Suicide fuels paper feud p.20

By: Joe Strupp Dueling papers duke it out in mysterious suicide
The mysterious suicide of a left-wing conspiracy theorist outside the offices of a conservative Pittsburgh newspaper publisher ? and the resulting coverage by a rival paper ? has heightened an ongoing feud between the two dailies, culminating in two published attacks by the publisher against the rival's lead writer.
Editors at the 245,000-circulation Pittsburgh Post-Gazette say they covered the Feb. 8 suicide of 37-year-old Steven Kangas like any other news story. Kangas, a former Las Vegas computer consultant who had often criticized Greensburg Tribune-Review publisher Richard Scaife in freelance Internet commentaries, was found shot to death in a room on the same floor as one of Scaife's offices.
Officials at the 82,000-circulation Tribune-Review have accused the Post-Gazette, owned by Blade Communications of Toledo, Ohio, of blowing the story out of proportion to harm Scaife.
During a stinging editorial published March 21, the Tribune-Review blasted Post-Gazette editors and staff writer Dennis Roddy, calling them "Scaife-haters" and their coverage "phony journalism." In addition, the editorial alleged that the Post-Gazette wrote its stories because "they are haters and it is in their nature."
Scaife's attorney says the editorial and a previous statement attacking the Post-Gazette coverage were proper responses. "The Post-Gazette has had a thing of going after Dick Scaife because of who he is," says H. Yale Gutnick, who represents Scaife.
Post-Gazette managing editor Madelyn Ross disagrees, saying that such an unusual death occurring near a prominent publisher's office is news.
"This is a news story" Ross says.
The dispute followed the death of Kangas, whose body was found in a men's room on the same floor as an office used by one of Scaife's foundations in a downtown Pittsburgh building. A building engineer reportedly discovered Kangas lying on the ground, apparently drunk, during a routine electrical circuit breaker check.
The engineer went for help and returned to find Kangas dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Police have ruled the death a suicide and have yet to find evidence of foul play.
More than a month passed before either newspaper wrote about the suicide at any length. Editors at both papers say it did not get close scrutiny until information about Kangas' background and anti-Scaife writings were discovered.
Each newspaper ran lengthy, Page One stories on March 14 that offered similar descriptions of the suicide and Kangas' history of Internet attacks on Scaife, with hints that Kangas might have come to Pittsburgh to confront or kill Scaife. But they also differed sharply in some areas.
The Post-Gazette story reported that Scaife had hired a private detective after the suicide to find out more information about Kangas, while the story also cited differences in the police and coroner's reports about Kangas' wounds ? details the Tribune-Review left out. At the same time, the Tribune-Review noted that Kangas had criticized other newspaper officials at The Washington Post and The New York Times in his online tirades, while the Post-Gazette focused solely on his anti-Scaife commentaries.
The Post-Gazette also followed with a March 17 article that said police were seeking to question Scaife in a "widening investigation." Pittsburgh Police detective James Cavanaugh says Scaife has not been interviewed and is not being sought for questioning.
Gutnick says it was the second Post-Gazette story that bothered his clients most, citing its hint at a conspiracy.
Roddy, a former Tribune-Review reporter who wrote both Post-Gazette stories, says he was surprised that his former employer would lash out so angrily. "I'm at a loss," he says.
The current sniping is the latest in a bitter rivalry between the two newspapers that dates back to 1992 when Scaife attempted to buy the former Pittsburgh Press from Scripps-Howard following a Teamsters strike at both newspapers. After the Press was sold to the Post-Gazette, which closed it, Scaife filed a lawsuit against Scripps-Howard, which has since been settled for an undisclosed amount.
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 27, 1999) [Caption]


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