Pulitzer Prize

Banished

St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Al Delugach and Denny Walsh won the Pulitzer in 1969. Their reward: One-way tickets out of town. first published in the St. Louis Journalism Review, June 1, 2008

It’s been a while since the last St. Louis newspapermen garnered a Pulitzer Prize for reporting–39 years to be exact. St. Louis Globe-Democrat reporters Denny Walsh and Albert L. Delugach received the honor on May 5, 1969.

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1970.

Their award now hangs on the wall behind the reference desk at the Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Surrounded by unrelated bric-a-brac, journalism’s highest honor and its recipients are easily overlooked.

The St. Louis Media Halls of Fame are also located at the Mercantile, which acquired the Globe-Democrat files after the newspaper folded in 1986. But when the group’s third annual awards are presented at a gala dinner on June 7 at the Khorassan Ballroom of the Chase Park Plaza Hotel, Walsh and Delugach are not on the list — again.

Their former boss, the late G. Duncan Bauman, however, was among the first to receive the laurel three years ago. On its lower level, the Mercantile displays a permanent exhibit of his memorabilia, including his desk. As publisher of the Globe-Democrat, Bauman was most likely seated at that desk when he decided to kill Denny Walsh’s story that linked then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes, Jr. to the St. Louis underworld.

And it’s also where he probably sat when he refused to allow Walsh and Delugach to report on stymied federal indictments of the steamfitters union, which they had investigated. They gave their story to the Wall Street Journal, a ploy that broke the indictments loose and resulted in their winning the Pulitzer Prize.

The reporters were an odd couple–Walsh looking like a boxer and Delugach like a shy botany professor. Bauman, who became their nemesis, had such an ego that he had himself named the city’s Man of The Year in what he thought would be the Globe-Democrat’s final Sunday magazine in 1984. It included 33 photos of him.

In 1995, Bauman told St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jerry Berger that he halted publication of that story to save the integrity of the newspaper.

“I found he went to great lengths to link Mayor Cervantes to organized crime,” said Bauman. “I then made some personal phone calls to the sources that Walsh said he was using and found out Walsh was not reflecting the views of those sources accurately. So, I told Walsh we would not print that installment of the [series]…. Walsh became angry and quit.”

“He lied to Berger,” counters Walsh, who, at 72, is still a working reporter for the Sacramento Bee. “He couldn’t have talked to any of my sources. They weren’t in St. Louis, and they wouldn’t have talked to him. The sources were all federal. I believe he let his unsavory connections in the community guide his stewardship of the Globe,” Walsh adds. “I know that he told Cervantes that he had taken care of that series.”

After leaving the Globe-Democrat, Walsh joined the staff of Life Magazine, taking his spiked story and notes with him. His eight-page investigative report–“St. Louis, the Mayor, the Mob and the Lawyer”– appeared in the magazine’s May 29, 1970, issue. The account named names, dates and places and included information from FBI reports and wiretap transcripts.

The story that Bauman had prevented from running locally had gained national exposure.

Walsh alleged the mayor had mobbed-up business ties and main-rained a “steady liaison” with organized crime figures through Anthony Sansone, his campaign manager. Sansone, a successful real estate broker, was the son-in-law of Jimmy Michaels, leader of the Syrian faction of St. Louis’ underworld. Michaels, in turn, was a criminal associate of Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, don of the St. Louis mafia.

Anthony Sansone Sr.

Walsh reported Sansone arranged a 1964 campaign-strategy session between Michaels and the mayor. After Cervantes won the mayoral primary, according to Walsh, Sansone attended another strategy meeting with Michaels and Giordano.

The lawyer mentioned in Life’s headline was St. Louis criminal defense attorney Morris Shenker, part owner of the Dunes casino in Las Vegas and counsel to numerous mobsters and corrupt labor bosses, including Teamster President James R. Hoffa and Lawrence Callanan, the head of Steamfitters Local 562 in St. Louis. Despite these questionable associations, Cervantes had brazenly appointed Shenker, a political crony and Democratic power broker, to head the city’s Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement.

The mayor and his backers reacted to the Life story as if Walsh had set off a bomb inside the rotunda at City Hall. Cervantes complained that he was not only defamed, but that the reputations of the entire city and all its inhabitants were under attack. Shenker and Sansone denied wrongdoing, labeling the accusations as false. The mayor subsequently sued Walsh and the magazine for libel but failed to recover damages. In the court of public opinion, however, local broadcast and print media overwhelmingly sided with Cervantes.

