The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky on April 4, 2006 · Page A7
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The Courier-Journal from Louisville, Kentucky · Page A7

Louisville, Kentucky
Issue Date:
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
Page A7
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Bingham was a quick learner who developed “a vision for the papers that put total emphasis on good journalism and the highest level of ethics.” That led to “exemplary public service.” George Gill, who was president of the Bingham companies when they were sold; as managing editor earlier, he introduced young Bingham to the newspaper business. “Barry Bingham had enormous responsiblities placed on him after his brother’s death, and he responded with excellence. … I personally saw his leadership during court-ordered busing. He established a rumor-control (operation) … and the reporting … was absolutely factual.” Former Louisville Mayor Harvey Sloane “I wished he’d been on the other side, but he was always honest and straightforward. He was a nice guy and you knew where he stood.” Former U.S. Rep. Gene Snyder, R-4th District “The Patriarch: The Rise and Fall of the Bingham Dynasty.” Yesterday, Bingham was hailed by public leaders and former staffers. Howard Fineman, a chief political correspondent for Newsweek who worked for The Courier-Journal from 1973 to 1980, said: “Barry will be remembered as someone who symbolized the commitment of a family to a community through journalism. He loved the state and treasured the newspaper’s role as one of the few things that brought Kentucky together.” Fineman, also an NBC News analyst, said Bingham was “very shrewd in his assessment of people but also very charitable and gracious.” Recalling an annual party Bingham threw for his bureau reporters, Fineman said, “It was marvelous, comic even — correspondents tromping out of the mountains to Glenview for lunch served on the finest china, amid the Southern grace of the Binghams’ home.” U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s senior Republican senator, remembered Bingham as “an honorable and independent head of Kentucky’s most important newspaper” and “a member of one of the great families in Kentucky’s history.” Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson said in a statement that “Barry Bingham Jr. was the conscience of our community. … He sought the very best for his hometown and home state, and he constantly pushed us to settle for nothing less than greatness.” Al Neuharth, the retired CEO of Gannett Co., which purchased the newspapers from Bingham’s family in 1986 for $305million, said Bingham was “a gentleman and a great journalist and will always be remembered that way.” After being thrust into premature retirement at age 53, Bingham raised millions of dollars for two of his favorite causes, Actors Theatre of Louisville and Bernheim Forest. He largely stayed out of the public eye, with occasional exceptions —he crusaded for changes at the Fund for the Arts, once marched in front of the police station to protest the fatal shooting of a handcuffed man, and occasionally criticized the new management of the media companies his family had owned. In an interview in January, he said he was saddened by the dismantling of The Courier-Journal’s regional bureaus, the ads published on its front page and its shrinking news sections. “The Courier-Journal is not what it used to be,” he said, “but on the other hand, journalism in America is not what it used to be.” Public service over profits Immediately recognizable with his Scottish caps and waxed mustache, Barry Bingham Jr. was named head of the Louisville newspapers in 1971. Under his leadership, the newspapers published award- winning series that prompted reforms in coal-mine safety, the nursing home industry, coro- ners’death investigations and the policing of negligent doctors. Like his father, Barry Bingham Sr., and his grandfather, Robert Worth Bingham, who originally bought the newspapers, Barry Jr. strived to run them as a public trust that stressed public service over profits. When he thought they were wrong, he scolded big tobacco and the coal industry — then mainstays of Kentucky’s economy — on his editorial pages, and he championed busing to desegregate Jefferson County’s schools. And even when anti-busing protesters broke $3,000 worth of windows in the newspaper building, he opposed a court order to limit demonstrations, for fear of limiting free speech. Former Executive Editor Paul Janensch once said he could recall Barry Jr. ordering stories published only three times — when he was fined for running a red light, for hunting doves on a baited field and for speeding on River Road. Yet Barry Jr. was ripped for hypocrisy when his papers opposed a right-to-work bill in the Kentucky legislature at the same time his printing company avoided trade unions by building aplant in Tennessee, a right-to- work state. He was honored by the National Society of Black Journalists for hiring and promoting African-American journalists, and in 1974, he appointed the first woman as managing editor of a major metropolitan newspaper. Merv Aubespin, who began at the newspapers as an artist and rose to associate editor, becoming the first black employee on its masthead, remembered Bingham as an industry leader in championing diversity at his newspapers. But Bingham also insisted in the 1980s that all women family members — his mother, Mary; sisters Sallie and Eleanor; and his wife, Edie — be removed from the boards of the family- owned media companies in favor of professional directors. “If you can’t read a budget,” he said at the time, “what in the hell are you doing approving one?” That decision helped trigger the family feud that resulted in his father’s 1986 decision to put the companies on the auction