Saturday, July 12, 2014

The real legacy of Richard Mellon Scaife

One might say that I owe my journalism career to Richard Mellon Scaife.

In 1996, as a media communications major at the University of Pittsburgh and when I was applying for an internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I had placed in my portfolio a column from The Pitt News referring to a "right-wing conspiracy" against President Clinton that pointed to heavy involvement from Scaife, publisher of the competing Tribune-Review.

While I was at work the internship coordinator, noticing whom I had written about and where I was applying, left a message on my answering machine saying, “Make sure they see that.”

Why?, I thought, because to me it was simply a good story; I didn’t find out until I got to the PG why it was such a big deal -- I came to realize that we were his number-one target. (I did get the internship that summer, was hired on full-time the following February and still work there today.)

Scaife passed away July 4, the day after his 82nd birthday, after releasing a statement some weeks earlier that he had inoperable cancer. And his legacy, especially for us in Pittsburgh, will be the partisan divide we see in this country today, not just the newspaper war.

Remember that “Vince-Foster-may-have-been-murdered” non-story of the mid-1990s? Well, Scaife had hired Christopher Ruddy, canned by the New York Post and now editor of Newsmax, to try to dig up something, but the stories were exposed by CBS’s “60 Minutes” as an elaborate hoax. In my investigation, I also learned from The Wall Street Journal that Scaife, worth over a billion dollars, was also funding a large network of conservative think-tanks and media as part of an elaborate machine that gave the impression of a groundswell of conservatism but in fact represented in this case an attempt to overturn an election.

So when, right before Clinton was impeached, his wife Hillary complained about a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” I knew she was telling the truth.

It finally hit me just how low some people were willing to go to get their way.

If you wonder why I argue with people so much about politics, especially when they quote partisan sources to support their opinions, this is the reason. I know for a fact that such sources are suspect and millions of dollars, many of them Scaife's, have been spent over the past 40 or so years on propaganda. I also know that the political left doesn't have that kind of organization, so when folks insist that it's "both sides" I tell them that they don't know what they're talking about.

It particularly bothers me that so many Christians read the Trib, especially considering his actual stances on issues that Christians find important, because the paper's editorial page is considered conservative (really, hard-core libertarian). Scaife was a financial supporter of Planned Parenthood and was in fact pro-choice on abortion (the national Republican Party vainly pleaded with him to change his position); indeed, he even wrote an op-ed in favor of government funding of PP. On top of that, his second wife was a paramour during his first marriage and, a couple of years ago, he came out in favor of "open marriage."

On top of that, if you do read that paper, did you notice that it contains no liberal opinion? I would want a give-and-take on the issues of the day.

I'm not happy that Scaife is now dead; after he released that statement about his condition I actually prayed for his salvation, which would have meant repentance; I would have loved to have seen him walk away from his former life à la Charles Colson. We will know only in the judgment were Scaife's soul ended up, but I have my suspicions.

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