Richard Mellon Scaife

and his lawsuit of treasures

Yesterday The Washington Post ran a long article detailing the marital and legal troubles of Richard Mellon Scaife, publisher of the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and funder of many right wing causes and media outlets.

The seventy five-year-old Scaife is caught in a messy divorce—with no pre-nup and an estimated $1.3 billion to divvy up, how could it be anything else?—involving an assault charge, a private eye, a prostitution arrest, a mysterious property purchase, dog-napping, and six $300 asparagus tongs.

Not typical CJR fodder. But luckily, our crack team has found not one, not two, but three excuses to bring this sordid tale to your attention!

First off, the story’s gritty details only came to light after someone accidentally posted a slew of relevant documents on a court Web site. A reporter at the Trib-Review’s far-larger rival paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, downloaded the documents and wrote a front page, 2,347 word piece. Scaife sued the competition, asking a court to treat the documents as stolen. Less than a week later, the judge ruled against Scaife. (A Post-Gazette write-up of the suit noted that the move was “unusual for the head of a news organization”, especially one that had so recently sought to unseal the estate records of Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who during the 2004 Democratic convention famously told a Trib-Review writer to “shove it.”)

Second, the lawsuit has revealed embarrassing, although not entirely unexpected, financial and circulation numbers at the Tribune-Review. While the Post-Gazette claims 212,075 weekday readers, documents in the case peg the Trib-Review at 52,453. That’s grim. But not as grim as the ledger books, which look so bad that “Ritchie” Scaife, Richard’s soon to be ex-wife, and her lawyers are arguing that the paper looses so much that under tax law, it should be classified as a hobby.

The Washington Post explains:

[T]he Tribune-Review has been a gurgling sinkhole from Day One; Scaife’s lawyers say their client has pumped as much as $312 million into it over the years. And he’s going to have to keep on pumping. The Tribune-Review’s CEO has predicted an annual shortfall of $20 million for years to come.

These figures matter in the divorce because Scaife is arguing that the funds he forwards to the Tribune-Review should be deducted from his aggregate income, putting his annual haul closer to $17 million a year, a long way from the $45 million a year cited by Ritchie’s lawyers. If true, that would of course reduce the monthly alimony check he could owe his wife once there’s a permanent settlement.

Not surprisingly, Ritchie Scaife’s attorneys have a different view. They say that Richard Scaife operates the Tribune-Review with so little concern for profit and loss that it’s more a hobby than a business.

And third, The Washington Post briefly mentioned an old, testy sidewalk-encounter between Scaife and a reporter he’d been trying to avoid. The Post, a family newspaper, wrote that he’d told her “she was ugly and that her mother was ugly, too.” Well, as blogger Jonathan Schwartz (who, it should be said, has admirable knowledge of the CJR archives) points out, that reporter was Karen Rothmyer writing for this magazine in 1981. And there’s a fuller, more colorful version:

At the bottom of the stairs, the following exchange occurred:

“Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much money to the New Right?”

“You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here.”

Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion regarding his questioner’s personal appearance - he said she was ugly and that her teeth were “terrible” - and also the comment that she was engaged in “hatchet journalism.” His questioner thanked Scaife for his time. “Don’t look behind you,” Scaife offered by way of a goodbye.

Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother, whom she had arranged to meet nearby. “She’s ugly, too,” Scaife said, and strode off.


Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.