From the monthly archives: "July 2014"

Richard Scaife — the billionaire owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who died July 4 — was a complicated and interesting man, politically, personally and philanthropically.

If he had been a Democrat and liberal-funder of nutty leftwing causes like Teresa Heinz, instead of a Republican funder of libertarian conservative think tanks, media and politicians, President Obama would have ordered America’s flags to fly at half mast.

If you want two versions of Richard Scaife’s amazing life — and a textbook lesson in the rank subjectivity of newspapers — compare and contrast the obits written by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Trib:

The PG obit:  Obituary: Richard M. Scaife / Ideologue, philanthropist, newspaper publisher

The Trib obit:  Richard Scaife, conservative champion, newsman & philanthropist, dies 

Decide for yourself who Richard Scaife really was. Good luck.

I worked at both papers — the PG in the 1990s and the Trib in the 2000s. When I decided to defect from the PG to the Trib, the first person I met for an interview was Richard Scaife. I worked my way down the chain of command and, after two years of interviews and dogged persistence on my part, I left the PG one Monday morning, crossed the Allegheny River and began work at the Trib 20 minutes later.

The Trib‘s obit is biased in Scaife’s favor, clearly. It leaves out all of the real-and-imagined dirt, nastiness and controversy, political and personal, all of which is debatable and too complicated for this blog item. It’ll be in someone else’s book someday, not mine. Or in a movie.

But the Trib‘s obit, while spun with loving positivity, gives Scaife his full due as a generous and important man. It also contains lots of mini-eulogies from political big shots like Romney and Jeb Bush and Donald Rumsfeld.

For the next week Scaife will be beat up in the mainstream media for his conservative-libertarian politics.

Many creepy liberal pundits and partisans will dance on his grave because he so generously funded the post-Goldwater conservative movement and spent a couple million bucks in the 1990s attempting to bring down the Clintons, who, hilariously, became chummy with him once they were out of power.

Politics, politics, politics. The debate over whether Scaife was the Devil or an angel will, as usual, depend on what your politics are  and it will never die.

Bu what people of every partisan stripe should give Scaife great credit for was making Pittsburgh a competitive two-newspaper town.

Starting in 1993 as the Pittsburgh edition of Scaife’s Greensburg Tribune-Review, his heavily subsidized paper, the Pittsburgh Trib, improved the journalism of the area in countless ways.

Growing slowly, adding talent and steadily improving the quality of its journalism, the Trib applied a strict conservative-libertarian ideology to local, state and national news and politics.

The Trib became a valuable counterweight to the Post-Gazette, which was a union-loving, public-sector loving, liberal Democrat establishment paper that was too cozy for too long with the political and corporate power-brokers of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

The journalism of both papers — news and opinion — was biased to reflect their publishers’ views. But the Trib editorial page (very very much Scaife’s political voice and generally a source of embarrassment/shame for the liberals running the paper’s news side) was not a mindless Republican cheerleader or a right-wing echo chamber.

During the 2000s, when I worked there, The Trib‘s editorials and op-eds were highly critical of any Republican who was insufficiently conservative.

It never got the national credit it deserved, but the Trib, entirely because of Richard Scaife’s positions, editorialized against going to war in Iraq in 2003, wisely/bravely came out in favor of marijuana decriminalization five years ago, and was steadfastly pro-choice.

In 30-plus years of newspaper journalism at the L.A. Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Trib, I worked for and with a lot of good, smart people and a few miserable assholes.

Mr. Scaife, as I called him when he dropped by the office, was always as nice to me as my favorite uncle. He gave me raises, put me on the paper’s masthead as an associate editor and sent me notes of praise for my op-ed columns and feature stories.

Best of all, unlike my previous editors/publishers, he didn’t hold my radical libertarian politics against me. He appreciated them.

J. Steigerwald column for 7.05/06.14

I’m still proud to be an American.

Our soccer team losing to a team from a country that is 1/22 the size of Texas is no reason for any American to hang his or her head. We fought the good fight. The Americans played four games and won one.

