(The following article first appeared in the 9/9/92 issue of the now-defunct Lower East Side alternative weekly newspaper, Downtown.)
One reason you didn’t see or hear too much satirical criticism of either Cosmopolitan’s editorial politics, the Hearst media conglomerate or the Hearst Dynasty on the TV screen or over the radio airwaves during the 1990s was that besides then owning many Big Media monthly magazines, the Hearst Corporation also then owned television and radio stations and had special interests in the cable TV industry. As William Randoph Hearst Jr. wrote in his 1991 book, The Hearsts: Father And Son:
“Our organization owns six TV stations. These include WCBV in Boston, WTAE in Pittsburgh, KMBC in Kansas City, WBAL in Baltimore, WISN in Milwaukee and WDTN in Dayton. We also have 7 radio stations in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Juan, Puerto Rico. We are expanding continuously in cable television. These holdings include joint ventures in cable television’s Arts and Entertainment (A&E); Lifetime, an advertising-supported network addressing women’s interests; the ESPN sports network; the New England Cable Newschannel, covering regional news and events; Ellipse Programming, a French TV production company; and various other television production companies.”
Among U.S. television broadcasters, Cosmopolitan’s parent company was the 16th-largest owner of television stations in terms of the audience its stations could reach in the early 1990s.
[2008 Update: Since the 1990s, the Hearst media conglomerate has apparently sold the 7 radio stations it then owned. But by 2008, the number of television stations that the Hearst media conglomerate owned in the United States had jumped from 6 television stations to 29 television stations, following Hearst’s 1997 merger with Argyle Television to create its Hearst-Argyle Television subsidiary division. Besides owning TV stations in Boston, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Baltimore and Milwaukee, Cosmopolitan’s parent company, for example, now also owns television stations in Tampa, Orlando, Cincinnati, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Louisville, Des Moines, Honolulu, and Omaha. In addition, the Hearst media conglomerate now owns two television stations in Sacramento, California. As a result, about 18 percent of all U.S. television viewers can be reached and politically manipulated by a Hearst Corporation-owned television station.]
During the 1990s, Hearst Cablevision also owned six cable television stations in California. Around 16 percent of Hearst’s 1980s gross income came from its radio and television media operations, and Hearst’s Broadcast Division was about three times more profitable than the media conglomerate’s Newspaper Division during the 1990s. Forbes estimated that Hearst’s broadcasting properties were already worth around $1 billion in the late 1980s, when it then only owned 6 television stations.
Hearst’s Kansas City, Boston and Dayton television stations were purchased between 1979 and 1987—after the Symbionese Liberation Army’s 1974 “arrest” of Patty Hearst—as part of a $1.5 billion media property buying spree that the then-cash-rich media conglomerate went on during the Reagan Era. According to an April 1987 issue of the New York Times:
“Hearst was particularly savvy in its purchase of television stations, limiting itself to network-affiliate outlets in Top-50 markets…Network affiliates have higher profit margins.”
According to a December 1987 issue of Forbes, Hearst had “the country’s largest collection of non-network-owned ABC television affiliates” in the 1980s, “giving Hearst considerable clout over network programming.” And this might just be one reason why ABC News’ Nightline program, for example, rarely devoted any of its airtime to coverage of either the Hearst Dynasty or the Hearst media empire during the 1990s.
Next: Cosmopolitan’s Newspaper Connections Historically