Delivering His Newspaper
With A Republican Twist
By John Murray
In 1941, William Randolph Hearst was the publisher of a powerful chain of newspapers that swept across the country. At various times, Hearst was described as the most generous man on the planet, or a ruthless manipulator of the truth. One thing was irrefutable – Hearst was one of the most powerful men in America.
Any politician on the national level had to go through Hearst to get his endorsement, and without the Hearst thumbs up, a candidate’s chances were slim.
The rich and powerful publisher ran for congress and eventually the presidency. He was one of the most flamboyant and influential men of the 20th century. Actor Orson Wells directed and starred in a movie called, “Citizen Kane” in 1941, that was loosely based on Hearst’s life. It is considered by many film critics to be the most important movie of all time.
Some have described William J. Pape II, the publisher of the Republican-American newspaper, as being the William Randolf Hearst of Waterbury. He is undeniably one of the most generous philanthropists in the city, freely supporting the Waterbury Foundation, the Campership Fund, the United Way and the Community Vision for Waterbury project.
During a ceremony honoring Pape for his civic efforts in 1994, the Republican-American reported that Frank Fulco, the former President of the Greater Waterbury Chamber of Commerce, said of Pape, “He puts his hand in the small of the back of the people and pushes them forward. They take the credit, but all the time, he’s the mysterious force that pushes things forward.”
Many former employees and prominent local politicians have also described that same mysterious force as belonging to a controlling man who utilizes his newspaper to promote his own political agenda and to idealize his vision of the world.
In a way, William J. Pape II is a study in contrasts. He is described by many who have worked closely with him as a shy and generous man guided by a firm set of principals. Others, who don’t adhere to Pape’s view of the world, have crossed swords with the publisher and found themselves targets in his newspaper.
Edith Reynolds is a former employee of the Republican-American and developed a friendship with Pape when she owned and operated the John Bale Book Company in downtown Waterbury. Reynolds said Pape used to come into the store frequently to talk and she described him as a “nice guy, an average guy who is very, very shy.”
Reynolds said Pape has a lot of power, but doesn’t flex it very often. “He really believes in ethos and has his own vision of what Waterbury and the world should be like,” Reynolds said. “He tries to live up to a certain standard and he wants the paper to live up to it, too. It is hard to separate the image from the man.”
Reynolds said someone from the Pape family was always walking around the newsroom but they didn’t directly tell reporters what to write. “People in the newsroom are very conscious of what Bill Pape likes and dislikes, and there is never any question that what was written would have to meet Mr. Pape’s expectations.”
According to several former and current Republican-American reporters interviewed for this article, Pape’s expectations can be summed up as conservative Republican. In the very first edition of the Waterbury Republican, which was printed October 29, 1881 the paper’s mission statement was to “earnestly maintain the principals on which the Republican party is founded.”
Critics state that philosophy still exists today and that Pape is at the helm of a newspaper that heavily slants its political coverage towards Republican candidates. The newspaper is charged with selectively managing the news in Waterbury to promote Republicans and harpoon Democrats. Stories unflattering to favored candidates are said to be spiked and never published. Stories unflattering to candidates out of favor, which is alleged to be most Democrats, are said to be sensationalized with front-page headlines, and negative stories are cranked out in bulk.
“Politics is hardball in this city,” Tom Carusello, Democratic Town Chairman said. “And when the only daily paper in the city is blatantly biased in its political coverage it is hard for the citizens to fairly know all the candidates. A newspaper should equally provide information about all the candidates and let the people make up their own mid who they want in office. People deserve to know the truth and Bill Pape doesn’t provide it.”
It’s an election year in the Brass City and close to the heart of incumbent Mayor Edward D. Bergin’s campaign is a cry of biased political reporting by the Republican-American.
“Bill Pape and the Republican-American are manufacturing news and they determine what Waterbury residents are allowed to know” Bergin said. “This doesn’t just hurt me, it hurts the entire city. Everything is negative when I’m in office, and everything is positive when the Mayor happens to be a Republican. The newspaper presents a negative image of Waterbury to the state and that is wrong.”
The Observer repeatedly called Pape at his office in the Republican-American to request an interview with the publisher and he declined to talk. In a telephone call on Friday, October 6, Pape stated the Observer was “not unbiased” and he had to consider whether he would consent to an interview. He thought about it over the weekend and opted to mail the Observer a written statement, which read:
“After considerable thought, I have decided it would be prudent for me to send you a written statement. I think your premise that there is a contest between Mayor Bergin and myself is incorrect… I bear the Mayor no animosity.
The Mayor has made a habit of running against the newspaper and has used yourself and your publication and others to attack this newspaper and me.
