reporter teaching at the Columbia University School of Journalism,
Karen Rothmeyer is the Executive Editor of The
Her research was funded in part by the Center for Investigative
Reporting. Here is an updated revelation of the prime
founder of the Media-Savvy New Right.
article is abridged from Speak Out Against the New Right
edited by Herbert F. Vetter (Boston:
Beacon Press, 1982)
A large number of organizations owe their existence to the
generosity of one of the richest men in America, Richard
Mellon Scaife. Scaife, a great-grandson of the founder of
the Mellon empire, has made the formation of public opinion
both his business and his avocation.
Grants from Scaife charities have contributed to conservative,
particularly New Right, causes.
Officials of The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think
tank, acknowledged that Scaife is a far larger contributor
than Joseph Coors, whose name has been the only one mentioned
in most press reports on the group. Scaife, who joined with
Coors to launch Heritage, gave three times Coors's gift
to help meet the current $5.3-million Heritage budget.
Heritage is probably the most media-oriented of the New
Right research and policy study groups, producing a steady
stream of reports and publications aimed at both policy-makers
and the news media.
Scaife himself has never publicly discussed his motivations
or goals. Indeed, he has repeatedly declined requests for
interviews, as he did in the case of this article.
Richard Scaife rarely speaks to the press. After several
unsuccessful efforts to obtain an interview, this reporter
decided to make one last attempt in Boston, where Scaife
was scheduled to attend the annual meeting of the First
Scaife, a company director, did not show up while the meeting
was in progress. Reached eventually by telephone as he dined
with the other directors at the exclusive Union Club, he
hung up the moment he heard the caller's name. A few minutes
later he appeared at the top of the Club steps. At the bottom
of the stairs, the following exchange occurred:
"Mr. Scaife, could you explain why you give so much
money to the New Right?"
"You fucking Communist cunt, get out of here."
Well. The rest of the five-minute interview was conducted
at a rapid trot down Park Street, during which Scaife tried
to hail a taxi. Scaife volunteered two statements of opinion
regarding his questioner's personal appearancehe said
she was ugly and that her teeth were "terrible"and
also made the comment that she was engaged in "hatchet
journalism." His questioner thanked Scaife for his
"Don't look behind you," Scaife offered by way
of a good-bye.
Not quite sure what this remark meant, the reporter suggested
that if someone were approaching it was probably her mother,
whom she had arranged to meet nearby. "She's ugly,
too," Scaife said, and strode off.
Scaifes secretiveness is but one aspect of a complicated
personality. A handsome man in the blond, beefy style one
associates with southwestern ranchers or oil millionaires,
Scaife dresses like a Wall Street executive. His astonishingly
blue eyes are his most striking feature. A friend from an
early age of J. Edgar Hoover, Scaife is said by those who
know him to be fascinated by military and intelligence matters.
At the same time, he is so shy and so insecure about his
intellectual capacities, according to one business acquaintance,
that "he never speaks business without two, three,
four people around him."
Certainly money is very much the stuff of which Mellon family
history is made. Judge Thomas Mellon, the son of an Irish
immigrant farmer who settled in the Pennsylvania countryside,
rose to prominence in Pittsburgh during the latter half
of the nineteenth century through shrewd real estate investments
and a lending business that became the Mellon Bank. In time,
the family holdings came to include, in addition to the
bank, substantial blocks of stock in Gulf Oil and Alcoa,
among other companies. By 1957, when Fortune magazine tried
to rank the largest fortunes in America, four Mellons, including
Scaife's mother, Sarah Mellon Scaife, were listed among
the top eight.
In 1965, when his widowed mother died, Richard Scaifein
his early thirties, married, and the father of the first
of two childrenhad no real career. After flunking
out of Yale (he later finished at the University of Pittsburgh),
Scaife had followed in the footsteps of his father, a retiring
man from a local industrial family, and been given a variety
of titles but little real power in several Mellon enterprises.
Just looking after his personal affairs could have become
a full-time job.
After his mother's death, Scaife began to take an increasingly
active role in the family's philanthropic activities. Scaife
family entities currently engaged in giving money to charity
include the Sarah Scaife Foundation, set up by Scaife's
mother; the Allegheny and Carthage Foundations, set up by
Scaife; and the Trust for Sarah Mellon Scaife's Grandchildren
(who number only Scaife's two, because Cordelia Scaife May
Gulf Oil company stock makes up a large part of the Scaife
fortune. If one were to count not just Richard Scaife's
personal holdings in Gulf, but also those of the various
Scaife charitable entities, the total would probably rank
as the second largest holding (after Paul Mellon) in the
company. By the same rough yardstick, Scaife and Scaife
family entities account for about 6 percent of the stock
(all nonvoting) of First Boston Corporation, a major investment
banking firm. Scaife was elected to the First Boston board
last year. The Mellons and Scaifes as a whole hold about
13 percent of the First Boston stock, an investment second
in size only to that of Financiere Credit Suisse.
Scaife, with his money, his interest in politics and the
media, and his long-held conservative views, quickly became
a key New Right backer. Indeed, the rise of the New Right
coincided with a substantial increase in Scaifes power
to assist it.
Man Behind the Mask
from Salon, April 7, 1998
Mellon Scaife's eyes are what you notice first: a startling
sky blue, they look almost unreal, so intense is their color.
For the rest, a handsome countenance, a large frame and
a shock of once-blond hair, now white, make up a classic
picture of good breeding. Scaife's father came from one
of Pittsburgh's blue blood families, its ancestry traced
back to medieval England; his mother was a fabulously wealthy
Mellon descendant whom Fortune magazine identified in 1957
as one of the eight richest people in America.
And yet, there is about Richard Mellon Scaife a seeming
unease with his own person that even friends have commented
on through the years. Almost pathologically shyhe
removed his name from Who's Who more than 15 years
ago and has since sat for only a handful of interviewshe
is, at the same time, given to a pattern of unpredictable
behavior that has continued despite his having stopped his
formerly heavy drinking.
"He has a love-hate relationship with a lot of people,
including himself," said a former close acquaintance.
"He is at once the most wonderful, generous guy and
the most hateful and vindictive one." Added another
person who has observed Scaife close-up in Pittsburgh, "Whenever
he dislikes someone, it's not enough to fire them; they
can never work in this town again."
Either because they fear his power or his temper, or because
they want something out of him, almost all those who know
Scaife are unwilling to say anything critical about him
publiclythat is, if they agree to talk about him at
"The victories we're celebrating today didn't begin
last Tuesday," Heritage Foundation president Edwin
Feulner Jr. told a meeting of supporters in 1994 just after
the Republican sweep of the House of Representatives. "They
started more than 20 years ago when Dick Scaife had the
vision to see the need for a conservative intellectual movement
in America. These organizations built the intellectual case
that was necessary before political leaders like Newt Gingrich
could translate their ideas into practical political alternatives."
Gingrich, who was also at the meeting, hailed Scaife as
"a good friend and ally for a very long time."
It was also in Washington, according to Mellon family biographer
Burton Hersh, that young Dick began to pay attention to
the workings of government. Scaife told Hersh that he had
"made it a kind of hobby to meet as many senators and
congressmen as I could."
Later, there would be boarding school and then Yale, from
which he was expelled after a drunken party. He ended up
at the University of Pittsburgh, where his father was chairman
of the board of trustees. After getting a bachelor's degree
in English in 1957, he was put to work first in the Scaife
family business and later in Mellon enterprises. Within
a few years, both of his parents were dead and Scaife had
inherited an enormous fortune whose value is currently estimated
by Forbes as about $1 billion (a significant underestimate,
according to one reliable source).
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