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Citizen Kane

February 7th, 2012 · No Comments

Lauren Bowie, Sam Foster, Becca Sears, Nick Farr
Citizen Kane (1941)
Dir. Orson Welles
8 February, 2012 

Citizen Kane: Destruction and Construction by the Media

Produced by Orson Welles in 1941, Citizen Kane is considered one of the greatest American films to be created.  In the film, Charles Foster Kane was taken from his mother at a very young age so he could become a rich man in a big city.  From his guardian, Walter P. Thatcher, Kane was taught that money and material possessions were the most important. Through his travels in life, he becomes a self-destructive individual who only cares for those who love him.  He gives the public what they want, stating in the film “We have no secrets from our readers” (as cited in Citizen Kane). In reality, Kane creates a product that he wants to distribute with information he wishes the audience to read. We see a serious progression in Kane’s character as he slowly spirals downward toward rock bottom.  In one of the many dinner scenes, Kane and his wife, Emily, begin to argue about the newspaper and what information is being distributed.

Emily: People will think…

Charles: …What I tell them to think (as cited in Citizen Kane).

We can relate this simple quote to how the media projects their influences onto us through different modes of communication.

There are distinctive parallels between the lives of Kane, the fictional magnate, and William Randall Hearst, the real newspaper scion.  Sarah Street (1996) notes that Kane and Hearst both operated newspaper empires, engaged in yellow journalism – distorting the facts of stories, encouraged the U.S. to go to war with Spain in 1898, and died alone in isolated mansions (49). Yellow journalism can be defined as a type of journalism that presents little or no legitimate well-researched news.  Instead, yellow journalism uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers and make a greater profit.  Techniques of this can include exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering or sensationalism (  The term was first coined during the newspaper wars between Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II (Yellow Journalism).  The similarities must have been intentional and purposeful.

Both Kane and Hearst were practitioners of yellow journalism.  At the beginning of the film, Kane promised to establish a newspaper that would “tell all the news honestly” (Citizen Kane, 1941).  Instead, Kane engaged in yellow journalism by printing newspaper articles praising the opera singing abilities of his mistress and wife, Susan Kane, even though she was terrible.  And, in a demonstration of political manipulation, Kane noted that his newspaper, the Inquirer, had already declared war on Spain (Citizen Kane, 1941), an act that reflected Hearst’s actions. Hearst, upset, recognized the parallels between himself and Kane.  Thus, he took steps to stop the distribution of the film.  Street (1996) notes, “The fact that the studios were worried about Hearst’s threatened anti-movie reprisals is testament to the pervasive power of the press in terms of advertising new film releases” (52).  As a result of the controversy with Hearst, RKO withdrew the film from distribution.  It wasn’t reissued until the 1950s (Street  52).

Citizen Kane illustrates the power that results from ownership of a major corporation and the accompanying greed.  At the end of the film, we learn that Kane’s life revolved around him and his wealth.  Susan slapped Kane and confronted him about his self-interested behavior.  After Kane died, appraisers greedily estimated the value of his possessions and then burned those possessions with little apparent value.  His Rosebud sled was one of the “no value” possessions that was burned (Citizen Kane).  Yet, it was a symbol of Kane’s more innocent life before his rise to power, a possession that was most prized by Kane.  Stanley J. Baran notes that critics of conglomeration predict that newspapers will die. As a result of the inherent conflict between profit and good news reporting, newspapers have been and continue to be more focused on making money as opposed to producing quality stories (Baran 103-104).

Citizen Kane reflected the 20th century conflict between greed and morality, a conflict that has been heightened today by the continuing consolidation of news and media companies under the umbrella of huge corporations.  We see in this film that Charles Kane had an enormous impact on the public and on the newspaper industry as a whole. Today, audiences are still being targeted by larger media groups projecting their ideals upon us.  In order to become fully aware of these conglomerations and their impact on our society and culture, it is important that we understand that media literacy is a fundamental skill for our generation and for those to come.

Important Quotes

  1. “If I hadn’t been rich, I might have been a really great man…I think I did pretty well under the circumstances.” (Kane to Bernstein)
  2. Emily: People will think…Charles:… what I tell them to think
  3. “You talk about the people as if you own them. As if they belong to you.… you just want to persuade people so much that you love them so they love you back” (Susan to Kane)
  4. “The news goes on for 24 hours a day” (Kane)
  5. “That’s all he ever wanted out of life… was love. That’s the tragedy of Charles Foster Kane. You see, he just didn’t have any to give.” (Leland)

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is the character, Charles Kane, created by Orson Welles, an appropriate or accurate portrayal of a media mogul of the time?
  2. According to this film, journalism was a major contributor in influencing societal views and shaping public knowledge. It is portrayed as an important institution in the construction of the culture at that time. Can we say, then, that journalism was to this time period what television and mass media/communication are to our current generation?  How can we draw parallels between yellow journalism and media during the time of the production of Citizen Kane and the media that effects us today?
  3. Propaganda can be seen all throughout history, even dating back to Martin Luther and his 95 theses. Much of Citizen Kane reflects the importance of media in the distribution of such information. Where do we see propaganda today? How is it used and by whom?
  4. Orson Welles’ film reflects a time when newspaper and print journalism were in high demand and were the main source of information for the people.  Now, our generations are much more dependent on web journalism and other Internet sources.  Are print newspapers dying? How does the decline of the newspaper impact us today? What are the implications of the increased digitization of content and the ability to get information instantly?

Works Cited

Baran, Stanley J.  (2010). Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture.     New York:  McGraw Hill.

Street, Sarah. “Citizen Kane.” History Today 46.3 (1996): 48. Academic Search Complete.        Web. 7 Feb. 2012.

“Yellow Journalism.” The Interactive Media Lab at the University of Florida. Web. 07 Feb. 2012. <>.



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