Duncan Bauman is alive and well, and still trying to have the last word. Period.

Share on Nextdoor
Vince Schoemehl was running for mayor, courting North Side votes with a promise to reopen Homer G. Phillips Hospital, where the city's poor black residents went for medical care. It was one of the key issues of the 1981 Democratic primary election, one that helped Schoemehl beat incumbent Jim Conway. Later, as mayor, Schoemehl would abandon his campaign pledge, citing the failure of bond issues and a proposed sales-tax increase to fund the reopening.

If only voters had been behind closed doors at the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat with Schoemehl and former publisher G. Duncan Bauman. There, they might have learned that Schoemehl never meant to keep his word. In a soon-to-be-released book, Bauman tells how Schoemehl met with the editorial board of the Globe, where he was asked by newspapermen, "Where will you find the money to reopen and operate Homer Phillips?"

According to Bauman's account, Schoemehl asked to go "off the record," then said, "I do not intend to reopen Homer Phillips." The Globe endorsed Schoemehl, never reporting that the future mayor was telling its editors and voters two different things.

The tale, which Schoemehl insists is untrue, is vintage Bauman -- former confidante of billionaires, sometime custodian of the public trust and ultimate insider. Bauman, who by his own admission kept news from his own reporters, is bubbling with fascinating stories about the good, the bad and the ugly of the city he loves.

Bauman -- "Dunc" to his friends -- now averages two cigars a day instead of the 10 he once smoked while publisher of what was the city's largest newspaper. He's no longer welcome at Civic Progress meetings. At 87, he's become an observer -- and "off the record" apparently no longer applies.

Yes, retirement has been difficult, Bauman admits. He misses being on the inside, regrets not being able to act on the instant sense of indignation he sees as the most important job requirement for a journalist. But he's no less opinionated -- or conservative -- than he was when he ran the newspaper from 1967-84, served on countless public and private boards and pulled strings to help the right people rise to power in St. Louis.

Fifteen years after the forced sale of the Globe, Bauman remains unabashedly bitter about his beloved paper's going out with a whimper instead of a planned final edition on New Year's Eve that was to be a retrospective of 131 years of service to the community. In the end, Bauman had as little control of the Globe as of the rival Post-Dispatch, a paper he still excoriates.

Bauman regretted but agreed with Si Newhouse's decision to close the Globe. Because the paper was operated under a joint-operating agreement with the Pulitzer-owned Post, the Justice Department intervened in the planned closing of the Globe and forced a sale to Jeffrey Gluck, an undercapitalized entrepreneur from Columbia, Mo. Gluck ran the paper until he was ousted in federal bankruptcy court; the Globe struggled under new owners until finally expiring on Oct. 26, 1986.

"The Department of Justice told us they'd prosecute us on antitrust if we didn't sell it to Gluck," Bauman recalls during a recent interview at his Ladue home. "Well, I wasn't about to go to the penitentiary, and neither was Newhouse. Well, (Gluck) literally had no money. He had no money. And very little experience. And we never got paid a cent. He wrote 50,000 bad checks in one year."

A man born two days after the Titanic sank has plenty of time to accumulate stories. In his book Behind the Headlines, Bauman reveals morsels of St. Louis behind the scenes, how kings were made and overthrown, which public figures lied and which ones told the truth. The book is an "as-told-to" work, with former Globe reporter Mary Kimbrough piecing the text together from Bauman's taped recollections.

Bauman was no ordinary publisher, at least in terms of being remote from the events his paper covered. Bauman himself created news, though Globe readers rarely knew that. He delivered sensitive messages from governors to top city leaders. While personnel manager in the 1950s, he helped run elections as a member of the city's election board. He was privy to stories that would have made the front page, but he never told his reporters the secrets he heard in corporate boardrooms or Civic Progress gatherings. He says he even got advance word of unrest at the 1968 Democratic convention during an impromptu meeting with protesters.

"I had a rule," Bauman says. "I never told the office ever what I learned at any of those meetings. But I was a better publisher by far than if I didn't know what was going on around town. The Post-Dispatch once in a while allowed somebody to serve on a committee, and they'd run right to the office with what they heard. The result was they weren't welcome."

But the powers that be trusted Bauman. Some of them, like Schoemehl, may regret that trust when Bauman's book goes on sale.

Asked about Bauman's account of the "off-the-record" meeting with the Globe board, Schoemehl says it didn't happen that way. Not only didn't he say he had no intention of reopening the hospital, Schoemehl says, he never went off the record. "That just isn't true," Schoemehl says. "I certainly never would have said that, because it wasn't true. Even if what he were alleging were true, the last thing I would have done is go off the record and tell them that. The fact is, we had two active strategies to try to get that hospital reopened."

