Friday 21 November 2014

Billionaire publisher Scaife dies

Published 04/07/2014 | 13:52

Billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife has died (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
Billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife has died (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

Richard Mellon Scaife, the billionaire heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune and newspaper publisher, has died aged 82.

Scaife died at his home, his newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, reported.

Scaife's death comes less than two months after he announced in a first-person, front-page story in his Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he had an untreatable form of cancer.

"Some who dislike me may rejoice at the news," wrote Scaife, who acknowledged making political and other enemies. "Naturally, I can't share their enthusiasm."

He was the grand-nephew of Andrew Mellon, a banker and secretary of the Treasury who was involved with some of the biggest industrial companies of the early 20th century. Forbes magazine estimated Scaife's net worth in 2013 at 1.4 billion US dollars.

The intensely private Scaife became widely known in the 1990s when first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said her husband was being attacked by a "vast right-wing conspiracy". The White House and other supporters suggested Scaife was playing a central role in the attack.

Several foundations controlled by Scaife gave millions of dollars to organisations run by critics of Clinton, including 1.7 million for a project at the conservative American Spectator magazine to dig up information about his role in the Whitewater real estate scandal.

Scaife rarely gave interviews, but in a sit-down with George magazine editor John F Kennedy Junior in 1998, he called president Clinton "an embarrassment."

In the interview, Scaife denied that his money helped support an effort to hurt the president, but he suggested Clinton might be linked to the deaths of dozens of administration officials and associates, including White House deputy counsel Vince Foster and one time commerce secretary Ron Brown. Foster's death was determined to be a suicide; Brown died in a plane crash.

Scaife also accused Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel whose investigation led to Clinton's impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, to be a "mole working for the Democrats".

Scaife's stance toward the Clintons softened years later. In an interview published in early 2008, he told Vanity Fair magazine he and the former president had a "very pleasant" lunch the previous summer, and "I never met such a charismatic man in my whole life".

Clinton gave Scaife an autographed copy of his book, and Scaife said he later sent 100,000 US dollars to the Clinton Global Initiative.

Scaife's newspaper also endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton's bid for president in 2008.

Despite funding many causes dear to conservatives, Scaife was libertarian on many social issues. He supported abortion rights, supported legalising same-sex marriage and marijuana, and opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Scaife bought the Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsburgh in 1969, using its editorial pages to trumpet his views.

"I fell in love with newspapers as a boy, when my father bought me editions from around the country and abroad," Scaife told readers in the column announcing his cancer diagnosis. "The day I became a newspaper publisher, buying the Tribune-Review, remains one of the proudest, happiest moments of my life."

Scaife was a long-time supporter of Republicans, backing conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater in 1964 and heavily funding the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon.

In 1972, Scaife donated 1 million US dollars to Nixon in 334 separate checks to avoid paying gift taxes.

Scaife admitted to becoming an alcoholic, and he had a reputation for having a fiery temper. He reportedly quit drinking in 1990 after going to the Betty Ford Clinic.

The Tribune-Review reported Scaife is survived by a daughter, Jennie K Scaife, a son, David N Scaife, a daughter-in-law, Sara Scaife; and two grandchildren.

The newspaper reported that a private memorial service would be held at a later date.

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