 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, for instance, editorialized that “… visible evidence of everyday affairs in St. Louis does not support the correlative accusation of Life that organized crime flourishes here. On the contrary the city appears to be unusually free from the usual symptoms of such crime….”

The idea that St. Louis had been spared the deleterious influence of organized crime must have come as news to Delugach, Walsh’s former partner. They shared the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for doggedly investigating Local 562. The byline of Delugach and Walsh appeared at the top of more than 300 stories from 1965-1968. Their collaborative effort revealed a pattern of labor racketeering that resulted in multiple federal indictments having to do with a kickback scheme related to the sale of insurance to the union’s pension fund.

By the time Walsh’s Life article appeared, Delugach had also left the Globe-Democrat, joining the staff of the Post. His tenure was brief, however, lasting only a year-and-a-half. Shortly after the Post absolved the mayor and declared the city free from organized crime, Delugach quit in protest.

“If I had thought that this was just the opinion of the editorial page of the Post, I might have borne up under it,” he told SJR, which covered his resignation in its first issue.

Instead, Delugach found that the same attitude permeated the newsroom.

“I didn’t want to work for a newspaper that had this view of organized crime and that had this way of dismissing the most serious accusations against its top (city) official.” Delugach found the premise that organized crime was non-existent in St. Louis untenable.

“I think it has been voluminously proved that it is a major factor in all kinds of crime–in all cities,” he said.

When he made this statement, Delugach was 44 and had been a staff reporter at three daily newspapers in Kansas City and St. Louis for nearly two decades. After leaving the Post, he moved to the West Coast, where he continued as an investigative reporter for another 20 years, retiring from the Los Angeles Times in 1989. Reached by phone at his home in Los Angeles, the 82-year-old retiree still expressed outrage over the affair.

“It was really an insult for them to come out with that attitude in print,” says Delugach. “I took it very personally. I figured there was no future here for me. The Globe-Democrat had people that had an interest in not stirring things up, but the Post-Dispatch, they were just so aloof. Even after what we did–getting the Pulitzer Prize–they didn’t act like it had any validity at all. They didn’t demonstrate at all that they considered it important after they hired me. I don’t know why they bothered.”

Delugach recalls the Post sent him to Alaska to cover the oil boom for two months. It was a plum assignment, but far from the beat that had nabbed the Pulitzer. In retrospect, it almost seems like the Post used its deep pockets to send him into exile.

By contrast, Delugach and Walsh had the full support of Richard Amberg, the previous publisher of the Globe-Democrat who originally teamed them up. But after Ainberg died and Bauman took over in 1967, Walsh noticed a change in course.

“Al and I were having a lot of difficulty with Bauman,” says Walsh. “He began to squeeze us on what we were doing, in respect to the steamfitters.”

The impasse reached a critical stage after Walsh learned through his sources in Washington that top Department of Justice officials had quashed the federal criminal prosecution of those involved in the $1 million steamfitters’ kickback conspiracy case.

“We wrote that story and handed it in,” says Walsh. “He (Bauman) killed it.”

Walsh says he then leaked the piece to Wall Street Journal Reporter Nicholas Gage. After the Journal ran the story, Delugach and Walsh were free to report on it in the Globe-Democrat. More important, the news coverage forced the Justice Department to reverse its decision and go forward with the prosecution.

“We wouldn’t have won the Pulitzer Prize had the indictment not been returned,” Walsh says.

The defendants included the president of the First United Life Insurance Co. of Gary, Ind., and two officials of Local 562. Court documents named Shenker and Callanan as beneficiaries of the scheme, but they weren’t charged. John “Doc” Lawler, another top steamfitter official, also allegedly benefited from the kickbacks.

John O’Connell Hough, Lawler’s personal attorney and un-indicted co-conspirator, agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors, but never got the chance to testify. The Clayton-based lawyer disappeared in the Miami area on Aug. 12, 1967. Two months later, fishermen discovered his body in a secluded pine grove near the Inter-Coastal Waterway several miles north of Bal Harbour, Fla. Hough had been beaten and shot to death with .38-caliber handgun. The homicide remains unsolved.

After Hough’s murder, two prosecution witnesses refused to testify, and the defendants were acquitted.

In the intervening decades, the Post’s editorial position has been accepted as unequivocal. Nowadays it is taken for granted that organized crime no longer exists in St. Louis.

