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The Washington Post Roasts Scaife

With the conservative movement splintered into many confusing camps on issues from Kosovo to the coming presidential campaign, it's touching to know The Washington Post still fears the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy.

Months after the incredible shrinking impeachment trial, the Post erupts now with a massive two-part series on the demonic figure known as Richard Mellon Scaife, known to Clinton-lovers as the Grand Imperial Wizard of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. They announced they had undertaken a massive investigative project that took many months and a baseball team of reporters and researchers to compile.

Previous media reports attempted to get to the bottom of the Scaife foundations, but none put every Scaife donation from the last 40 years or so into a huge database. The Post explained: "The database records nearly 8,800 grants to more than 1,400 recipients. Missing are several years of grants by the family trusts in the 1980s, grants from the foundations for several years in the 1960s, grants made in 1998 by the Scaife Family Foundation and several grants where pages were missing from available records."

Inside the Beltway, people scratched their heads. Despite the work-hours loaded into the series, why did it appear so long after everyone else in the national press had compared Scaife to their favorite movie villains (Darth Vader, Goldfinger) and moved on? Only the Post could explain the delay, but the by-line suggested one reason that it finally saw the light of day. Robert Kaiser, until recently the Post's number-two editor, co-authored the reports with Ira Chinoy, head of the Post's computer-assisted reporting unit.

But the better question was not why now, but why Scaife and nobody else in the wide world of American philanthropy? Kaiser and Chinoy explain it thusly: "In the world of big-time philanthropy, there are many bigger givers. The Ford Foundation gave away $491 million in 1998 alone. But by concentrating his giving on a specific ideological objective for nearly 40 years, and making most of his grants with no strings attached, Scaife's philanthropy has had a disproportionate impact on the rise of the right, perhaps the biggest story in American politics in the last quarter of the 20th century."

But that just doesn't make sense. 1. The authors admits that numerous other foundations give far more (and the big ones are mostly liberal), so size isn't the story. They're also conceding that he doesn't pull the strings on his grantees: so much for the Man-Behind-the-Curtain scenario.

The Ford Foundation, the second largest foundation in America, dwarfs the Scaife funds. It has also created entire think tanks and lobbying groups out of whole cloth, pushing all manner of left-wing causes. Isn't that story an itty-bitty bit as worth reporting as Mr. Scaife? How about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America's fourth-largest philanthropy, which threw millions of dollars into the job of passing Clinton-style health care "reform" on both the federal and state levels?

Why not an expose on Ford? Because in the Post's eyes, its liberal mission is mainstream. It is good. Scaife, however, is a conservative. That makes him controversial, and above all else in the Post's eyes, suspect.

Ironically, on the same weekend, the Post's cross-town rival, the Washington Times, reported on the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the number-three philanthropy in America. When Mr. Packard, a billionaire computer tycoon, died in 1996, he bequeathed his $5.5 billion estate to the foundation. Reporter Joyce Howard Price noted that the Packard Foundation made $300 million in grants this year, and plans $400 million next year, about 16 times as much as the $25 million that the Sarah Scaife and Carthage Foundations give annually. Foundation president Cole Wilbur acknowledged to Price that "the Packard Foundation probably provides more money to population-control and environmental conservation efforts than any other foundation in the United States." Some of those newsworthy donations include grants to efforts to "strengthen the voice of pro-choice Catholics in Mexico," and "a project to counter religious obstacles to family planning and abortion in 10 world religions."

A few weeks ago, on March 24, Times reporter Jennifer Kabbany identified Packard's partners in pushing abortion and contraception into the Third World, and none of these overlords against overpopulation were unknown: media mogul Ted Turner, Microsoft tycoon Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, a Wall Street "Master of the Universe." But none of their foundations merit a splash of ink in the Washington Post.

The Post's mammoth Scaife-scouring effort belies the arrogant assumptions of Post employees like then-Ombudsman Geneva Overholser, who sat across from me on C-SPAN in 1997 and announced the Post was unspoiled by bias, unlike the competition. "I think the Post's commitment to presenting the news in a straightforward manner is clear. The Times' commitment to representing the conservative viewpoint is also clear."