The obituaries for Richard Mellon Scaife last week were cartoonish at best.
Dick Scaife, who died July 4, was a much more complex figure than you would ever know as a casual reader of the so-called “mainstream media” – a euphemism I detest, because there is nothing mainstream about it.
I first got to know Scaife when he served as an influential board member of the Sacramento Union, where I served as editor in chief from 1990 through 1992. Though Scaife represented a minority interest in the paper at that time, he wielded considerable power because of a note he held on the impressive newspaper plant that occupied valuable real estate on the Capitol Mall just to the west of California’s capitol building. Scaife and his entourage would attend those board meetings several times a year and were never shy about expressing their opinions about the way the paper was being run.
Later, my relationship with Scaife continued as he supported a nonprofit group I founded called the Western Journalism Center. The two of us, and a small handful of others, became what Hillary Clinton would later label “the vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Though characterized in his obits as a “conservative,” it was never that simple with Scaife.
Did he believe in smaller government, fewer regulations and lower taxes? Yes, for the most part. But he was adamantly pro-abortion – even to the point of spending millions supporting Planned Parenthood.
Did he fund investigative reporting into scandals surrounding Bill and Hillary Clinton? Yes, he did. But left unmentioned in any of those reports was the fact that he made peace with Bill and Hillary Clinton in rather dramatic fashion later in his life.
Was he more conservative than the average media owner in America? Yes, but that is not saying much. The elite media are a cartel owned by self-interested people with few real convictions to contrast with the progressive activists who control the nation’s newsrooms.
Scaife also supported the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His Pittsburgh paper endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2008.
He stunned many in his own community of Pittsburgh by joining hands with Clinton, George Soros, Rep. Jack Murtha, Sen. John Kerry and other former political foes in anti-war activism. In an editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Scaife’s editorial writers pushed for an immediate pullout from Iraq and called President Bush “delusional.” The editorial went on to question Bush’s “mental stability.”
Scaife’s NewsMax, co-owned with Christopher Ruddy, who famously investigated the mysterious death of Clinton’s deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster and the strange death of Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, also began attacking the war in Iraq following Scaife’s personal metamorphosis.
Whatever caused the change in Scaife, it appeared infectious. In an interview with Bill Clinton published in NewsMax, Ruddy had nothing but kind words for the “new Bill Clinton”:
- “Interestingly, Clinton argues in ‘Giving’ that individuals, nonprofits, even churches, can work together to improve the health and living conditions of the world’s poor. This is certainly a laudable effort.”
- “Using his Clinton Foundation, the former president has sought to enlist private and corporate help in major global initiatives that tackle a range of concerns from AIDS to childhood obesity. The Clinton Global Initiative boasts more than 570 commitments worth an astounding $10 billion, involving more than 1,000 organizations and targeting 100 countries.”
- “There is no doubt Bill Clinton has broken the mold of what we expect from a former president.”
- “And there is also no question that in the past Bill Clinton has engendered considerable controversy. But there should be little disagreement today that he is doing exemplary work and is acting as a positive force for the United States.”
Scaife’s financial support of conservative causes dwindled dramatically in the 21st century.
What was lacking in Dick Scaife’s life was a moral rudder, a connection with transcendent values, a spiritual relationship with the Creator of the universe.
And that remains the problem with many so-called “conservatives” these days.
The modern conservative movement was built on a foundation of eternal values. Without that foundation, so-called conservatism is a shaky and amorphous ideology indeed.
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