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Scaife's whims influenced stories in Tribune-Review, magazine says

Thursday, February 08, 2001

By Dennis B. Roddy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Tribune-Review Publisher Richard Mellon Scaife ordered editors to keep coverage involving the Pittsburgh Pirates off the front page and once dispatched a reporter to northern Pennsylvania to follow up a tip that the Russian military had invaded Allegheny National Forest, according to a report in an upcoming issue of Brill's Content magazine.

Former and current employees of the Tribune-Review told the magazine that, while deciding what stories to cover and what kind of prominence they would receive, editors routinely referred to people as an "FOP" or "EOP" -- in-house code for "friend of the publisher" and "enemy of the publisher."

Others told the magazine, which specializes in media criticism, that stories are routinely slanted to accommodate the publisher's conservative political biases, and that, in some articles, experts from organizations funded by Scaife are quoted without disclosing the publisher's connection to them.

 
   

Brills' Content

All the Views Fit to Print
By Kimberly Conniff


 
 

"As a reporter, I want to make a solid argument that my reporting is objective," the magazine quotes one unnamed reporter as saying. "I don't think I have the high moral ground to do that anymore."

The magazine also takes note of the Tribune-Review's circulation gains in the Pittsburgh market and says even local critics "acknowledge that some of the Tribune-Review's stories have had a positive impact." The magazine singles out the paper's recent series on Pittsburgh city finances and an earlier series of stories exposing problems in the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

The report, which reaches newsstands next week, says that unlike other newspaper publishers, "Scaife ... has spread his editorial influence over the entire product, from the news pages to the editorials to the lifestyle section. If some of Scaife's views weren't so enigmatic -- and others so extreme -- perhaps the results wouldn't be so remarkable."

Tribune-Review Editor Frank Craig did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment on the article. In an interview with Brill's, Craig insisted that Scaife has not interfered with news decisions.

The reporter assigned to investigate reports of Russian troops was Joe Mandak. Mandak yesterday confirmed the Brill's Content account and said he spent a day traveling in the state's northern counties, asking local residents about Russian troops being stationed in the forest and the troops' family members being assigned to jobs at area Wal-Marts.

"Everybody looked at me with a blank stare," Mandak said yesterday.

Mandak said editors made it clear the assignment had come from Scaife.

The magazine also quotes former Tribune-Review Editor David House, who said he was under orders to keep all mention of the Pirates off the newspaper's front page "because [Scaife] does not like [Pirates owner Kevin] McClatchy." Once, House told the magazine, he put on the front page a story that took a negative view of the team's financial outlook.

House said he quickly received a phone call from Scaife, who told him, "I don't think you get it. I don't want the Pirates on Page 1."

Another former Tribune-Review employee, Lynne Margolis, told the magazine she was discouraged from writing about U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Philadelphia, because he had voted against the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.

When Specter chaired a Senate subcommittee hearing on breast cancer four years ago, Margolis told the magazine, editors removed all reference to Specter from her story.

"They took out all the references to the guy that organized the hearing," Margolis told the magazine. "It's our job to be accurate and fair. But we're not being accurate if a major focal point of the story is missing."

Another regular target of Scaife's displeasure, according to staff members quoted in the story, is Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy.

"There's definitely a slant to all of the stories," the magazine quotes one former reporter as saying. "You don't embellish facts but take those parts that would be most unflattering to the administration and play those high."

House, the former editor, said Scaife "hates the mayor ... Murphy's fine on Page 1, as long as it's something awful about him."

Another former reporter, Tom Smithyman, said his editor greeted him with the joke: "What can we do to make the mayor's life miserable today?"

"A December 1998 story clearly exhibited that kind of thinking," writes Brill's Content staff writer Kimberly Conniff. "The article noted that the mayor 'has become a political pariah with a number of people in the Capitol' [in Harrisburg]. The piece included quotes from some of the mayor's critics. ['He is toast,' said one.] Another detractor quoted in the piece was 'longtime political consultant' Dennis Casey. The article failed to disclose that Casey, who died last year, had handled public relations for Scaife for decades."



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