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Bos, who once proclaimed that his only religion was “Pete Wilson,” wrote reams of Wilson-friendly coverage before becoming the mayor’s press secretary in 1977; he remained a top Wilson staffer and Copley intermediary until dying of a massive heart attack while playing soccer in 1991.

When Wilson beat California Gov. Jerry Brown for the U.S. Senate in 1982, Copley wanted another of her friends to replace Wilson as mayor. Democrat Maureen O’Connor, the tomboy daughter of a Mission Hills bootlegger, had been elected to the San Diego City Council in 1971 with cash from Robert O. Peterson, founder of the Jack in the Box fast-food chain. She later married him and announced she would spend virtually unlimited amounts of Peterson’s personal fortune on her mayoral campaign.

Copley was not just friendly with Peterson and O’Connor, they were investors together in Gustaf Anders, a La Jolla Shores restaurant heavily promoted by the Copley papers. Copley also dated Democrat Dick Silberman, Peterson’s Jack in the Box partner. Though their relationship later faltered for reasons never stated, the unlikely pair turned up frequently at La Jolla social and political events.

In the spring of 1983, Copley editors girded for battle. Their enemy: Roger Hedgecock, a self-styled progressive Republican who cast himself several degrees to the left of Wilson. He had assembled a battle-ready campaign force, run by young aide-de-camp Tom Shepard. Campaign contributors included J. David Dominelli, a remarkably successful La Jolla–based financial guru who claimed to be making making millions of dollars for his investors through mysterious foreign currency trades.

Despite her husband’s wealth and Copley’s backing, O’Connor seemed unprepared for the juggernaut that was the Hedgecock campaign. Though the Copley papers ignored the story, Hedgecock’s handlers whispered about the personal ties between Copley and O’Connor, helping to undercut the credibility of the paper’s endorsement. He beat O’Connor handily.

By the beginning of 1984, the odds had changed. Dominelli’s vaunted investment genius was discovered to be a Ponzi scheme, a house of cards the collapse of which robbed investors of their life savings. Revelations that Dominelli and his girlfriend, Del Mar mayor Nancy Hoover, had secretly financed Hedgecock’s 1983 special election victory drew Dick Carlson, an ex-TV anchorman married to a Swanson frozen-food heiress from La Jolla, into the regular election battle.

With O’Connor sitting out the race, the Copley papers swung behind Carlson with a vengeance. On April 20, the Union ran a story on its front page reporting that the county grand jury had heard testimony that $400,000 of unexplained funds had been found in secret bank accounts controlled by the mayor. It looked like curtains for Hedgecock. Except the story wasn’t true.

In May, Hedgecock filed a libel suit against the newspaper for $3 million, alleging that the Union had run the story “to impair and prevent” his reelection bid. “Just as I support the role of an aggressive and independent press as critical to the continued health of our democratic institutions,” Hedgecock said in a statement, “I also believe that when an individual member of the media abuses his or her very considerable power and steps over the line that divides thorough, independent scrutiny from intentional, malicious, unfair attack, someone must stand up and speak out.

“Not only did the editors of the Union refuse to correct their original errors, they continued to republish them, with the apparent objective of causing me and my family as much damage as possible.”

At first, Union editor Jerry Warren stuck to his guns, disputing Hedgecock’s repeated charge that the paper was out to get him and was using its news pages to do it. “From the very start, we approached this story on a professional journalistic basis,” Warren said. “The mayor apparently is approaching a suit as a political matter…We’re not running for anything…Of course we stand by the story.”

Added Herb Klein: “The suit by the mayor is not unexpected. He suggests motives which are contrary to fact. The timing of the action and statements and innuendos by the mayor clearly indicate the purely political aspects of his suit.”

Then, on July 25, the paper issued a full retraction. It ran on the front page under Warren’s byline. “The San Diego Union reported on April 20 and 21, relying on statements of sources close to the investigation, that the grand jury was probing allegations about Mayor Roger Hedgecock’s personal and campaign finances. The Union has since learned that key aspects of these stories were incorrect.”

Though the election was three months away, the race for mayor effectively ended that morning. In November, Hedgecock — by then under indictment in the money-laundering case — easily bested Carlson. At the same time, a swath of Copley clout and credibility was laid low.

Hedgecock was convicted in December 1985 and forced to resign, but the fallen mayor ever afterwards maintained that Helen Copley’s newspapers had railroaded him, and many believed him; the Union’s clumsy attempt to wield the J. David scandal as a cudgel had backfired badly. Once challenged so blantantly, the Copley papers found it hard to regain their bearings.