Martin Duggan, former editorial-page editor of the Globe, says he doesn't remember Schoemehl's statement. "I recall meeting with Vince," he says. "I don't recall the details." So is it possible it happened? "Well, I'll fall back on the answer that people before a grand jury normally give, and that is, "I don't recall that,'" Duggan responds.

Bauman says he can't recall why the Globe endorsed Schoemehl. "It's an embarrassment to me," Bauman says. "I don't remember how we made that distinction, to tell you the truth. His history as an alderman in the 28th Ward and his youth and his intelligence, I think -- I know -- just persuaded us. I can say this: At the time that we endorsed him, I did not have a conscious recollection of his comments to us that he wasn't going to reopen (the hospital)."

Conway, too, is revealed as a man whose political practicalities outweighed other matters. Bauman writes that he was in the room when Conway went to Anheuser-Busch chairman Gussie Busch seeking support during the 1976 mayoral campaign. Busch had one condition: Shave your beard. Off went the whisk-ers and on went Conway to victory, with financial help from Busch.

Bauman says he has no doubt that Busch was serious about the facial hair. "Busch achieved anything he wanted," Bauman says. "He was an invincible enemy. If he didn't want Conway, Conway wasn't going to be mayor."

Conway doesn't recall the meeting with Busch, but he does remember shaving his beard for political reasons. "It wasn't just Gussie," he recalls. "Another one of my significant supporters ... was not akin to facial hair at that time, either. I was the only person in the Missouri General Assembly that had facial hair at that time. I finally decided it wasn't worth being an impediment to being elected. I grew it back. I've had it virtually since the day I left the mayor's office."

Bauman reserves his harshest criticism for unions and liberals. He recounts a meeting with U.S. Rep. William Clay (D-St. Louis) while the congressman was on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Bauman recalls Clay ordering him out of his office with the words "I'll never do anything while I am in public office to help a white man." Bauman contends that Clay has kept that promise.

"He sure as hell has," Bauman says. "I don't know anything Clay's done for anybody."

Clay says the anecdote is pure hogwash.

"Mr. Bauman has told that lie so many times he probably believes it's true," says the congressman. "First of all, when I was on the Board of Aldermen, no alderman had an office. So he is lying. He's lying all of his life. Why would I order anyone out of an office if I had one? And why would I make a stupid statement like that when I was out fighting for integration? If you want me to make some remarks about Mr. Bauman, I'd be glad to."

As for unions, Bauman blames them for putting the Globe out of business with antiquated work rules that bloated the payroll by millions of dollars. "We had dockhands by the union edict in our Maryland Heights plant," Bauman says. "We didn't have a dock. Those dockhands did not work. Built them a card room to get them out of our hair."

"That's total B.S.," says John Metz, a Teamsters official who recalls working on loading docks for the Post-Dispatch, which printed both papers under the joint-operating agreement. Poor management, not unions, put the paper out of business, says Metz, who has headed the unity council of unions that negotiated contracts with both dailies. "He still resents the strike we had in 1973 when the Post was printing the Globe and the Post. Our issue back then was, they were trying to eliminate our jobs, even though they weren't eliminating all our work. We understand facing automation if they totally eliminate your job. But when they eliminate part of it and say we want to eliminate your whole job by giving your work to someone else, that was B.S.

"Duncan Bauman -- he just didn't like any of us," Metz says.

Bauman's distaste for bad unions sometimes outweighed everything else. The Dowds "were effective, good, honorable, diligent people in political life," he says, but that made no difference when Edward Dowd ran for governor in 1972. Bauman withheld the newspaper's endorsement because Dowd had accepted a large contribution from the Steamfitters, which Bauman calls "the most scurrilous, murderous, improperly run union in St. Louis and maybe in the country." Bauman says he told Dowd he'd get the newspaper's endorsement if he returned the contribution and made a public announcement that he'd given it back. Bauman says he insisted on a public announcement "to repudiate the fitters." Dowd wouldn't give the money back and lost the election.

The same thinking didn't apply when Bauman accepted $25,000 from the union on behalf of a charity. Bauman says that was different because "that's money given to take care of humanity."

"I'll take money anytime to take care of the poor, the ill." Even if it came from, say, Manuel Noriega? "Sure," he says. "Absolutely."

Bear in mind, Bauman was a player -- a staunch anti-communist, devout Catholic and law-and-order man who didn't refrain from pushing his own agenda. He says he personally urged former Washington University Chancellor William H. Danforth to "get rid" of the environmentalist Barry Commoner, who was "too left-wing for me to swallow." His wish came true in 1981, when Commoner moved his Center for the Biology of Natural Systems to Queens College in New York. Bauman felt Elizabeth Taylor was "a disgrace" and prevailed on his predecessor as publisher, Dick Amberg, not to publish the movie star's name. Bauman barred the use of the term "Ms." in the newspaper -- a decision he says angered some women on the Globe staff. One of his proudest moments as publisher came when he refused to run advertisements for X-rated theaters.