I am a private businessman whose business happens to be publishing daily and Sunday newspapers in Waterbury. Our job is to gather and print the news, which we endeavor to do in a fair and evenhanded manner. We do not owe allegiance to any party or politician, only to the citizens and taxpayers of Waterbury and the surrounding communities.”
The letter was signed by William J. Pape II.
But it’s not just politics and an alleged Bergin feud that critics rail against – It’s about selectively covering a wide array of social issues, as well.
“Bill has a very parochial view of Waterbury,” Reynolds said. “He likes when the reporters write about the neighborhoods but not when they write about the seamier side of the city. If something is personally distasteful to the Pape family they don’t cover it. Things like AIDS, prostitution and Democrats.”
Don Cousey, a former staff photographer at the Republican-American, said the newspaper was more interested in running photographs of social gatherings and grip and grin shots than of inner city street scenes. Cousey said one of the photographers on staff began a project about prostitution in the city and when nothing appeared in the paper, the photographer moved on to another project. Other documentary projects about AIDS have been shot down in the newsroom.
“There was never any rule written down about what to photograph and what not to photograph,” Cousey said. “But you quickly get an idea what runs and what doesn’t. You don’t have to see a rulebook. In the end, you end up censoring yourself.”
Cousey said negatives were often looked over by several editors who decided what would appear in the paper. “Nothing was ever spoken, but you knew, they knew, what Mr. Pape wanted in his paper.”
Several former and current employees who talked to the Observer about this article requested that their names be withheld from publication. First, they feared reprisal by the newspaper and second, they feared future difficulties in landing a job.
One reporter said, “All of Mr. Pape’s favorite causes get the big play in the newspaper. The Campership Fund, United Way, Ruby Ridge, the Waterbury Foundation, Teikyo Post and nothing could ever be badly written about Northeast Utilities. Mr. Pape is on the board of directors at Northeast Utilities, so that was off limits.”
Another veteran reporter spoke of “Code Blue” stories that came from above. “We have no choice whether we cover it or not. If a Code Blue is assigned to you it becomes high priority and you have to cover it whether it’s a story or not. Code Blues usually come down from the political realm.”
There was also a written memo from the editors to the reporters requesting the reporters to take it easy on them concerning any changes in their stories because there “was political pressure from above.”
Many of the former employees interviewed for this story said something more sinister happened within the walls of the Republican-American. Pape was deadliest against the union in the newsroom and ultimately against anyone who belonged to the union.
Members of the newsroom belonged to the Newspaper Union of New York, Local 3, but by 1994, most of the union members had resigned or been fired.
“I think they just wanted to get rid of the union,” said Bob Miller, a reporter with the Republican-American from 1978 until he left in 1992. “They felt it was time to clean house and to bring some new faces in.”
Miller said that within a period of about two years, a very experienced and talented news staff was destroyed. “A lot of people who were there for a long time were shifted to out of town beats and new people were brought in. What he lost was a whole lot of experience and knowledge of the areas they covered, especially in the city.”
One of the anonymous reporters interviewed for this story said that if you were sent to the Thomaston bureau, you knew your days were numbered at the Republican-American. The reporters referred to Thomaston as “The Gulag.”
The last dispute that led to the demise of the union centered on a co-pay for health insurance and a pay raise. The employees agreed that co-pay for insurance was necessary, but requested a larger increase in salary. The salary being offered did not make up the co-pay costs, which meant workers would be earning less money than before the new contract. Eventually the union signed an agreement without the pay raise they had been seeking.
“The whole thing was really unfortunate, because there was a lot of good people up there,” said Jim Madden, of the Newspaper Guild, who negotiated on behalf of the reporters at the paper. “There was harsh treatment of people who had been there for many years and they left and then a lot of young people from outside the area were brought in. I think ultimately it has been the community that has suffered.”
Miller said that Pape treated his employees in a kind of patriarchal way. He said Pape was capable of great kindness but that if you crossed him you were on his list and he could make working conditions very difficult.
“The morale was very low,” Miller said. “It as a very unhappy time to be working at the newspaper.”
Photographer Don Cousey was on the union negotiating team and said, “there was too much coincidence that all the people on that team had their beats switched and started working on weekends. Eventually the situation just became unworkable and I left.”
Eventually, just about all of the active members of the union had left the paper by the end of 1993. When the contract expired, there was no interest from the new reporters to continue with the union. On January 1, 1994, the union at the newsroom of the Republican-American ceased to exist.
One former employee who declined to speak on the record said “every time I see that Tower it makes me sick to think about how many lives were ruined in that place.”
Many former employees who are now spread out all across the country were contacted by the Observer and most declined to talk for the record. Several confirmed “the obvious political slant of the newspaper” but declined to give the Observer permission to use their names.
Many were complimentary of Bill Pape, but admitted that there was something “twisted” about the way political news was reported in the Republican-American. One former reporter said, “it may not be ethical, but it’s his newspaper.”
