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?

A few months after stepping down in the spring of 1995, Joe and his family moved 1,200 miles west to Big Horn.

"It was good for him to get away from St. Louis and the Post," muses Jennifer. "His heart wasn't in it any longer."

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."

Wyoming Roads

Joe has grown heavy in recent years. Once the handsome, slim man with wavy black hair and an engaging smile, his 5-feet-11-inch body is now stooped with the weight of his 230- to 240-pound frame. One friend describes him as a "clinically obese" person who gets little or no exercise and continues to smoke unfiltered Camels. While he no longer drinks in excess -- having replaced bourbon with coffee -- Joe remains nocturnal, sleeping until noon and staying up most of the night.

Until their divorce in 1998, Jennifer and Joe kept separate residences on the fourteen-acre tract of land they purchased in Big Horn. Joe continues to live on the property, which boasts a swimming pool and two small farmhouses. The state of Wyoming does not disclose sale prices for real estate but currently appraises the property for tax purposes at $352,000.

For the past several years, Joe has spent much of his time in the San Francisco Bay area, where he rents the home of his eldest daughter, Elkhanah, who's attending graduate school in New York. It is in California, Joe tells friends, that he works as a consultant for the insurance agency, though no one -- not even his good friends -- has a clear sense of his job.

"There are probably a dozen guys who know him as well as I do," says a lifelong friend. "None of us could tell you exactly what he does."

To this day, Joe is guarded about his finances, but by all accounts he did not receive a substantial payout when he left the paper, and certainly not the millions of dollars that await current Pulitzer executives on completion of the Lee Enterprises acquisition.

Joe tells friends he holds about "0.001 percent" of the company's stock. Unlike other family members, he does not own enough shares for them to appear in Pulitzer Inc.'s filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Evidence of just how out of touch Joe is with the company's principal stockholder, Emily Pulitzer, came by way of a Post article that ran the day after the announced sale to Lee.

"The next generation [of Pulitzers] is not involved in the company," Emily told Post reporter Tim McLaughlin. "We felt by dealing with the issues that face newspapers today, which are very different than eleven years ago when I first joined the board, we could do a more responsible job than waiting and passing it on to the next generation."

In the newsroom, the irony of Emily's words did not escape the attention of several long-time Post employees, who still recall the impassioned language her late husband used when faced with a hostile takeover in 1986.

"I will not trade my heritage for a pot of gold," Pulitzer III said at the time.

Several of Joe's former colleagues at the Post believe he would have kept his father's promise, to greater or lesser success.

"[Joe] would have never sold the paper on his watch," says a seasoned Post employee. "He would have run it into the ground, but he'd never sell it."

Still, others wonder aloud why Joe did not make a better effort to connect with his father if he truly wanted to take over the company. Today as he cruises Wyoming's lonely mountain highways in a five-year-old Toyota pickup truck, Joe is more John Denver than Charles Foster Kane. And maybe that's the way it was always meant to be.

"I think Joe has always wanted to live a simple life, and I think he got his wish," says a St. Louis friend. "With the last name 'Pulitzer,' you're dragging a hell of a lot of history, and St. Louis is unforgiving in that way. St. Louis forces you to carry a façade. People expect that from old St. Louis families. If you don't fit in, it's difficult."

This is part one of a two-part story. Next week: "Pulitzer's Gain."

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