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.

  • terry_freeman

    The T-R often gave space to my libertarian letters and op-eds, even when I disagreed with the editors. I often wished that they were more like me, but they were not afraid to give space to differing viewpoints.

  • DavidRHenderson

    I think both obits were way better than the NY Times’s passive-aggressive hatchet job.

    • http://thestagblog.com/ Lucy

      That’s not terribly surprising.

  • Brian O’Leary

    “Or in a movie.” And how many heroin-meth cocktails would one consume to be persuaded to watch a biopic of Richard Mellon Scaife?