block, according to various accounts of the family media empire’s demise. The sale of the newspaper company, Standard Gravure, WHAS-TV and two radio stations netted $448million for family members. “For the proud Binghams, a clan of southern patricians who are often compared to the Kennedys because they share a history of tragic death and tremendous wealth, the pain of selling was redoubled because it may have been avoidable,” Jones wrote in a Jan. 19, 1987, New York Times story on the Bingham family meltdown. It was not financial duress that forced the sale, “but implacable family strife, as ancient as the struggle between Cain and Abel,” Jones wrote. Shadow of Worth George Barry Bingham Jr. was born on Sept. 23, 1933, in Louisville, the second of five children of Barry and Mary Caperton Bingham. That same year, the baby’s grandfather, Robert Worth Bingham, was named ambassador to England by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Barry Jr. grew up “very much in the shadow” of his older brother Worth, a natural leader whom he worshiped, author Marie Brenner wrote in “House of Dreams: The Bingham Family of Louisville.” His mother was convinced that young Barry was “lazy” and “vague,” as she wrote to his father during World War II. But Barry Sr., Brenner wrote, “had a soft spot for his namesake.” Despite low test scores at a succession of prep schools, Barry Jr. was admitted to Harvard, where his father was an overseer and a magna cum laude graduate, according to published accounts about the family’s business breakup. Overweight until college, Barry Jr. slimmed into a crack athlete who made first boat on Harvard’s rowing team. He graduated in 1956 with a degree in history, and served two years with the Marines before joining NBC News, where he researched and produced documentaries. In 1961, he met Edith Wharton Stenhouse Franchini, a sixth- generation Washington resident who was divorced and had two small children, Philip and Charles. Barry Jr. wanted to stay in Washington, but his father said he needed him and Worth in Louisville. Worth was named assistant to the publisher, and Barry Jr. was assistant to the president of WHAS radio and television stations. He and Edie married in 1963; they had two daughters, Emily and Mary Caperton Bingham, known as Molly. The next year, the family experienced the first of two tragic deaths. Barry Jr.’s younger brother, Jonathan, was electrocuted while climbing a utility pole to tap electricity for a party at Melcombe, the family estate in Glenview. He was 22. Two years later, Worth, 34, was driving in Nantucket with his wife, Joan, and their two children when a surfboard sticking out of both sides of the vehicle struck a parked car and broke Worth’s neck, killing him. It had long been assumed that Worth would take over the newspapers from his father, and Barry Jr. would continue to operate the broadcast stations and Standard Gravure, the printing company. But after Worth’s death, Barry Jr. decided he should run the papers. “It would have been untrue to Worth to say the hell with it and go ahead and sell it,” he recalled years later. “Winston Churchill said wars are won by survivors. That’s true of families too. The survivors have to move in and take over and do their damnedest, or one tragedy can wipe out afamily tradition.” Mr. Clean Barry Jr.’s reign seemed as if it would start with a tragedy of its own. A physical for an insurance policy revealed a mass in his chest and Hodgkin’s disease, which had killed his grandfather. His spleen was removed, and he underwent radiation treatments for several months. His lungs were scarred, but he recovered He was a hard worker, recalled Janensch, who said Barry Jr.’s “red, beat-up Datsun was the first car in the ... parking area in the morning and the last gone in the evening.” A“techno-nerd” before that term was popularized, he launched an unsuccessful cable news operation and a successful business — Data Courier — that distributed business articles through computer networks. According to published accounts, staffers rolled their eyes when he predicted that one day the newspaper industry would transmit news directly to readers on their computer screens. Although circulation and advertising declined during his tenure, as Louisville’s economy flattened, he championed The Courier-Journal’s increasingly costly statewide news coverage and circulation. While he was publisher, The Courier-Journal won Pulitzers in 1976 for photographs related to the impact of court-ordered public school busing; in 1978 for investigative stories on the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire; and in 1980 for stories and photographs from Cambodia. A1983 Media Research Institute survey of publishers, editors and journalism professors placed The Courier-Journal among the nation’s top 15 daily newspapers. But Barry Jr. was best known in the industry for his ethics rules. The Wall Street Journal once wrote that the papers under his leadership were the “acknowledged Messrs. Cleans of the newspaper industry,” although in a headline, it wondered if they were not “A Trifle Sanctimonious?” He insisted, for instance, that his papers pay for review copies of books sent to news outlets for free, which irritated publishers because they had no way to record the reimbursements. Barry Jr. once wrote that his philosophy “has always been that the considerable power of an editor and publisher should be exercised with both discretion and moderation. A ‘bully pulpit’ can soon become abusive if restraint is not a guiding principle.” Losing faith In 1985, citing thin profit margins and the need to save money for new presses, Bingham announced he was merging the morning Courier-Journal and afternoon Louisville Times. Although profits had increased over the years, they still lagged behind the industry average, and Eleanor and her husband, architect