Jeff Smith 2:15 p.m., July 27
Do "speak no evil" obits inform readers?
U-T's encomium on Red Scott omitted key details
"Speak no evil of the dead," is advice that many newspapers follow in a non-paid obituary. However, many of the credible daily papers, such as the New York Times, strive to do balanced reports on the life of a person who has died. (Note that in many publications today, Margaret Thatcher is getting anything but a panegyric.) Charles "Red" Scott was a well-known San Diego businessman/financier whose life was celebrated in a recent U-T obituary.
Scott had many excellent qualities that were justifiably lauded in the obit. But objectivity demanded that some facts be put in the story. The obit notes that Scott headed the conglomerate Intermark. But it does not point out that Intermark and a companion company, choking with excessive debt, went bankrupt in 1992. Similarly, the article mentions that Scott gained control of Atlanta's Fuqua Industries, renaming it Actava Group. The story could have mentioned that Actava's losses ballooned under Scott, the stock plunged, and the founder of the company blamed Scott for the debacle.
Indeed, the obit quoted San Diegans lauding Scott for his cheerfulness and optimism. One said that Scott "always saw the glass half full, never half empty." Unfortunately, Scott's unhesitating optimism was his business weakness. Scott would only hire people who were optimistic. But he may have been more successful if he had hired some people who saw the glass as half empty, and weren't afraid to tell that to Scott -- before the companies he ran plunged into bankruptcy or near-bankruptcy.