Two Plans for Newspapers Never Took Off
By Robert G. Kaiser
William J. Gill, who worked for Scaife from 1964 to 1969, said he was an intermediary between retired Adm. Lewis L. Strauss and Scaife when Strauss – first chairman of the postwar Atomic Energy Commission, who was rejected by the Senate as secretary of commerce in Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term – was exploring the creation of a conservative paper here. Arthur Krock, for many years a columnist for the New York Times, was involved in the effort, Gill said.
Strauss's papers, now in the Herbert Hoover Library in West Branch, Iowa, contain an incomplete documentary record of Strauss's idea, which he sometimes called "The Federalist." The file of papers on the subject includes one letter to Scaife. Eventually, Gill said, Scaife offered to put up $7 million of the $11 million Strauss said was needed to launch the paper. But, Gill recalled, Strauss fell ill and the plan was never put into action. Strauss died in 1974.
Scaife took a second look at starting a new Washington paper in 1981, after the demise of the Washington Star. The plan this time was that Scaife and two other investors would put up $30 million to finance "The Washington Eagle."
James Shuman, who had worked in the Ford White House before going to work for Scaife, spent six months on the project, lining up printing presses and a group of newspaper executives who expressed interest in joining the venture. He said he felt the project was just about ready to announce when Scaife told him the idea had been abandoned. He never explained why. Soon afterward, Shuman said, Scaife fired him without explanation.
Unbeknownst to Shuman, Scaife had traveled to Washington on his own to explore the proposed newspaper.
Allen Weinstein, president of the Center for Democracy and then an editorial writer for The Washington Post, recalled getting a telephone call from Arnaud de Borchgrave, a former Newsweek correspondent and editor who would later become editor of the Washington Times. De Borchgrave told Weinstein he was trying to help a Pittsburgh millionaire named Richard Scaife who was exploring the idea of starting a new Washington daily. Would Weinstein talk to him?
Weinstein met Scaife and a woman introduced to him as Ritchie Battle, who later became Scaife's second wife. Weinstein suggested that Scaife talk to Frank Waldrop, who had been editor of the last conservative morning paper in Washington, the Times-Herald, which The Post had bought and absorbed in 1954. The next day, Weinstein, de Borchgrave, Scaife and Battle visited Waldrop at his home on Loughboro Road NW.
"I thought Waldrop would be pleased that a conservative would be interested in taking up where the Star had left off," Weinstein recalled. Instead, Waldrop was relentlessly skeptical. He peppered Scaife with questions. Waldrop particularly pushed Scaife on his readiness to be in the public eye, exposed to aggressive coverage as a Washington publisher.
Afterward Waldrop told Weinstein, "I just wanted to see if he had the stomach for it." A day or two later de Borchgrave called Weinstein to report that Scaife had abandoned the idea of a Washington paper.
Waldrop died in 1997. De Borchgrave said he couldn't remember this episode – "it may well have happened, I just can't recall it," he said.
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