Richard Mellon Scaife, the conservative publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and an heir to the Mellon banking fortune, announced Sunday that he is dying of terminal cancer.
"Nothing gives perspective to life so much as death. Recently, doctors told me I have an untreatable form of cancer," wrote Scaife, an 81-year-old billionaire who is owner of Trib Total Media
, a newspaper group representing more than two dozen daily and weekly Pennsylvania newspapers. Scaife, also a shareholder of Newsmax Media Inc., has been a leading figure in conservative and Republican circles for more than four decades.
"Some who dislike me may rejoice at this news," Scaife wrote, adding, "Naturally, I can't share their enthusiasm."
Scaife said that Sunday's column, published in the Tribune-Review, would be the first of a series of pieces about "my life, the city and region I call home, the country I love, and the many people I have known — especially those who are friends, or whose lives and achievements I respect."
The first piece announcing his illness focused not on politics or his life, but his love of newspapers.
"Over the decades, I supported many causes I consider worthwhile," he wrote. "Those include art museums, universities, think tanks, political campaigns, community redevelopment projects, and countless charities — some local, others national in scope.
"None has given me as great a sense of accomplishment as the newspapers of Trib Total Media," he continued. "I fell in love with newspapers as a boy, when my father brought me editions from around the country and abroad. The day I became a newspaper publisher, buying the Tribune-Review, remains one of the proudest, happiest moments of my life.
"I believed then — as I do now — that newspapers are essential to America, and to any free and prospering nation."
Scaife lamented that the decline in newspapers across the nation has undermined the public's ability to hold government accountable to the people.
The sudden announcement of his illness, published very early on Sunday morning and offering very few personal details, will likely send shock waves through conservative ranks.
Scaife, who has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to conservative causes dating back decades, has supported causes oftentimes in their initial stages, before they later gained widespread public support. For instance, his foundation was an early supporter of the idea of strategic missile defense. It was later embraced by President Ronald Reagan who, at the time, drew great criticism for doing so. But today, missile defense is considered a practical necessity for U.S. national security.
Scaife has also been an intimate of numerous presidents, starting with Richard Nixon. Scaife was the second largest donor to Nixon's 1972 campaign, donating close to $1 million for that effort.
After Watergate, Scaife felt betrayed by Nixon and broke with him. He turned his political activism away from campaigns to a rising group of conservative think tanks. They include the Heritage Foundation, which Scaife played a leading role in founding.
Scaife was also an early supporter of media and think-tank efforts critical of then-President Bill Clinton. But some years after Clinton left the White House, he grew close to the former president. His paper even endorsed his wife, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, for president in 2008 during the heated Pennsylvania Democratic primary.
But it is journalism, not politics, that by his own admission Sunday, is among the chief passions of his life.
"Newspapers are unique and invaluable: They provide the most substantive, trustworthy reporting from the most experienced, reliable writers and editors; they consistently break more of the important stories, investigate more of the critical issues, and expose more of the secrets that we need to know," Scaife wrote.
"Newspapers, more than any other medium, keep a watchful eye on government at all levels, on business and technology, medicine and science, and other aspects of our lives.
"Much of what you read or hear on blogs and other Internet sites, on TV and radio, originated in a newspaper. Many of those other media are useful — yet none consistently produces the quality and quantity of important news that you find daily in almost any American newspaper," he wrote.
"The decline of some of America's once-great newspapers in recent years has been profound and surprising," he concluded. "Yet I hope newspapers remain the strong guardians of our lives, the crucial source of critical information, that they have always been – because the health, security, freedom and well-being of our communities, our nation, and all of us individually, depend on them."
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