Dick Scaife's greatest pleasure

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

“Colin, Dick Scaife!”

For nearly 20 years, that's how the Trib's owner and publisher would greet me in his frequent telephone calls to discuss this issue or that, relay a tidbit he thought might interest me (or get a hoot out of) or pick my brain for what people, ally or “axis,” so to speak, might be thinking.

And it didn't matter whether it was the first call of the day or the third. Neither did it matter if the call came an hour or so after we had just finished eating pizza or sitting with some newsmaker or other guest.

Some people might have found that characteristic to be detached and impersonal. But I found it quite endearing; it was just him. But once, in jest, I responded, “Dick, Colin McNickle!”

Hardly nonplussed, Dick, a man of great and dry wit, deadpanned, “I know.”

Knowing he knew I was being ornery, I decided not to do that again. (Dick surely just chortled from heaven a hearty “Ha!”)

Yes, Dick Scaife was my boss. But he also was my friend. And it's humbling to know he considered me to be the same. Our mutual love of railroads — mine of model railroading, his of the real deal — helped to forge that friendship. But we also quickly learned that we shared an ideological foundation, one that long would confound his friends and foes alike.

Indeed, Dick was a conservative. Some would call him, erroneously, an arch-conservative. And, yes, he's generally, and correctly, credited with playing a critical role in reviving the conservative movement and the Republican Party in the second half of the 20th century with not just his money but his ideas.

Dick, however, hardly was doctrinaire. Witness his support for same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana and a woman's right to choose, among other things. These were not necessarily liberal viewpoints, though the rock-ribbed right would have you believe that. No, these were libertarian viewpoints, grounded in a constitutional foundation of the right to be left alone, a bedrock principle of the freedom, liberty and independence that Dick so revered.

“You're more libertarian than I am,” he once goaded me in a philosophical discussion about ideological labeling. “I probably am,” I responded. “But I'm a cross between a conservative and a libertarian, just like you — we're ‘contrarians,'” I said.

“I suppose we are,” he said, with that trademark sparkle in those piercing eyes of his.

All of this is not to say we didn't have our differences; what publishers and editorial page editors don't? But while I never kept a formal tally, he could not have disputed that we each won the other over in fairly equal measure. OK, he won more than I did. But, still, it's a remarkable testament to a fella painted as nothing less than an unflinching ogre by unknowing liberal critics.

That said, there were a few times when, after the fact, he disagreed with an editorial. More than a decade ago, an editorial that advocated the shooting of a bear that not merely had roamed into an urban area but actually threatened life and limb drew a short, tart and, as ever, witty riposte: “I would have sided with the bear,” Dick said.

“Message received,” I responded. And that was the end of that.

Hearts are heavy for many with Dick Scaife's passing. Words, the nature of our business, are especially difficult to come by. But carry on we must and carry on we will. It's not just our “job.” It is who we are and what we do. And thanks to Dick, we'll be able to continue his mission.

Once wrote Demosthenes, the Greek statesman, “It is the greatest pleasure of the Athenians to wander through the streets asking, ‘What is the news?” It was Dick Scaife's greatest pleasure to state, “Here is the news.”

Colin McNickle is Trib Total Media's director of editorial pages (412-320-7836 or cmcnickle@tribweb.com).

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