And ultimately, it is his newspaper, a private business that has no legal responsibility to print the news fairly or accurately. According to Steve Randall, a senior analyst at FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) “Freedom of the press belongs to he who owns it.”
The newspaper is a privately owned business and there is no law that requires a paper to print the truth.
In fact a recent case involving two employees at the Register-Citizen in Torrington goes a long way in proving that point. The Register-Citizen was printing its very first Sunday edition in the Spring of 1994 and reporter Marsden Epworth was assigned to write a story for the next day’s paper.
When she wrote that the paper wasn’t delivered to some customers until late in the afternoon, the publisher of the Register-Citizen ordered the managing editor, Liz Healy, to fire Epworth. Apparently writing something critical about the paper itself was distasteful, even if it was true and accurate.
Healy refused to fire Epworth and defended the reporter stating that the article was accurate. But when the publisher insisted, Healy resigned rather than fire Epworth. After Healy resigned, the publisher immediately fired Epworth, anyway.
A few days later a reader wrote a letter to the editor chastising the paper for firing an honest reporter. Editor Dolores Laschever was ordered by the publisher to remove the letter from the pre-production page, and she resigned instead of censoring the letter from the public.
Months later Epworth and Laschever filed a lawsuit against the newspaper for violating their first amendment rights and for wrongful discharge. Litchfield Judge Walter Picket threw the suit out of court, but both women are appealing their cases.
“Most newspapers don’t tolerate self criticism,” Steve Randall from Fairness and Accuracy in Media said. “The owner of a newspaper can do what he wants. There is nothing illegal about a slant or bias in a newspaper. It’s not illegal but is immoral. Newspapers should be held to a higher standard because people rely on them as a critical source of information.”
Randall said wherever there is a one newspaper town, be it Waterbury or Houston, a danger exists. “When there is a single source of information in a city, a bias can quickly creep into reporting. It’s a problem all across the country and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican slant, a Democratic slant or a pro business slant. They are all wrong.”
In an interview in the Mayor’s office last week, Bergin said all one has to do in order to see Pape’s biased slant is take a look a the newspaper when Joseph Santopietro was mayor. Santopietro was a Republican and defeated Bergin in 1985. In the ensuing six years that Santopietro was mayor, Bergin said the Republican-American gave the new mayor unprecedented positive coverage.
“The pictorial coverage of Santopietro was quite extensive,” Bergin said. “Every time Joe gave an award to a kid or saw the Girl Scouts, his picture was in the paper. But when it came time to write about the corruption in the Santopietro administration, the Hartford Courant had to break the story. Bill Pape sat on that story.”
A former reporter who was involved in covering the Santopietro administration said the newspaper didn’t aggressively pursue the corruption story. The reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said the paper “dragged its feet” because the Mayor was a Republican, and Pape didn’t want to break the story if it turned out to be wrong. “He was worried about hurting the city and the Republican Party and was being very cautious.”
On the eve of last November’s gubernatorial election, which pitted Waterbury native John Rowland, a Republican, against Bill Curry and Eunice Groark, the Republican-
American printed an extensive article on Curry’s involvement with the nuclear freeze movement.
In the story, Curry, a Democrat, was linked to the Soviet Union n a round about way when an expert source stated anyone who didn’t know the Soviet Union was behind the nuclear freeze was a fool.
Several irate readers contacted the Columbia Journalism Review and suggested to its editors that the Republican-Americans deserved a dart for its obvious political slant against Curry. A dart award is a way of publicly flogging a newspaper for an overzealous or unethical article. At the time Curry was gaining ground on Rowland in the polls and it appeared to many readers that the Republican-American’s article was strictly geared to sway public opinion.
Apparently the Columbia Journalism Review agreed. The magazine is one of the most highly respected trade magazines for journalists all across the world and it awarded a dart to the Republican-American.
Ed Goodman, the managing editor at the Republican-American, wrote a letter to the CJR defending the newspaper by writing, “have things so changed that it has become wrong to report on a candidates leadership role in major, widely publicized, and well-funded attempt to influence public policy?”
The editors at CJR responded by calling the Curry story “red baiting” and that “the essential thrust of the Republican-American’s story, which in paragraph after paragraph suggested that the movement Curry had worked for was Soviet inspired, Soviet organized and Soviet-funded and that anyone in the U.S., who happened to favor a freeze was either communist, a fellow-traveler a dupe, or a fool.”
In March of 1993 a letter to the editor printed in the Republican-American by former state legislator Elizabeth Brown seemed to sum up the felling of many disgruntled Democrats. It read, in part, “Once upon a time in a faraway kingdom, a newspaper published many editorials that said very mean and nasty and false things about people.
