For a decade straddling the turn of the twentieth century, Mark Hanna was one of the most famous men in America. Portrayed as the puppet master controlling the weak-willed William McKinley, Hanna was loved by most Republicans and reviled by Democrats, in large part because of the way he was portrayed by the media of the day. Newspapers and other media outlets that supported McKinley reported positively about Hanna, but those sympathetic to William Jennings Bryan, the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 1896 and 1900, attacked Hanna far more aggressively than they attacked McKinley himself. Their portrayal of Hanna was wrong, but powerful, and this negative image of him survives to this day.
In this study of Mark Hanna’s career in presidential politics, William T. Horner demonstrates the flaws inherent in the ways the news media cover politics. He deconstructs the myths that surround Hanna and demonstrates the dangerous and long-lasting effect that inaccurate reporting can have on our understanding of politics. When Karl Rove emerged as the political adviser to George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns, the reporters quickly began to compare Rove to Hanna even a century after Hanna’s death. The two men played vastly different roles for the presidents they served, but modern reporters consistently described Rove as the second coming of Mark Hanna, another political Svengali.
Ohio’s Kingmaker is the story of a fascinating character in American politics and serves to remind us of the power of (mis)perceptions.