H. Yale Gutnick has lived a life in print. For decades, the septuagenarian has filed briefs, documents and other legal records across federal and state courts throughout the country. The Philadelphia-born attorney, who has worked in Pittsburgh since 1969, is professionally known for his handling of complex civil and criminal litigation as well as dealings in media and entertainment law. However, for as much as the attorney’s career has been marked by the ink he has cast, paper itself is of considerable concern — specifically, newspaper.
Gutnick’s involvement with journalism grew largely out of his work and friendship with the late Richard Scaife, publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“That became a very long and important relationship for me,” said Gutnick.
The two men met “around 1974 or ’75,” said Gutnick, after the attorney had tried a criminal case of great publicity in Pittsburgh .
At the time, a lawyer who had worked for Scaife phoned Gutnick and said that “Mr. Scaife would like to meet me,” Gutnick recalled. “I went over to meet him and have been his lawyer ever since.”
Through that connection, Gutnick, 74, met presidents, cabinet members and scores of towering figures. However, mingling in those crowds never meant much, Gutnick said.
“I really had no desire to meet famous people,” he noted. “All of it was just coincidental and circumstantial. It evolved around circumstances that I didn’t create. They were not people who wanted to meet me. [They were] people that I just happened to have the luck of running into.”
Instead, what came of associating with Scaife was an increased appreciation for an aspect of the Constitution.
“I’ve sort of been infected by Mr. Scaife’s love of the First Amendment. His comment to me over the years [had] been the First Amendment always requires an investment, and it’s an investment of ideas.”
The professional relationship and personal friendship with Scaife “gave me the opportunity to become more involved from a legal standpoint, and then obviously from an emotional standpoint.”
Specifically, through connecting with journalists, “I became committed. I understood what reporters [did], what their responsibility is, what they go through, how particularly hard it is to develop particularly investigative stories and the responsibility that comes with that.”
Gutnick’s efforts were lauded by the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania in 2014 when he received its President’s Award. The accolade was a total surprise to Gutnick.
“I was the only nonreporter to ever get this award and that was very important to me. I had worked so long for Mr. Scaife in the area of journalism that receiving an award from the people that did this every day, this was a very meaningful thing.”
Gutnick received the honor “for his career achievements in the field of journalism,” read a statement from the group.
During his years of interacting with journalists at the newspaper, Gutnick also maintained an overarching view.
“When Dick Scaife died in 2014, I stepped into his role as board chairman,” Gutnick told the Tribune-Review.
Though he still maintains the title of honorary chairman, Gutnick is a bit removed from that work, he said, as in January 2017 he announced his retirement as board chairman of Trib Total Media.
These days he is focused on journalism’s future.
Apart from the financial struggles affecting newspapers, the charges of “fake news” have brought much criticism to the field, he said.
“Friends of mine who are my age are pretty much walking away from the profession. They are retiring. They are frustrated. I think there’s also a sense of frustration with the charges that President Trump has thrown out at them. I have two friends at the Washington Post who feel they’ve been assaulted by the president, but I think they also recognize that there’s a certain irresponsible behavior on the part of certain journalists that have invited the criticism. I think they feel that it’s overcharged, it’s not really deserving, but it’s probably going to do some good.”
Because of heightened scrutiny, reporters these days need to act more responsibly, said Gutnick.
“The media in general, it has to be fact-driven. And there are many times when you cannot disclose a source but you better make sure that the source is legitimate and responsible, and I think that there’s been a lack of professionalism to some degree with what the media has done, particularly in the last 10 years.”
Creating a culture certainly starts with education, he noted, but “then it goes up to editors [having] to be more committed to doing work with their reporters. They have to be more responsible at looking at reporters’ stories. I just think there’s a certain intensity that has to come back to the area of journalism. That’s the only way the First Amendment can work effectively.”
When Gutnick began his career decades ago with the U.S. Department of Justice, he never could have imagined where the legal field would bring him.
“I’ve branched out in so many different ways and have done so many different things. It’s been very rewarding for me,” he said.
“I’m not looking for publicity. I’m very happy being myself and sitting in my own little corner. But I’ve enjoyed it all.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.