They tell me that, in soccer, that’s pretty good.
The Soccernistas in the media would have you believe that the awe-inspiring 1-2-1 performance by our guys has already established soccer as America’s next big sport.
They don’t like to point out that “our guys” aren’t really ours the way, say, the US hockey team at the Winter Olympics was our guys.
The coach is from Germany. Five key players were born and raised in Germany. The German coach cut Landon Donovan, who (they tell me) is the best American player ever. Several other players are American only for the purpose of playing in the World Cup.
And that was no accident, apparently. The German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, started with a plan to make the American team as un-American as possible.

Here’s Sam Borden in the New York Times Magazine back in June:
“….Klinsmann believes that, if the United States is ever going to really succeed at a World Cup, a specific and significant change must occur within the team. That change does not necessarily have to do with how the Americans play; rather, it has to do with the American players being too American.”

How would that little piece of news had gone over with the huge crowds of American flag-waving people gathered in front of outdoor screens around the country?

We’ll know that soccer has really arrived as an American sport when there are enough kids who were born and raised in America to fill out a competitive national team’s roster.

Does it qualify as ironic that crowds, who were gathered more out of a sense of patriotism and the opportunity for a party than because of any real interest in the sport, were cheering for a team that didn’t want to be “too American?”

– Meanwhile, what could be more American than college football? Big changes could be coming to a college football program near you. The Ed O’Bannon class action anti-trust lawsuit wrapped up last week and it’s in the hands of U.S. District judge Claudia Wilkening. A decision, which will probably be appealed, will be coming down in a few weeks.

The suit would like to bar the NCAA from preventing college football players from profiting from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA’s defense was the same tired, old, phony story about maintaining amateur purity.

When the suit began, a sports attorney and former owner of a major professional sports franchise told me that he expected “a crater where the NCAA is now.” He said it would be the end of the NCAA as we know it.

I asked him, on the condition of keeping him anonymous, how he felt now that the case has been heard. He said, “ I haven’t followed the testimony closely enough to predict the outcome, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. (NCAA President) Emmert and his cohorts are like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the final scene where they fought off their pursuers not realizing there were scores more awaiting them.”

“The NCAA as we know it is dead. It’s just a matter of who and what, individually or collectively, delivers the kill shot”

“The big conferences will have complete authority and the NCAA will be figuring out how to fund the hundreds of millions of dollars of judgments against it that await.”

As much as I would like to see the NCAA disappear, because of one of the plaintiff’s main arguments, this will only make it easier for the NFL and NBA monopolies to use colleges as a free minor league system and will increase the number of unqualified “student” athletes.

The plaintiffs claim that because the top level NCAA schools are the only places where these athletes can sell their services, they suffer economic harm.

They should be able to sell their services where baseball and hockey players sell theirs – to professional teams who can develop them in the minor leagues.

– The headline on the Washington Post read: “Bryce Harper is still just 21 years old, but he needs to stop acting like he is 12.”
Harper, who plays for the Nationals, is having some trouble dealing with what comes with being his sport’s next super-duper star at a young age. He has complained about his spot in the batting order and publicly second-guessed his manager.

Makes you appreciate Sidney Crosby.

– The Penguins are grittier and tougher than they were last week. Check back in May to see if it matters.

Think of all the Major League Baseball Games that have been played in the last 110 years or so.

And consider consider that Rajai Davis of the Tigers did something last night that has only happened 27 times. He hit a grand slam home run to wipe out a three run deficit and end the game.

It’s called an ultimate grand slam.

Two Pirates have done it. And they did it within two months of each other.

Danny Kravitz in May of 1956 and Roberto Clemente in July of 1956.

Both happened in Forbes Field and I was there to see them. I was 7 years old.

Clemente’s was even more rare. It was inside the park. He’s the only player to do it. And it’s not possible for a game to have a more exciting ending.

Those are two of my earliest sports memories and the Clemente home run is the subject of the first chapter of my book.