• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

In 1992, O’Connor declined to run for reelection and was succeeded by Susan Golding, whose earlier campaign for county supervisor was financed by her husband, Richard Silberman, Copley’s steady date of a decade before. By the time Golding became mayor, Silberman had been convicted of money laundering and the couple was divorced.

With no personal friends remaining in public office and her health beginning to fail, Copley, nearing 80, adopted a receding profile during the ensuing Golding years. In the summer of 1996, she made no public appearances when San Diego finally hosted the Republican National Convention, Jim Copley’s long-held ambition.

To commemorate the event, Copley commissioned an enormous sand sculpture of a dancing elephant and threw a lavish outdoor party in Embarcadero Park near Seaport Village for thousands of invited guests, presided over by her son David, who greeted visitors while seated in a throne-like chair under a tent.

Only a decade later did the Union-Tribune report that the city had fudged the numbers of its growing pension obligation in order to free up enough cash to subsidize the Republicans. The pension debt would later threaten to bankrupt the city.

Helen Copley died on August 25, 2004, at Foxhill, the sprawling French Provincial estate in La Jolla built by her late husband Jim. She was 81. Her only child David, then 52, was born after Helen fled to San Diego following a quickie marriage and divorce from his father in Iowa, apparently to give the child a name; Jim Copley adopted David in 1965, immediately after marrying Helen.

At the time of her death, Helen had long since settled her legal disagreement with Jim Copley’s two adopted children from his first marriage, who sued for fraud, claiming she raided their trust fund. The agreement was secret, but it was clear they were out of the company for good. David was his mother’s only apparent heir. She named him chairman and chief executive of the Copley Press and publisher of the Union-Tribune in 1997.

For years, rumors swirled through the Union-Tribune about the state of his health. A huge man with a baby face, Copley was famous for his drinking bouts and the extravagant parties he threw. He had been repeatedly arrested for drunk driving, in one case doing a week at a county labor camp after being picked up weaving down a street near his La Jolla mansion in his Porsche.

In 1999, Vanity Fair contributor Maureen Orth wrote “Vulgar Favors,” in which she chronicled the history of Andrew Cunanan, the 27-year-old gay serial killer from Hillcrest who murdered fashion icon Gianni Versace in 1997. Orth wrote that Cunanan had been seen at Copley’s parties and went on to note that the Union-Tribune had been suspiciously slow to report on Cunanan and his relationships with wealthy La Jolla men.

“The San Diego Union-Tribune did not write about Andrew Cunanan at all for weeks,” Orth said in a 1999 interview. “The very first mention, as I recall, was an obituary of his third victim, Lee Miglin, and never mentioned Andrew Cunanan.

“And the first several stories they did were off wire copy and talking to people in Minneapolis and never once asked anybody in Hillcrest nor anybody Cunanan knew to comment. I thought that was just kind of amazing. I mean, you've got national reporters coming out from all over the country to do major stories about this guy, and he's never mentioned in his local newspaper. That's odd.”

Though it wasn’t acknowledged by the paper, the U-T rumor mill had it that Copley’s heart was bad, caused by his weight and indulgence in food, drink, and perhaps other substances. Then, almost a year after Helen’s death, the U-T announced in July 2005 that he’d had a heart transplant.

“For me, of course, this is wonderful news,” said an email message attributed to him by the paper. “The surgeons and their team at Sharp Hospital in San Diego did a magnificent job. Indeed, over the last two years, they literally have saved my life several times. Thanks to their skill and the scientific advances that make their work possible, I can look forward to many years of renewed vigor and productivity.” Copley did recover, but the same could not be said for his newspapers. Circulation continued to fall and advertising fled, a typical American newspaper story made worse by the Copley chain’s reputation for spinning facts, relentless boosterism, and history of conducting political wars on behalf of its owners.

In early 2006, Union-Tribune editor Karin Winner wrote a page-one story about the importance of the state’s Public Records Act, in which she said, “We shine white-hot spotlights on your government — local, state and national — so you can scrutinize and evaluate the actions of the people you elect and the way they spend your tax dollars.” For many readers, accustomed to years of slanted coverage — as well as strategic lack of coverage — clearly designed to protect Copley’s preferred candidates or promote the city’s latest taxpayer-subsidized stadium proposal, the idea that Union-Tribune reporters had started turning over rocks in search of civic evildoing seemed preposterous.

But there were a few signs of change, viewed by cynics as the financially flagging newspaper’s last-gasp attempt to recruit new subscribers by building its credibility. In 2005, Winner launched the “Watchdog Report,” a series of investigative stories that delved into long-unreported municipal scandals involving city land sales, lobbying violations, and — at long last — the “money mess” that was the city’s underfunded pension fund. Many of the stories were clearly derived from the work of others; a Watchdog Report about slum property owned by Nick Inzunza, brother of ex-San Diego city councilman Ralph Inzunza, convicted in the Cheetahs strip-club bribery case, had already been done elsewhere.

But the mere fact that the stories ran at all seemed to show that Winner was serious about her new direction. In June 2005, the U-T broke the story, reported by Marcus Stern of the Copley News Service, of GOP Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s sale of his Del Mar house to a lobbyist for whom he’d done repeated favors. Within months, Cunningham, a fighter-pilot hero of the war in Vietnam who had long been a Copley favorite, resigned his seat; he pleaded guilty to multiple bribery counts and was sentenced to eight years and four months in federal prison. In 2006 the coverage was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, exorcising the old ghost of the San Diego Union, which had never received the coveted award.

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader

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?

0

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....

0

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

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

0

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?

0

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.

0

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

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

0

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.

0

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/

0

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.

0

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?

0

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close