What the Obituarists Never Said About Dick Scaife

Posted: Jul 10, 2014 12:01 AM
What the Obituarists Never Said About Dick Scaife

WASHINGTON -- On the day after his 82nd birthday, on Independence Day to be precise, a giant passed away, Richard Scaife. The man had style. He departed decorously as the nation was happily celebrating its 238th birthday. His sense of style has not been often mentioned in the obituaries, nor have his wit and engaging warmth.

His philanthropy has been mentioned, though it is often his political philanthropy, not his cultural philanthropy. Dick came from a long line of philanthropists, dating back to his grand uncle, President Calvin Coolidge's secretary of the treasury Andrew Mellon. Dick generously supported medical research, various educational institutions, the National Gallery, a slew of Pittsburgh-based museums, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Toward the end of his life, he donated to the Clinton Foundation and had a friendly meeting with Bill Clinton. He admired the president's charitable work with the Clinton Foundation, and I have always believed he wanted to encourage Bill's good side.

I think Dick would have wanted his cultural, educational and medical philanthropy to be stressed in any obituary before his political and public policy philanthropy. I have known him for over 40 years, and in all that time I have never heard a rude word uttered by him on politics or otherwise. He was a gentleman. In 1998, owing to a series of articles that The American Spectator and his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review published, he was hailed before a grand jury in Fort Smith, Arkansas, another point ignored by the obituarists. The Wall Street Journal described his ordeal as exercising his First Amendment rights. "Committing journalism is not a crime," it added. At any rate, the assembled Arkansans all marveled at Dick's good nature and charm. He was the patrician gentleman.

The articles he was called down to Arkansas over were crudely referred to as "The Arkansas Project," a joke in our office, but a joke taken seriously by the mainstream media. It suggested dark deeds. The Justice Department and other arms of the federal government almost put The American Spectator out of business in their ensuing investigations, but they never found us guilty of anything. Moreover, the government's special counsel reviewed "The Arkansas Project," and the harassment of us, and concluded that the accusations were "unsubstantiated or, in some cases, untrue." That is exoneration that the Clintons have rarely enjoyed.

While Dick was appearing in Arkansas, I was appearing before an investigation in Washington. "The Arkansas Project" was described in Dick's obituaries as a project to "to find evidence of financial and personal misdeeds by the Clintons," according to the Washington Post, and "were aimed at discrediting the Clintons," according to the New York Times. Actually the articles were an attempt to improve investigative journalism at the magazine. They were initially labeled the project for "Expanded Editorial and Reporting." The project was much like projects run at PBS's "Frontline." The reason they came to center on the Clintons was that the Clintons' and their associates' corrupt practices came to be the most important news stories of the 1990s. Our stories have never been proven wrong. The Spectator was the most prominent source, but other stories appeared in the Times (for instance, Whitewater revelations and the Clintons' years of fraudulent bank loans) and the Post (revelations of campaign violations, especially donations from the Asia). As for our greatest coup, Troopergate, the Los Angeles Times came forward with a corroborating story about the troopers within days. Why are these great American dailies not included in the dark murmurings about the "The Arkansas Project"?

Decades ago Dick Scaife's vision of politics in America prefigured the entire conservative movement that was to come. He and his aides, Dan McMichael and Dick Larry, recognized that a political movement needed a communications network. So he founded or assisted in founding newspapers and magazines. It needed think tanks to augment the principles of the movement with ideas and policies. It needed a professoriate so he funded chairs all over the country. Finally, it needed political leaders. Along with Lynde and Harry Bradley, Joe Coors, Bill Simon,and John M. Olin, the conservative movement was created. It has changed American history for the better.

I communicated with Dick almost to the end. He was a friend to me and to America. Our vow is to continue his work.