Don Bauder 9:40 p.m., May 21
Neil Morgan: Great Writer, Shrewd Operator
Sunday's Union-Tribune had an excellent column by Logan Jenkins honoring Neil Morgan, longtime columnist, editor, book author, and oft-times gadfly who has played a major role in San Diego history. My only quibble with Jenkins's column is that he said that Morgan is "arguably San Diego's greatest journalist." I would have left out the word "arguably."
Morgan, now 88 and in fragile health, according to Jenkins, left papers at the Mandeville center at the University of California at San Diego library. A San Diego writer went through those papers and told me about them. In the early 1990s when Copley management was thinking about merging the Tribune (of which Morgan was editor) with the Union, Morgan told Helen Copley that the Tribune was journalistically superior to the Union. Morgan told Tribune editors to shape their narrative to state that Helen agreed that the Tribune was the superior product. Morgan encouraged his editors when they ranted about the Union's inferiority. At the same time, he urged Helen Copley to give him the title of associate editor of the combined paper with columns three times a week, and time out for travel. (Morgan was granted all those things.)
But as he pleaded with Helen Copley, Morgan was astutely taking steps to move on if he got turned down. He prepared notes for a friend who wrote to Shelby Coffey, editor of the Los Angeles Times, suggesting that Coffey hire Morgan. Alas, Coffey said the economy was too weak for him to do that. Then, a New York friend wrote to Pete Wilson, urging him to hire Morgan as his press secretary. The friend sent a copy of the letter to Morgan.
Finally, a prominent establishment San Diegan wrote to Morgan in 2003, warning that Mayor Dick Murphy's plan for the downtown ballpark was seriously flawed; it would allow the Padres to profit from the sale of land in the ballpark district. (Some say that John Moores raked in $700 million to $1 billion from the sale of land in the ballpark district.) I don't remember whether Neil reported that, but he did give Diann Shipione a boost when she revealed how sick the pension system was. In one of the most disgraceful actions in San Diego journalism, the U-T fired Morgan in 2004. I have always said Neil was fired by people who weren't even half as smart as he was. He proved that when he hired a lawyer and got a very generous settlement. He then went on to co-found Voice of San Diego, the online publication.