to make of the rather unlikely life of T. Herman Zweibel? Surely his life and career were so long and preposterous as to defy easy quantification, or indeed, belief. It is almost certainly due to the quasi-mythical nature of the events surrounding his occurrence on the American scene—a time of explosive change, in a Republic already bristling with aggressive personal, financial, and social energies—that many conventional histories choose to ignore the man, at best relegating him to the appendices, apocrypha, supplementals, or recently, “sidebars.”

No greater injustice to history could be easily envisioned.

Remember that when the remarkably long-lived Zweibel began his career in journalism, the nation was still coming to terms with the end of the Civil War and, with it, slavery. There were very few modern, progressive, reformative ideas—political or social—being discussed in America. There were far fewer discussions, if there were any at all, about a newspaper's duty to the people of the United States. There were, in point of fact, far fewer states. And T. Herman Zweibel did more than any other man of his time to try and keep things that way.

From a mildly successful regional newspaper, Zweibel single-handedly built The Onion into the institution that it is today. His methods of empire-building included fear, extortion, the convenient deaths of close business rivals (see the case history of People Vs. Zweibel in the Murder of Oliver P. Gummidge for the most well known of these). But his simplest and most successful innovation was to shoulder the burden, as he put it, of “a newspaper's duty to its advertisers to place the most sinister of rapes, the bloodiest of slayings, and the most pendulous breasts above the front-page fold.” The torrent of money that followed would forever alter the destinies of media, the economies of nations, and the mental health of Zweibel himself.

T. Herman Zweibel was, without any doubt, a rapacious, draconian, antediluvian plutocrat during a time when such men were generally revered. This presents an interesting historical conundrum. Although it is true that, as the owner of America's primary news source, he dealt in power—and in its other aspects of money, influence, and above all, information (always providing, withholding, or altering it as he saw fit)—power seems to have benefited him surprisingly little. Although he never once paid taxes on a truly enormous fortune egregiously obtained; strip-mined to the bedrock a state to which he was illegally elected governor; and owned hundreds of indentured servants well into the 1990s, he utterly escaped legal notice. Of course, in this he is exactly like many of the 19th and 20th centuries' most powerful men. What sets him apart, the aspect of Zweibel that became his greatest strength while at the same time preventing him from being the object of public worship, also provides us a key with which to understand the man.

Zweibel did not care in the slightest  [ 1 | 2 | 3 ]