In an interview, Bauman says he was a victim of discrimination himself. While publisher during the 1970s, he wanted to become president of the Bogey Club, home to Civic Progress meetings and the upper crust of St. Louis. Some members mounted a campaign to defeat his candidacy, he says, because he is Catholic. He overcame their opposition and became president.

Bauman's recollections sometimes paint a dim picture of himself and the rough-and-tumble world of old-time journalism. As a cub reporter for the Chicago Herald-Examiner, Bauman confesses, he sometimes broke into homes to get photographs of murder victims. "You didn't have a job if you didn't," he says. "If I went to the wrong house, people could have come to the door with a gun and shot me and would have been perfectly justified."

Bauman babysat a confessed killer at a hotel and kept him hidden from the rival Chicago Tribune -- and the police -- while the paper ran exclusive interviews. He once impersonated a coroner's aide to get a photograph of a dead man from the man's widow. During the visit, the Tribune called and tried the same ruse. Bauman grabbed the woman's photo album and ran out the door while she was still on the phone. "I just barely got out of that one," he says.

He ordered Globe reporters to do the same things while he was city editor. He says he doesn't know whether such shenanigans continued after he became publisher, but he has no regrets. He says he'd do the same thing today. "But I think as a practical matter we'd probably get arrested," he says. "It's a different attitude."

It's difficult to square such attitudes with Bauman's professed allegiance to the law. "I'm a firm believer, I guess, because of my background, in doing things by the law," he says. "I don't condone any activity in violation of the law."

Says the man who once burglarized houses? Bauman chuckles. "Well, that's an inconsistency," he admits. "What do you call it, an imponderable?"

In Bauman's world, some crimes are more serious than others. Clinton, for example, deserved impeachment much more than Nixon, whom Bauman considers one of the country's best presidents. Bauman, who met every president while he was publisher, with the exception of Jimmy Carter, had friends in the Nixon White House. He hired Pat Buchanan as an editorial writer when Buchanan graduated from Columbia University. Bauman recalls calling on Buchanan at the behest of St. Louis University's medical school, which was anxious about the fate of a promised $9 million federal grant. Buchanan shook the money loose, but there was a quid pro quo. Two years later, Buchanan's brother's admission application was rejected because of low grades. Buchanan called Bauman, Bauman called the head of the school and Buchanan's brother was admitted.

"I still feel good about Pat Buchanan," Bauman says. "He's my friend. He's a likable guy who's very, very, very bright. He has the courage of a bull. His character is impeccable. He has more knowledge on the issues, or as much, as any other (presidential) candidate. I think he lends an incalculable asset to the campaign. He raises issues that others don't think about or don't care about or don't know about."

Bauman is all for an informed citizenry, but he criticizes the performance of the Post. "The Post-Dispatch is not my kind of newspaper," he says. "My kind of newspaper serves the community and ... seeks out the community needs and serves them. The Post emphasizes what it thinks the world should be like. That's the big difference between the two papers. My paper sought to serve the community. We were concerned about the most minute discomfort of a human being. The Post's concerns are what the Post thinks the world should be like. They don't recognize what the world is like, I don't think. "Imagine St. Louis' is a valuable concept, but they overdo it. The reader can't absorb that kind of stuff every day."

Ironically, the Post continues to make money for Bauman's old employer. Under terms of the joint-operating agreement, Newhouse splits the profits of the Post until at least the end of 2034. Last year, Newhouse's take from St. Louis was $20.7 million.

And, in a sense, Bauman's legacy lives in the pages of the Post. It was Bauman who reluctantly hired Jerry Berger out of the public-relations field and gave him a column in the Globe. "The managing editor, George Killenberg, suggested we employ Berger," Bauman recalls. "Well, I thought he was talking in a sack. I didn't think he could do it." Bauman, of course, was wrong. Berger turned out to be as big a circulation-booster for the Globe as he is for the Post. But Berger isn't necessarily Bauman's idea of a model journalist.

"First of all, to be a good newspaperman or to be a good media person, an individual must have an instant sense of indignation and an unconquerable desire to right the wrong," he says. "As to education, the two best newspapermen on my staff didn't finish high school. On the other hand, I had a Ph.D. who only worked for us two weeks because he couldn't spell. As a general concept, I would prefer a person with the broadest possible education. It doesn't matter whether it's in mortuary school or Washington University. There weren't too many journalism-school people on my staff.

"If a wrong bores you, you don't belong in the newspaper business."

Behind the Headlines: Stories About People and Events Which Shaped St. Louis, published by Patrice Press ($17.95), goes on sale Nov. 7.

About The Author

Scroll to read more St. Louis Metro News articles (1)


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.