This went on for many years because it was the only newspaper in the kingdom and was very powerful. The people in the kingdom were very unhappy about the situation because it made their kingdom seem like a terrible place to live and they knew this was not true.
Many people tried to plead with the newspaper to stop lying and berating the denizens, but it seemed that anybody who tried to change things in the kingdom immediately became a target of the biased newspaper.
Things got so bad that the newspaper printed an editorial saying that a former legislator voted for the income tax just to get a job in the palace. This of course was an outright lie.
But the story does have a happy ending, for no one in the kingdom believed anything the newspaper said because it had lost all credibility as having any journalistic integrity. The people of Waterbury deserve better.”
Former independent candidate for mayor, Andy Michaud has been the newspaper’s most outspoken critic for the past two years. Michaud helped lead the effort to reopen the Palace Theater and now hosts his own cable show on WCAT-13 every Saturday night called “Taking It To The Streets.”
“Bill Pape is in charge of the kingdom and he has known since birth that the throne is in the Tower of Power on Meadow Street and he will pass the crown to his son. But right now Bill Pape is the man with all the power.
He owns his own newspaper and is just playing with everybody’s mind. He controls what goes in the Republican everyday and he hates Mayor Bergin. Pape will do anything to get Bergin out of office. He’s just filling us up with lies and more lies. The real danger is that Pape isn’t elected every two years and he has no accountability. He could be king forever.”
Bergin is the seven-term mayor of Waterbury and said, “I’ve helped him sell a lot of newspapers with his big banner headlines about me. Bill Pape is a Republican and they don’t call it The Waterbury Republican for nothing.”
Oddly, Bergin said Pape supported him when he first ran for office twenty years ago. “When I first took office Bill used to come up to my office every morning for coffee and doughnuts. He sat here for the first two months and tried to get my ear. When I didn’t listen to him he stopped coming and turned into an opponent. Pape wants his own candidate in office so he can control the city’s agenda.”
There is a long-standing difference of opinion between Bergin and Pape. It can generally be described as a philosophical difference, one that goes back at least to the fathers of the mayor and the publisher, who were the mayor and publisher a generation before.
“The paper has every right to publish whatever they want. When something bad happens in the city, they have a responsibility to print it,” Bergin said. “But when the news precludes anything that is positive about the city, just for political reasons, I think that hurts the city as a whole and I think they need to reconsider that policy.”
Bergin said that for years whenever he attended a service, club dinner, someone’s 50th wedding anniversary or other event where he was invited, the Republican-American photographer would request that he stand at the end of the group photo so that he could be cropped out of the picture. Eventually, he would stop trying to get in the photo, knowing already what the outcome would be.
There is a story that may be part legend and may be part true, but it concerns the Father McGivney statue at the intersection of Grand and Meadow Streets. The statue was erected in honor of the founder of the Knights of Columbus. When city leaders were trying to find a place for the larger than life statue, it was Edward D. Bergin Sr. who decided to place it in its present location so that its backside would face Pape’s office.
Pape, however, told the Observer this past summer that the feud between the Bergins and the Papes is overblown and that Mike Bergin is treated the same as any other politician.
“Both Bergins like to run against the paper, they’re going for the sympathy vote, because we put poor Frank Hayes in jail.” Pape said. “We don’t treat Mike Bergin any differently than any other politician. If he can’t stand the heat, he should get out of the kitchen.”
In a rare public appearance earlier this year, Pape was interviewed by Tom Brophy on WCAT-13 during a taping of Brophy’s “Better Living” show, which airs on Thursday nights. During the interview, Pape said it was time for somebody new in City Hall.
“I would like to see four or five mayors in the next ten years, he told Brophy. “We need new ideas, new energy and a fresh clean slate.”
Two years ago the Republican-American endorsed Republican State Senator Steve Somma for mayor and it is widely anticipated that the newspaper will endorse Republican candidate, Phil Giordano for mayor in a few weeks.
Giordano, 32, is a first term state representative and said he has no problem with either newspaper in town, The Observer or The Republican-American. “I don’t care who is covering me,” he said. “I want to talk about the issues and ideas affecting Waterbury. If the Observer wants to cover my stance on the issues, great, and if they don’t, that’s fine too. If the Republican-American wants to cover my stance on issues, great, and if they don’t, that’s fine too. I’m running a grass roots campaign and if I have to talk to one or two guys at a time on the street I’ll do it. It’s up to the candidates to get their message across.”
But the Democrats state that it is much easier to get your message out if the most influential voice in the community, The Republican-American, is on your side.
“Bill Pape buys his ink by the barrel and it’s very difficult to counter that,” Tom Carusello said. “The amount of money it would take to compete against all the positive press Republicans get is astronomical. It’s subliminal and I don’t think very many readers pick up on his slant. Bill Pape uses his newspaper to campaign 365 days a year for the Republican Party.”