How Richard Scaife Outdid Warren Buffet and Bill Gates

Keith Naughton Public Affairs Consultant
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Much has been made of the “Giving Pledge” spearheaded by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates where Buffet, Gates and their fellow multibillionaires have promised to give away at least half of their wealth to charity. While that is all fine and good, perhaps Messrs. Buffet and Gates should take the Richard Scaife Pledge: give all of it away.

The publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and contributor to a cornucopia of charitable efforts, Richard Scaife passed away earlier this month after a long bout with cancer. Scaife never signed on to the Giving Pledge and thus never received the fawning media tributes the signatories have been accorded. Instead Scaife simply did what the Giving Pledge crowd has promised to do – and more. All of his assets are being given away. Even the furniture, rugs and dishes are to be sold off.

According to press reports, Scaife’s assets are to be divided among family foundations, and cultural institutions. An extensive art collection is to be split among two prominent Pennsylvania museums. The family grounds in the Allegheny Mountains have been left to a highly regarded conservancy, along with a financial bequest.

Notable is what Scaife did not do. He did not establish an eponymous foundation, creating duplicative efforts. He did not ask that anything be renamed for himself. His dogs are not the beneficiaries of some absurd Leona Helmsley-like trust, rather the executors are simply instructed to place them with individuals who will care for them. His children are apparently not beneficiaries of the estate, as Scaife explained in the will that they have already been provided for.

(Note: The Philadelphia Inquirer and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette filed court petitions to view Scaife’s will. Responding in court, Scaife’s personal lawyer offered no objection and replied offhandedly that the estate never asked that the will be private. If only liberal hero President Obama was as open with our government’s public records.)

Naturally, the media are disinterested in offering Scaife any credit, as his past and current charity has sent far too much to the “wrong” people. After all, funding the development and promotion of conservative and libertarian thought is simply an unforgivable sin. Never mind that when Scaife began to seriously fund such organizations as Cato, Heritage, and the American Enterprise Institute, American political thought had ossified into a predictable left-of-center talking shop where the only question was how much bigger government should get.

Scaife’s funds helped reinvigorate debate in American political life. Tired old orthodoxies were fundamentally questioned. Ideas became important again. But the left is not really interested in debate. After all, serious debate exposes the muddy foundation upon which modern liberalism is based. But, don’t take my word for it, facts are facts. The march of government was blunted. Cutting taxes, privatization and market-based solutions became mainstream. Before Scaife, the default public policy positions were automatic tax hikes and government policy solely through the federal bureaucracy.

Scaife’s political work grabs the headlines, but he was just as active working to help his hometown. The liberal intelligentsia and the media bemoan the disappearance of the newspaper and lack of competition in urban markets. Yet, while they complain and liberal icons like Arianna Huffington contribute to their demise, Scaife actually did something about it. When the Pittsburgh Press folded in 1992 (leaving the Post-Gazette as the only newspaper in Pittsburgh), Scaife expended significant sums turning the Tribune-Review into a major daily newspaper making the Pittsburgh market one of the few in the country with vigorous competition. And the paper is not a conservative broadsheet with a sports page. It is a straight journalistic enterprise — the conservatism is reserved for the editorial page. Warren Buffet is lauded in liberal circles for propping up papers in Omaha and Buffalo. Unlike Scaife, however, Berkshire Hathaway owns monopolies – Scaife rescued competition (and did it with his own money, not shareholder funds).

Scaife was a prime mover in one of the first urban redevelopment projects that broke from the traditional mold of urban redevelopment: indiscriminate demolition followed by bland, modernist concrete. Pittsburgh’s Station Square development preserved not only the original buildings (reconstructed into office, retail and entertainment facilities), but also kept industrial artifacts for the public to view. This multimillion dollar development has created thousands of jobs and has paid millions in local taxes.

No need to review the unsurprisingly vile comments from the vicious left.  But more mainstream outlets beat a tired, partisan drum. Dylan Byers in Politico fired a shot at conservatives for not acknowledging Scaife’s contributions to Planned Parenthood. Yet Byers declined to point out the hypocrisy of liberals ignoring Scaife’s opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The Washington Post headline referred to Scaife’s political efforts as “anti-liberal.” A review of the research of such Scaife-funded groups as Cato, Heritage and American Enterprise would show conclusively that theirs is primarily a positive project, seeking non-authoritarian solutions to public policy problems. Scaife overwhelmingly worked for things, less so against things.

The New York Times’ Robert McFadden offered a predictably boorish obituary.

In a typically snarky comment, McFadden wrote, “But unlike his forebears, who were primarily benefactors of museums, public art collections, education and medicine, he gave hundreds of millions of dollars to promote conservative political causes.” Perhaps if Scaife had thrown away $150 million at Cory Booker’s behest, like Mark Zuckerberg did in Newark, McFadden would have been more impressed. Note also the use of the word “causes” – rather than the truly accurate term, ideas.

McFadden throws a few crumbs to objectivity, but really just contradicts himself when he later writes, “He also gave to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, the Carnegie Institute, the National Gallery of Art, other museums, hospitals, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Planned Parenthood.” Makes you wonder if the Times still employs editors.

Particularly gratuitous is the comment, “Friends called him intuitive but not intellectual. He told Vanity Fair his favorite TV show was ‘The Simpsons’ …” Intuitive, but not intellectual? That’s an odd observation. And, if I might interject, “The Simpsons” is regarded as entertaining by millions of Americans, including some PhDs. But, what can you expect from a man who does not do his own investigating, but is a “rewrite man” who just takes information from other reporters, inserts his own biases and calls it news.

Buffet, Gates and the Giving Pledge participants are to be congratulated for their efforts. But it is worth noting that Richard Scaife has run ahead of all of them. Perhaps if the liberal media was not determined to get one last shot at Scaife publicizing his complete and total generosity might lead to a greater commitment by the Giving Pledge participants.

The final generosity of Richard Scaife is the best rejoinder to his critics, not that such things mattered to Scaife. His personal attorney stated, “In the nearly four decades that I have represented Dick, the public perception of this complex man and his true self were never really in sync,” [H. Yale] Gutnick said. “That bothered me, but not Scaife, who didn’t care what others thought of him.”

For Scaife, actions and the courage of one’s convictions mattered – no matter their transient popularity (or unpopularity). Here are two excellent and straightforward obituaries of Richard Scaife, from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and the rival Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.