Democracy Has Prevailed.

July 9, 2014

Richard Mellon Scaife - An Obituary

I was out of town when I learned of his passing and this is the first chance I've had to write about it.

Every death is sad.  Every one.  This is an obvious axiom when the deceased is a good person as we will miss their warmth, humor, good deeds and so on but it's a little trickier when the deceased has done any sort of damage to us or anyone else.  Why would THAT death be sad?  It's sad for what could have been.  Given all the gifts of anyone's life, to spend that life harming others when it could have been helping them, well that's sad.

Isn't it?

I'll let you decide which sort or sad it is regarding the passing of Richard Mellon Scaife.

I never met the guy and so I have nothing to say of his passing personally.  From the obituaries I've read he was a good friend to his friends and to the people who knew him and loved him, I am sincerely sorry for your loss.

It's hardly surprising that his paper's obituary would be laudatory.  Nor should it be surprising that the P-G's obituary would be, well, less so.

In another memorial piece in the Trib, Frank Craig begins this way:
One measure of a life is what people say when it's over.
With that said we can't gloss over the damage he's done to our collective political process.

Let me begin with something no American Newspaper has deemed fit to put into their obituaries (as far as I can tell).  For that we have to turn to a British newspaper, The Guardian:
Then came his curious London adventure. His father had become an officer in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA, in second world war London, and Scaife maintained an interest in clandestine activities. In 1973 he bought Kern House Enterprises, a US firm that ran Forum World Features, a London-based supplier of articles to dozens of newspapers around the world.

However, in 1975 a CIA memo from seven years earlier came to light. It described Forum as a propaganda unit sponsored by the CIA to combat communism and to further conservative politics. Scaife quickly withdrew his money amid widespread unfavourable publicity about the syndicate.
I've written about Scaife's ownership of the Forum World Features here.  It's from the Washington Post in 1999, that we learn:
Scaife undertook one unusual media enterprise in his own name. In 1968, he agreed to replace John Hay Whitney, last owner of the New York Herald Tribune, as the head of the parent firm of Forum World Features, a London-based news agency that received subsidies and guidance from the CIA. The proprietor of Forum, Brian Crozier, has said he was introduced to Scaife by the CIA. Scaife has never spoken about this.
The Forum World Features was an interesting CIA construction - it was set up to look like a legitimate news organization (and some who worked there thought it was) but every now and then some CIA propaganda was slipped in.  At the time it was to tell positive Vietnam stories.  While Scaife certainly wasn't the first newspaper owner to skew the news in his own political direction, it's interesting to note that it was at about the same time that he owned Forum World Features that, as the New York Times reported:
In the 1970s, Mr. Scaife bought several newspapers, including The Tribune-Review in Greensburg, Pa., southeast of Pittsburgh. He spent lavishly to turn it into a metropolitan newspaper marketed as The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette remained the city’s dominant newspaper, but Mr. Scaife cared primarily about winning readers over to his conservative views.
I'm not saying that the Trib is a CIA front but at the very least, it's an interesting coincidence that at about the time that Scaife's Forum World Features was surreptitiously injecting pro-Vietnam "news" into our media mainstream he gets the idea to purchase what became the Trib for similar conservative "news" stories.

And from the Trib we got the Arkansas Project (do I really need to go into how incorrect that project turned out to be?) and Christopher Ruddy's "reporting" on Vince Foster:
On the off chance that you haven't followed every twist and turn of the case, there are two ways to reassure yourself that former Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster killed himself in Fort Marcy Park. One is to read Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's just-released report on the subject--a briskly efficient 114-page document that makes an already overwhelming case for suicide about as close to airtight as you can get. The other is to read Christopher Ruddy's new book, The Strange Death of Vincent Foster. Ruddy, of course, is the Inspector Clouseau of the Foster case--a determined, if bumbling, former New York Post reporter who has virtually single-handedly spawned a cottage industry of conspiracy buffs dedicated to the proposition that a foul and monstrous cover-up surrounds the circumstances of Foster's death.

Financed by a cranky right-wing philanthropist, Richard Mellon Scaife, Ruddy's repeated bromides about the Foster case have been republished in newspaper ads across the country; his sheer persistence has led some casual observers to conclude he might be on to something. The Strange Death, published by The Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, is endorsed as "serious and compelling" by former FBI Director William Sessions. In the New York Times Book Review, National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser chides political journalists for failing to pursue Ruddy's many "unanswered questions" about the case. the controversy!  Where there's smoke, there's fire!  There has to be something there or else there wouldn't be so many "unanswered questions" so why aren't you reporting on it?  Remember those arguments?

Then there's The Trib's repeated use of Scaife funded think tanks to legitimize his conservative talking points - all while failing to mention his funding and support of those think tanks.  Like this straight news story.  Or this column by Colin McNickel.

If there's a reason for the sorry state of our current media machinery at least part of the blame goes to the man who just passed away from cancer.  In an institution that should be focusing on informing the public about the world around it as reliably and as credibly as possible, Richard Mellon Scaife used his vast wealth to skew the reporting of the facts to support his own politics - so much so that he gave us the "news" a few decades ago that Vince Foster was murdered, and far more recently that climate science is a hoax.

How much damage was done to the body politic from that?

Yes, I am sad Richard Mellon Scaife the man has passed away.  But we can't forget the damage he did, either.

No comments: