He sank with the Titanic a hundred years ago, and has largely been forgotten ever since – hardly a lasting epitaph for a man whose youthful desire was “to make a name for myself and to be great and famous”.
So how is it that William Thomas Stead is lauded as “arguably the most important journalist of all time” by historian Tristram Hunt MP in his foreword to this compelling biography of a man given the jaundiced epithet of “Muckraker” by biographer W Sydney Robinson?
Robinson dubs Stead “Britain’s first investigative journalist” and the pioneer of the interview – all done from memory – without having any obvious knowledge of Gordon Bennett, who actually created the interview and was accused of creating the “gutter press” by his detractors (see panel below in bold).
Yes, the expletive is in fact a backhand tribute to two men, father and son of the same name, both journalists.
The elder Bennett left his native Scotland as a lad to emigrate, first to Canada, then America, where he founded the New York Herald in 1835. He “created” the interview and was the first journalist to question an American president.
Bennett was accused of creating the “gutter press” by, for example, offering rewards to any woman willing to catch a parson in flagrante delicto with someone else’s wife.
His son is best remembered for hiring Stanley to go off to Africa to find the missing explorer Dr Livingstone.
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