Thursday, November 13, 2008

Maclean's editor Whyte on book tour to resuscitate Hearst's reputation

Ken Whyte, the editor and publisher of Maclean's magazine, is making an extensive tour across Canada, being interviewed at each stop about his new biography called The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst (Random House Canada).

The book attempts to resuscitate the reputation of Hearst who has pretty much been pigeonholed as a robber baron publisher both by his own, often despicable, activities over a lifetime and by the thorough skewering he was given by Orson Welles in the film Citizen Kane.

As such the book, which is not a full biography, but chooses to concentrate on a few formative years at the start of Hearst's long career, is a typically quixotic project, perfectly in keeping with the author's contrarian nature, a style he has imprinted on the magazine he runs. In a press release, Whyte says:
"Biographies of William Hearst tend to present him as a deeply disturbed man who used his power and enormous wealth for selfish, dishonest, and destructive purposes - that's the Citizen Kane version - or as a rich and reckless huckster," says Whyte, founding editor-in-chief of the National Post. "I see him, especially as a young man - the period of life covered in my book - as a great journalist with strong principles who made an enormous difference in journalism and the public sphere, much of it to the good, some of it even heroic."
As an aside, the biographical item that accompanies the press release notes that Whyte "has become one of Canada's premier journalists (no argument there) also having served as editor of the monthly Saturday Night magazine at the peek (sic) of its popularity (there are probably some who would quarrel with that).

At several of the stops across the country, Whyte is being interviewed on stage by the likes of Todd Babiak, Donna McElligott, Ken McQueen, Seamus O'Regan and Mary-Lou Finlay. This royal progression contrasts with most Canadian authors' shoestring tours, even more so given the book's obscure, remote and non-Canadian subject.

(By the way, if Whyte is looking for his next subject he need look no farther than the Florida jail cell of his erstwhile patron, Conrad Black. Resuscitating that reputation would be an even bigger challenge than getting the rest of us to admire William Randolph Hearst.)


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