The following is an extract from the introduction of “A Paper Hummingbird: The Rise of GNN” by Glenn Greenwald.
Global News Network was founded in 1947 by Rufus P. Hedgepeth, a WWII bomber veteran turned millionaire textile magnate. Despite its beginnings as alternative weekly paper circulated in his native Roswell, New Mexico, the eternally optimistic, possibly clairvoyant Hedgepeth chose the name based on a dream that his little paper would survive ‘… long after I am dust, the news transmuted into a form that can reach around the world in the flicker of a paper hummingbird’s wing!’
Hedgepeth was haunted by what he had seen from his cockpit over the battlefields of Europe, and when the Korean War broke out in 1950, he despaired at the thought of the world plunging back into senseless slaughter. Hedgepeth equipped his luxury yacht the Intrepid with a long-range transmitter and set off from the east coast of America, planning to broadcast a message of peace to the peoples of the world as he traversed the globe, until he reached Korea itself. His transmissions abruptly ceased after only a week’s travel. His last known location was off the coast of Bermuda. The Intrepid, and Rufus P. Hedgepeth, were never heard from again.
Elizabeth Hedgepeth, who had suddenly inherited her father’s fortune, devoted her life to realising the dream of GNN. Elizabeth used her father’s millions to expand the regional paper’s reach to Washington and New York. The depth and clarity of Hedgepeth the younger’s laborious, once-a-week reporting won her admirers in business and political circles. By the mid-1950s, investors had allowed GNN to expand to a national paper and launch a radio wing. It combined hard-hitting investigative journalism with lighthearted segments devoted to ‘Listener Curiosities’, where callers discussed the aspects of the world they found most troubling or mysterious.
Hedgepeth was driven by two inspirations. The first was her father’s wartime friend and journalistic idol Edward R. Murrow, a man who changed America with his relentless crusade against Joseph McCarthy’s draconian politics, while still finding the time to host a 1951 radio special on “The Case for the Flying Saucers”. The second was the mysterious disappearance of her father, who til her dying day she insisted was still alive, merely lost in the section of the Atlantic that was first named by a GNN reporter in 1952 as the ‘Bermuda Triangle’.
This combination of political interrogation and open-minded heterodoxy became GNN’s hallmark. Hedgepeth’s pet ‘Unexplained Division’, which ran a page of the newspaper and produced a steady stream of programming for the radio and later television stations, won GNN a cult audience that treated it as somewhere between entertainment and gospel.
The X-Division, as it was called, became famous in the 1960s for its endorsement of outlandish explanations for everyday mysteries, no more so than when their pronouncements were occasionally proven correct. X-Division reporters were the first to unearth an FBI blackmail plot against Martin Luther King, pointed out the money trail between the CIA, the Ford Foundation, and the rise of Abstract Expressionism, and even won a Pulitzer – the only retrospective award in the institution’s history – for challenging the NSA account of the Gulf of Tonkin incident that launched America into the Vietnam War. (At the ceremony, CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer was overheard remarking that ‘even a stopped clock is right twice a century’.)
X-Division’s endearing and provocative content brought in the advertiser support GNN needed to make the leap to television in the 1970s. Through the following decades, GNN set itself apart from American rivals with its deliberately cosmopolitan approach, losing viewers at home, but gaining them with outreach initiatives GNN Pacific and GNN Europe.
GNN insiders refer to the late 80s and early 90s as ‘The Dark Decade’, when GNN was almost destroyed by two body blows: the death of Elizabeth Hedgepeth in 1987, and the concomitant rise of the 24-hour news cycle. The company was riven with factional squabbling that led to the demise of X-Division and the ascension of an unwieldy triumvirate of leaders representing Paper, Radio & TV. Without their guaranteed moneymaker of weird content, GNN’s new leaders turned to desperate measures, creating a despicable combination of yellow journalism and infotainment that persevered until the mid-90s.
Salvation came in the form of Marina Eindottir, an East German escapee who began in X-Division, worked her way up to newspaper editor in the mid-80s, and had languished forgotten for a decade. When the First Editorial Triumvirate collapsed in 1995, Eindottir stepped into the void and summarily fired the majority of GNN’s content creators. With the aid of technical wizard and Silicon Valley renegade Daniel Callif, Eindottir repositioned GNN at the crest of the coming digital tsunami.
As the 21st century dawned, GNN was the first media company to abandon outdated practices and embrace online news and satellite broadcasting. Under Eindottir’s guidance, the Hedgepeth family’s foundational principles of journalism became the old-world values that guided a new-world media empire – including a resurgent X-Division now purposed under ‘opinion content’.
It was only in 2020, with the abolition of North Korea’s media autarky, that GNN finally lived up to its name: an organization publishing and broadcasting in every country around the globe. Her vision achieved, Eindottir gracefully stepped down to allow a new trio of worldwide editors to take her place.
The Second Triumvirate stunned the world with their first move: the purchase of a decommissioned aircraft carrier and its transformation into GNN’s floating HQ, rechristened the Intrepid II. Originally the USS Oriskany, a veteran of the Korean War that Rufus P. Hedgepeth sailed to protest, the Intrepid II boasts a bleeding-edge geosynchronous satellite linkup and, as a parting gift from Eindottir and Callif, a spectacular electric blue paintjob that supposedly consumed the entire seasonal output of several Chinese paint manufacturers. It now forms the heart of GNN’s Broadcast Flotilla as it permanently travels through international waters. GNN can today boast to be independent of any one country or region: a truly global news network.