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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.

approvedThe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a pitiful guest op-ed advertisement extolling the importance of young people signing up for ObamaCare on March 19.

Michael Maher of Dormont, PA,  a healthy young man of 27, told how he was saved from a life of certain blindness by the benefits of ObamaCare. He urged all young people like him to heed his tale and sign up for the Affordable Care Act by March 31.

The article’s provenance smells fishy (Maher should look for a career in newspaper editorial writing, if he really wrote it, or send a thank you card to the P-G editor who rewrote it for him).

The article also was cloudy on some of the facts that would have made Maher’s pitch a little less persuasive to those not working on behalf of the Obama administration.

Here’s the comment I lodged at PG online:

So let’s get this straight: A young man of 27 who’s smart enough to craft a perfectly written endorsement/testimonial for the Affordable Care Act was not smart enough to know that he should spend 70 bucks of his own money to have his own eyes checked?

He had to wait until the fabulous ACA came along and saved him from the possibility of a future of blindness? It’s great that he’s only paying 25 bucks a month for his government-subsidized health care; it’s great that his eyes were Ok.

It would have been helpful to have included the price of that “pricey” Optical Coherence Tomography/Nerve Fiber Analysis in his inspiring tale. It’s about $125. A latte a day at his coffee shop, no doubt.

I tried to find out if eye care for adults is covered by the ACA. It is for kids under 19. I’m not going to waste my time looking through the umpteen-thousand pages of the ACA to find out how or if healthy adults are covered.

But it looks like if you qualify for Medicaid, you can get someone else to pay for your eye care. Is our young man on Medicaid? I don’t know. That fact might spoil his testimonial.

What is that 111 dollar tax credit all about — who is paying Highmark for that each month? The state. The feds?

We’ve been told all the “good” things — all the benefits to the recipient — of virtually “free” or heavily subsidized health care. We’ve not heard about the costs.

Someone bears them, but it wasn’t our healthy young man with the suspiciously high op-ed writing skills.

And here’s what Mr. Maher is doing when he’s not writing phony plugs for the subsidized joys of ObamaCare — helping to sign up the Dormont folk for his man Obama’s Affordable Care Act….  

Organizing for Action

South Hills Get Out The Vote Meeting (Neighborhood Team Meeting)
Join us in Dormont as we talk about what’s going on in the campaign in the next two weeks, and how you can get involved in your neighborhood!
Time:
Host:
Michael Maher
Location:
South Hills Office (Pittsburgh, PA)
2895 West Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216