor reviews or were not mentioned at all. RKO publicity didn’t get a break. Parsons demanded that the picture be suppressed. International News Service, the wire association controlled by Hearst, was used as a club against RKO. Out of deference for a friend, the United Press and the Associated Press, thus far have ignored this story. Freedom of the press means the freedom to suppress stories that might educate the people, according to “ the big wire service standards.

But Hearst’s stooges didn’t stop at just merely that. An ace scandal-monger, Adela Rogers St. John, well-known to Hearst paper and Liberty magazine readers, was dispatched to Hollywood. Her job was simple. “Get the lowdown on Orson Welles and Dolores Del Rio.” Perhaps Welles could be blackmailed into withdrawing his movies.

Special investigators are snooping around Hollywood to get a basis for a sensational “anti-refugee” story. Some European actors are employed here, refugees from Hitler’s terror. Many of them are Jews. They constitute a very small proportion of the people employed here. Hearst has threatened to start a wave of anti-semitism around this issue, unless the Welles movie is buried. Of course, he won’t dare attack the British colony here, who function solely as propaganda agents of Churchill. Roosevelt will stop” that monkey business. Just the more helpless Jewish refugees.

People in Glass Houses

Al Capone never went at a job more thoroughly than Hearst is doing. Other reporters are digging up all the files on the private lives of RKO officials and stars, and all people connected with the Welles production. And there’ll be plenty of basis for blackmail, of course.

But this is very touchy ground for Hearst and Madame Parsons. People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Douglas W. Churchill, of the New York Times, once wrote a very interesting chapter in the book, We Saw It Happen. It describes how Parsons forces contributions as “Christmas presents” from movie stars or else they are crucified in the entire Hearst press. And the presents aren’t small change, either. Hearst’s Marion Davies can’t be equated with Dolores Del Rio.

American newspapers are on the spot. Hollywood is on the spot. Hearst’s actions once again demonstrate what a lousy and corrupt press exists in America. If RKO releases Citizen Kane, Hearst will dig up a lot of mud, and Hollywood goes down another notch, if that is possible. If RKO changes or suppresses the picture, it simply shows how lousy and influenced Hollywood is by powerful capitalist interests.

When thieves fall out, an honest man has a chance. Perhaps the people will learn something valuable from the sensational news about to break. Or from the possible suppression of the whole affair.

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