Walsh refuses to speculate on whether the mob is dead or alive here.

“I’ve been gone for 40 years. I don’t know what’s going on there. I don’t know what the Post is doing or not doing.”

The veteran reporter is sure of this much: “I would not want to be a member of any organization, or any group or any entity that counts Duncan Bauman as a member. I think he’s a stain on St. Louis journalism.”

 

 

Tony Messenger’s BFF

Pulitzer-Prize Winner Tony Messenger blurred the lines between the editorial page and the newsroom in 2015 and lived. Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich wasn’t so lucky.

On page 13A of the Feb. 27, 2015 edition, Tony Messenger, then the editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, began his tribute to the late Tom Schweich by referring to him as his BFF,  an acronym that stands for “best friends forever.” In the next sentence and several that followed, Messenger made clear that he was not really Schweich’s best friend, and that the label was used by his fellow editorial writers to sarcastically allude to his relationship with the state auditor and Republican gubernatorial candidate. As Messenger explained it, the BFF reference was an inside joke.  

Messenger penned his tribute, which began with that disparagement, less than 24 hours after Schweich had committed suicide by shooting himself in the head with a hand gun. Messenger then went on to explain the reason why Schweich was jokingly referred to as his BFF. It was because Schweich exhibited a naivete unusual in a politician. He truly considered Messenger to be his confidante. Schweich spoke to Messenger openly about his political and personal troubles. Messenger listened. But it’s clear from Messenger’s account that he did not share the Schweich’s illusion of friendship. Schweich was more a source than a friend to Messenger. He cultivated the relationship to gain inside information from Schweich beginning in 2010 when he was a reporter for another newspaper in Jefferson City, the Missouri state capital.

Immediately prior to his suicide, Schweich had confided in Messenger, telling him about the problems he was encountering related to his Republican gubernatorial bid.  Rumors were allegedly being circulated against him by John Hancock, the then-chairman of the state Republican Party. The allegations revolved around Schweich’s religious background. According to Messenger’s account, Schweich believed Hancock was falsely telling Republicans that Schweich was Jewish in an effort to undercut his gubernatorial candidacy.

In his homage, Messenger wrote that after Schweich committed suicide Messenger felt compelled to do what he had never done before as a reporter: He revealed the substance of off-the-record conversations with a source. The problem with Messenger’s confession is that he was not a reporter any longer when this breech of ethics occurred. He was the editorial page editor. Editorial writers are not reporters. They adhere to a different set of rules than those followed in the newsroom. They must remain detached and above the fray, otherwise they risk destroying their credibility and independence by miring themselves in conflicts of interests and charges of bias and deceit. In short, an editorial writer should never have been talking off-the-record to a public official, especially one involved in a heated election race.

In this case, the conflict is that Messenger was milking a confidential source for inside political information when he was not a reporter. Moreover, he knew that Schweich was having serious emotional and mental problems, but he continued the relationship despite all of this, feigning friendship. He was in charge of setting the editorial position of the newspaper and shaping public opinion, while continuing to maintain an off-the-record source — as if he were still a reporter. He was not a reporter, however. Nonetheless, Messenger still referred to himself in the aftermath of the Schweich suicide as a “reporter.”

The other problem with Messenger’s confused role in this tragedy is that he apparently communicated some facet of confidential information he had received off-the-record from Schweich to the newsroom staff, from which he was supposed to be separated as an opinion writer. A reporter was subsequently sent to interview Schweich, but Schweich killed himself before the reporter arrived.

Messenger had broken the firewall between the editorial page and the newsroom.

Was  Messenger sacked, suspended or even mildly reprimanded for these violations of journalistic standards? No, he was rewarded and given a column. Last year, he  won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary and there was much celebrating in the newsroom to which he had returned. Schweich’s death wasn’t on anybody’s mind during the celebration. The circumstances of Schweich’s death would have been largely forgotten had not Tony Messenger himself duly chronicled his involvement to readers of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

At 9:41 a.m., Feb. 26, 2015, seven-minutes before police were called to Schweich’s house after he shot himself, Tony Messenger acknowledged receiving a call on his cell phone from a distraught Tom Schweich, but Messenger ignored the call. He didn’t pick it up. Schweich left him a voice mail message. Referring to that final message from his “BFF,” Messenger ended his tribute to Schweich the day after the state auditor’s suicide with this comment: “I think I’ll keep it.”

Did he?