Pulitzer's Pain

Banished from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a decade ago, Joseph Pulitzer IV lives in self-imposed exile in Wyoming. What went wrong?

In September of 1978, after seven years of marriage, Joe and Lynne divorced. His father and stepmother, Emily Pulitzer, took Lynne's side throughout the tumultuous split.

"They were horrified by the affair," recalls a family friend. "It was viewed as simply not proper and reflected poorly on the family. It was then that I think Joe's relationship with his father and stepmother seemed to really go off the road."

Joe and Jennifer married in 1982 when she was pregnant with their son, Joseph Pulitzer V, now 22 and an undergraduate at Colorado University in Boulder. Their eighteen-year-old daughter, Elinor, lives with Jennifer in Big Horn.

Joe Pulitzer IV in 1989
Wm. Stage
Joe Pulitzer IV in 1989
Line of succession: (left to right) Joseph Pulitzer I 
through III
Line of succession: (left to right) Joseph Pulitzer I through III


This is part one of a two-part special report. Click to read part two, "Pulitzer's Gain."

Though husband and wife for sixteen years, Joe and Jennifer were always a bit of an odd match, friends recall. Joe's vast family wealth afforded him the opportunity to portray himself as a sort-of hippie. Jennifer, on the other hand, was a full-fledged free spirit, living on a commune, working as a welfare caseworker and dabbling as an artist. Today she spends her time reintroducing native plants to Wyoming.

The couple's early years in St. Louis were happy times, say friends, even if Joe's father and stepmother never fully accepted the relationship.

Back at the Post, Joe went on to serve as a capital correspondent in the Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., bureaus; later, in the early 1980s, he became a news editor and editorial writer.

"He was an OK reporter," says his former editor Harry Levins. "He definitely wasn't the best writer, but I don't think anyone in the Pulitzer family was. They could run newspapers but weren't spectacular writers."

The highlight of Joe's newsroom career came in 1982, when he embarked on a seven-week tour of Africa with Post photographer Larry Williams. Joe's stories on the refugee crisis in the nations of Somalia, Chad and the Sudan won him honorable mention from the Overseas Press Club.

The first story, carrying a dateline from Qoryoley, Somalia, and titled "2 Million Homeless: An African Tragedy," began: "It was after the third night of artillery barrage that Mohammed Amin Nur decided to flee from his hometown of Dagahbur in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

"Ethiopian soldiers, backed by Soviet advisers, were advancing steadily on the town, reclaiming with a vengeance the desert territory they had yielded a year earlier to the surprise blitz of the Somali National Army. Nur's clansmen and friends from the outlying villages, fleeing before the advance, had told him of the ghastly destruction and pillage."

Ex-wife Jennifer says reporting was Joe's true passion. "I think it was genetic," she says. "It was in his blood. He loved reporting."

But if Joe were to take charge of the paper, he needed to learn the business side of the company. In 1984 he was promoted to an administrative role as the Post's marketing manager, and two years later he became vice president for administration, responsible for marketing, promotion, purchasing and specialty publications. From the outset, though, Joe's reputation as an executive was marred by ineptitude, according to sources at the newspaper.

Reporting conformed to Joe's nocturnal instincts. Until 1984 the Post was an afternoon paper and copy was filed late at night or early in the morning. Accustomed to staying up until 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. and rising around 11 or noon, Joe struggled to adjust to a managerial nine-to-five schedule.

"He was simply unable to do the job necessary to run the paper," says a former Post employee. "He was given the same training as his father working his way up the ranks, and he demonstrated at every level that he didn't have what it took."

Eliot Porter recalls one of Joe's first administrative blunders, when he ordered that the paper's telephone credit cards be canceled.

"After Joe saw the enormous telephone bills these cards were generating, he canceled them, without so much as a moment's notice," Porter remembers. "There was one guy, a sportswriter out covering a game somewhere, who found out he couldn't reach the office because his credit card was canceled.

"He finally called in from the hotel and asked what the hell was going on. No one seemed to know, and it led to an investigation. A few days later an executive came round the newsroom and passed out new cards to everyone. It was absolutely deadpan. No questions. No smiles. No nothing. Word later trickled down that it was Joe IV who canceled the cards."

It wasn't long before his father placed limits on his son's power.

"He was in charge of doling out office space, managing the security guards and the parking lot. Essentially a big title and little authority," explains a Post employee who worked with Joe. "He was clearly being prevented in getting what he thought was his rightful [inheritance]: control of the paper."

Joe's defenders argue that he was never given the same guidance and tutelage as his dad received. Soon after Joseph III joined the paper in 1936, he was copied on all internal memoranda issued by his father, Joseph Pulitzer II. These notes served as an owner's manual for Pulitzer III, who had access to the memos for nearly twenty years before his father's death. Looking back on his own tenure as editor and publisher, Joseph III told biographer Daniel Pfaff that the memos were the most integral part of his training.

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