In June 1986, with Hedgecock vanquished, O’Connor was elected mayor. A high point of her tenure came when she appeared on a 1989 segment of NBC’s Today Show with Helen Copley and McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc. The three women expressed admiration for one another and inspected a million-dollar Fabergé egg Kroc had contributed to the mayor’s Russian Arts Festival. Host Jane Pauley gushed that the trio ran the city, and in some ways she was right. But, even then, time was running out for Copley Newspapers.

Evening Tribune circulation was falling rapidly — down from a 1979 peak of 133,711 to 116,694 — when Helen Copley announced in September 1991 that she was closing the paper down. “The Tribune is a wonderful newspaper and it’s not that we haven’t tried hard to maintain it as a separate and independent paper,” said a quote ascribed to Copley by the Tribune. Herb Klein, still Copley editor in chief, chimed in, “It was a difficult decision and one she has given days and hours and months to.”

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Comments

Anonymous Feb. 27, 2008 @ 2:48 p.m.

How did Jim Copley manage to "adopt" David when the boy already had a father? Did the father die or relinquish his parental rights? Or was the adoption merely a name change or perhaps even a fabrication?

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maybelar Feb. 28, 2008 @ 7:41 p.m.

No wonder "SOMETHING STINKS @ THE UNION-TRIBUNE!" Let everybody know that this 100+ years old company doesn't care about the family of their ordinary workers who works hard everyday!One after another the dirty-tricks emerge revealing Union Tribune's ruthless campaign against workers' rights. When UT Pacakging Employees attempt to stand up for themselves and try to form a union, we face threats, propaganda, discrimination, intimidation, harassment and even firings. Which are clearly contrary to the wishes and values of a True-American. It's wrong, and it's got to stop now!!!It is not surprising why Copley business is dying....

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electric_fish Feb. 29, 2008 @ 5:27 a.m.

I haven't read it yet but this should be GOOD.

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Anonymous Feb. 29, 2008 @ 9:27 a.m.

Gee what a surprise! A let's bash the Copleys story from the industrious and gregarious Matt Potter. What will he write about when the newspaper folds?

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catoman2 March 2, 2008 @ 3:39 p.m.

Thanks for providing some historical perspective into UT influence and power in San Diego. The bias against Aguierre and the perpetual boosterism for the Padres and Chargers are merely recent examples of their corruption.

Cheers to the Reader for their willingness to challenge the powers that be here in Enron By The Sea.

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pete69 March 2, 2008 @ 11:11 a.m.

I wonder if...David gets the reader delivered to his yacht?...

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JohnMont March 31, 2008 @ 7:35 p.m.

It's an interesting article but is there any way to find out what the average decline is nationwide compared to the Union. Also I know a lot of friends who subscribe to the NY times or LA times because they hate the U-T so much. Is there any way to track their circulation here? And compare it to the decline of the U-T.

It's a great article but i'd like more facts and figures than just a statement like...

"Almost all American newspapers are suffering in the Internet age, but the Union-Tribune is among the most prominent of the walking wounded. The decades-long decay in its circulation, beginning years before the advent of broadband, owes as much to its peculiar heritage of warped coverage and irregular stewardship as it does to the threat posed by the Web."

I don't disagree but I'd like more research and editing.

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maybelar April 1, 2008 @ 11:04 p.m.

Again, I hope someday justice will prevail!

They can run but they cannot hide!!!!

I hope that someday the whole America & the whole world will know what this 100+ years old company is doing to their everyday hardworking people in the Packaging Department.

Their unfair Labor Practices...They are a shame to America's Ideals!

I hope someday my friends & my co-workers there will not be scared to their dirty tricks just to ger rid out of the union. I hope someday they would be bravely enough to stand up for their rights & tell them "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"

I hope San Diegans would be aware on "How bad they treat their workers! It is not a joke!!!"

A lot of monkey business there, we want real business...REAL BUSINESS!

copy & paste this URL READ THIS>>> http://thecharmsquad.blogspot.com/

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JeffofLincoln Nov. 11, 2012 @ 2:42 p.m.

I was an employee of the Copley organization for 37 years, first under Jim, then Helen and finally David and let go soon after David began selling off the newspapers in the Midwest. It was an incredible 37 years and an experience I would gladly repeat. The organization was very good to me. What's more, I know of no one who regrets being an employee while the organization was owned by the Copleys.

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SurfPuppy619 Nov. 11, 2012 @ 5:06 p.m.

Then you didn't know very many employees at Colpey Jeff.

Copley had notorious labor problems, mainly but not limited to, with the rank and file unskilled/semi skilled employees.

What rock do you live under?

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