Rowland Miller, were demanding higher dividends. Barry Jr. would later say he felt at the time that his family was losing faith in him. He complained that his mother and sister Sallie interfered with the papers, hounding him with memos about where stories were played, the wording of columns and personnel issues. Determined to professional- ize the family properties, he insisted on removing the women family members from the companies’ boards. He later told Fortune magazine that “there were board meetings when my wife was doing needlepoint, one sister was addressing Christmas cards and another didn’t bother to attend.” Though advisers warned him the move would backfire, he wouldn’t relent. Voted off the board, Sallie announced in 1985 that she would sell her 15 percent stake in the companies to an outside buyer if the family refused to meet her price. She demanded $42mil- lion; the family countered with $25million, and she dropped her demand to $32million. Barry Jr.’s financial advisers urged him to raise his offer to $28million, but he said it would throw the companies too far in debt. His last offer was $26.3million. Barry Bingham Sr., 79, concluded then that the deal was dead and announced that he would sell the family’s holdings. He said his son had let his emotions cloud his judgment: “I think he felt anything more would have been a victory for Sallie and a defeat for him.” In a public statement at the time, Barry Jr. called his father’s decision to sell a “betrayal of the traditions and principles which I have sought to perpetuate.” Barry Jr. and his wife collected $88.2million, including money from Judge Bingham’s trust. “If money can bring happiness,” Barry Jr. wrote in a farewell piece in his newspaper, “there should be no shortage of it in this family riven by disagreement and distrust.” In an interview in January 2006, Barry Jr. said that meeting Sallie’s price might have preserved a few more years of family ownership, but would have been a fatal financial blow to the family’s holdings. After the sale, Barry Jr., then 53, launched a journalism ethics newsletter, Fine Line, in 1989, but folded it after about 2 1 ⁄ 2 years, calling it a victim of the recession. It attracted 800 subscribers at its peak, but never enough to break even. Sallie said later that her brother lost his identity after the sale of the family holdings. “He was pretty unhappy,” she said. Barry Jr. recalled in the 2006 interview that for years after the sale, he would wake up each morning and start editing the paper at home, looking for spelling mistakes and stories that ran “on page 14 that should have been on page one.” “The editor in me just wouldn’t die,” he said. Reconciliations Barry Bingham Sr. died of a brain tumor in 1988. His son said they had made peace just a few months earlier. “I think he and I understood each other.’’ Barry Jr. remained close to his mother, who died in 1995. In May 2004, Barry Jr. collapsed while touring the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. His heart stopped, and he was rushed to a hospital,where he was fitted with a pacemaker. He said later that the near- death experience prompted him to make peace with Sallie. He called her at her home in Santa Fe, N.M., later had an amicable meeting and started exchanging Christmas and birthday gifts. “There was no point going to my grave being bitter,” he said. His physical and mental health were fragile in his 70s. He acknowledged earlier this year that his family had, two years earlier, had him involuntarily committed to Norton Hospital’s psychiatric ward. He said he was misdiagnosed then as being bipolar, and was actually suffering withdrawal after stopping massive doses of steroids he’d been prescribed for an immune-system disorder. He said he was admitted under an assumed named — “Mr. Deruces” (“secured” spelled backward) — to avoid publicity. “One of the NFL-sized quarterbacks assigned to me looked at me and said, ‘You’re not Mr. Deruces — you’re Barry Bingham Jr.! I worked for you at The Courier-Journal,’” he recalled in 2006, laughing. Bingham is survived by his wife, Edith S. Bingham; his children, Emily S. Bingham and Mary C. “Molly” Bingham of Washington, D.C.; his stepchildren, Charles Bingham of Louisville and Philip Franchini of Los Angeles; and his sisters, Eleanor B. Miller and Sallie Bingham of Santa Fe, N.M. Reporter Andrew Wolfson can be reached at (502) 582-7189. BINGHAM | Son of newspaper family took Courier-Journal to journalistic highs and sale Continued from A1 1959 photo by Billy Davis, The Courier-Journal Members of the Bingham family gathered at their Glenview home in 1959 for a Christmas portrait. From left, are Worth Bingham, Joan Bingham, Whitney Ellsworth, Sallie Bingham, Jonathan Bingham, Barry Bingham Sr., Barry Bingham Jr., Mary C. Bingham and Eleanor Bingham. Worth and Jonathan would die tragically in the ’60s. 1986 photo by Keith Williams, The Courier-Journal Staff members applauded Barry Bingham Jr. during his speech in the newsroom after the sale of the newspapers to Gannett Co. FUNERAL DETAILS Visitation will be between 4 and 7 p.m. tomorrowat the Binghams’ home, 4309 Glenview Ave. The funeral service will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at Christ Church Cathedral, 421S. Second St. The burial will be private. Bingham requested that contributions be made to the Bernheim Forest & Arboretum, Kentucky Opera, Actors Theatre, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth or the charity of the donor’s choice. Forum A7 TUESDAY APRIL4,2006 ‘’ If integrity is as important to you as it is to me, you’ll never be willing to do a job that leaves you with dirty hands. BARRY BINGHAM Jr. (1933-2006), speaking to Louisville journalists in 1986 after receiving an award for defending First Amendment freedoms. M

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