Communication Walter H. Annenberg
Kathleen Hall Jamieson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756841-0047


When he was nominated by President Richard Nixon to serve as US ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in 1969, a post he held until 1974, Walter H. Annenberg had won the 1951 Alfred I. Dupont Award for pioneering education through television, founded a graduate school dedicated to the study of communication, assembled an Impressionist and Postimpressionist art collection considered among the finer in the world, and made a fortune from media holdings, including Seventeen, TV Guide, the Daily Racing Form, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and sixteen radio and television stations in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and California, including WFIL in Philadelphia. Throughout his time as a magazine, newspaper, radio, television, and cable owner, Annenberg’s media shaped teen culture through Seventeen magazine and the televised after-school dance show American Bandstand. His TV Guide shaped the public’s understanding of the emerging medium of television, and on the editorial pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News Annenberg boosted the fortunes of mayoral and presidential candidates he favored while blasting those he opposed. In 1969 Annenberg sold the two Philadelphia papers to Knight Newspapers; in the following years he parted with his television and radio stations. Capital Cities Communications used that acquisition to help build what is now the ABC television network. For $3 billion in 1988 Annenberg sold TV Guide, Seventeen, and the Daily Racing Form to Rupert Murdoch’s News America Corporation. Using some of the proceeds to fund the Annenberg Foundation, the former ambassador to Great Britain devoted the rest of his life to making major gifts to culture and arts organizations, to colleges and universities, to the prep school from which he had graduated, and to projects designed to improve public schools. At the time of his death, the Annenberg Foundation had given away over a billion dollars. After Annenberg’s death, his widow, Leonore, assumed the reins of the Annenberg Foundation and the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands, a 501(c)3 fund they established just after the turn of the 21st century to support programming tied to their California estate, a modernist home that passed into the trust at her death in 2009. Across the Annenbergs’ lifetimes the Annenberg Foundation dispensed over $4.2 billion.


The three biographies differ in focus and scope. Whereas Cooney 1982 and Ogden 1999 situate Annenberg’s life in the context of that of his father, Moses Annenberg, Fonzi 1970 concentrates on the son’s time as editor and publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ogden 1999 is the definitive account of the lives of both father and son. Cooney 1982 is a less comprehensive work that provides an insightful account of the development of the Annenberg media empire. By contrast, the footnote-free volume Fonzi 1970 covers Annenberg’s life through to his nomination to the Court of St. James’s and, for aspects of Annenberg’s life other than his work as publisher of the Philadelphia Inquirer, relies heavily on unacknowledged secondary sources.

  • Cooney, John. 1982. The Annenbergs: The salvaging of a tainted dynasty. New York: Simon and Schuster.

    Tracing Walter Annenberg’s life through to the early days of 1980, when Leonore Annenberg was serving as President Ronald Reagan’s chief of protocol, Cooney’s work, whose first 169 pages focus on Moses Annenberg, is organized to advance a narrative of suffering and attempted redemption. This unauthorized biography is important for its interviews with Richard Nixon and with those who knew Walter Annenberg as a young man.

  • Fonzi, Gaeton. 1970. Annenberg: A biography of power. New York: Weybright and Talley.

    Covering Annenberg’s life from birth to the sale of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News to John S. Knight in October 1969, this unauthorized biography’s value is its detailed, albeit hostile and anonymously sourced, account of the failings of Annenberg’s Philadelphia Inquirer, including what Fonzi describes as Annenberg’s “vicious editorial campaigns” against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Milton Shapp.

  • Ogden, Christopher. 1999. Legacy: A biography of Moses and Walter Annenberg. Boston: Little Brown.

    Ogden mined court records, divorce files, and newspaper archives from across the country as well as the personal correspondence of Walter Annenberg and Moses Annenberg to create a nuanced view of the lives of the Annenbergs and a carefully detailed account of the media empire they created. Legacy was written with the cooperation of Walter Annenberg and Leonore Annenberg.

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