The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh today released a recently received eyewitness account of the unhinged behavior of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Publisher John Block beginning about 10 on the night of Feb. 9, 2019, in the PG newsroom. The frightening event included the manhandling of his pre-teen daughter and threatening and menacing behavior toward Guild members and two managers who were on duty that night.
This eyewitness account is among 14 that have been provided to the Newspaper Guild since the event in which Block physically and emotionally traumatized his pre-teen daughter, reducing her to tears, and verbally abused and intimidated newsroom staff. All of the accounts were compiled independently by journalists–professionals trained in accurately and fairly reporting events. All are strikingly similar in their recounting.
Four accounts have already been released to the media. This account was not available at the time the others were released–it only recently was provided to the Guild.
“This latest account of that horrible night is so chilling it is beyond description,” said Michael A. Fuoco, Newspaper Guild president and a veteran Post-Gazette reporter. We release it only because BCI continues to peddle lies by downplaying and minimizing the situation, claiming that Block’s actions were ‘misconstrued’ and amounted to ‘an unfortunate exchange.’ We will not let their lies go unchallenged.
“In addition to these first-hand reports by their own journalists, despite photographic and video evidence that unequivocally support the accounts, BCI is refusing to deal with a human relations crisis in order to protect John Block. This is not going to go away until they do the right thing.”
Fuoco said the Guild is steadfast in its demand that Block receive the same treatment any other employee would receive if they manhandled a child and terrorized staffers in the the PG newsroom.
“We want Block to get the help he apparently needs. He appears to be having a problem and we want him to be physically and mentally well before he returns to the newsroom,” Fuoco said.
“We have continually asked BCI to bar him from the premises until he is evaluated and is shown to present no danger to himself or his employees–and by danger we not only mean that of a physical nature but verbal threats, intimidation and retribution.
“By not dealing with this crisis in a professional way, by putting its employees at risk, BCI is complicit in Block’s abhorrent behavior.”
Below is the report. For context, Tim McDonough is the Sunday editor; Sally Stapleton is the managing editor; Steve Spolar is the vice president of Human Relations for BCI; Shribman is David Shribman, the former executive editor; John Craig preceded Shribman as executive editor.
Jim Mendenhall, Photo Editor
Account of events on Saturday Feb. 9 at the Post-Gazette
Around 10 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, I was leaving my desk when the Publisher’s incoming phone call rang on a manager’s desk. A manager typically answers that special phone. It must be answered within three rings or the Publisher hangs up.
When I returned a couple minutes later, I asked someone what the call was about, and I was told the Publisher was trying to enter the building but could not open the new gate outside the front door.
I returned to my desk and saw manager Tim McDonough, who had gone downstairs to open the door, walking with the Publisher and his daughter through the newsroom. The Publisher went to the corner where a sign hung on the union bulletin board that read: “Shame on the Blocks.” John Block started screaming hysterically to his daughter: “This is what they think of us! I could shut this place down!” As he struck the sign, he yelled: “This is Shribman!”
He was out of control. He continued screaming at top of his lungs and seemed impaired.
He screamed: “This is what they think of us! I fired Shribman! I fired him!” This was repeated several times.
“I fired him because he thinks the Blocks are crazy. Well, the Blocks are not crazy! We never should have hired Shribman! We never should have hired John Craig!”
“Where’s a manager?” he screamed. “I want a manager in here until 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.! I want Sally in here until 1 or 2 in the morning on Saturday night. Manager Tim McDonough walked over to him. “I want Sally (Stapleton) in here in ten minutes,” the Publisher yelled as if he were trying to be heard across a football field. “I might fire Sally in the morning. I might fire Sally, too.”
“I want 40 or 50 people in here on Saturday night! Where’s a photographer? Call a photographer! I want my photo taken with this sign and put it in the paper!”
At about 10:10 p.m., as he continued to rant and yell, hit the sign and kick things, Manager Tim McDonough approached me and said, “The Publisher wants a photographer to take his picture.”
I went to a locker and pulled out a camera.
The Publisher was standing in front of the sign waiting for his picture to be taken. When I raised the camera from a few feet in front of him, the Publisher told his daughter to come to be in the picture.
She said, “I don’t want to be in the picture!”
Now comes a violent move which elevated the entire event in my mind to a real crisis.
When she declined to join him at the sign, he moved with the swiftness of a martial arts master, really, and closed the gap of two steps between them in one motion while simultaneously thrusting his forearm and elbow at her forehead. He stopped just as quickly about a foot from her eyes and did not strike her, but it looked like might at any moment. With his right forearm parallel to her forehead and clinched fist, he said, in a hushed but forceful tone, “You are a Block! You need to be in the picture!”
I was stunned by the physical attack on this frail child who, at that point, had still managed to maintain her composure, although I was behind him so I could not see her face because his right forearm in his suit sleeve was blocking my view.
Then he went on in hushed but hostile voice, “You are a Block! Your mother,” he hesitated briefly, “she is nothing! He hesitated again before continuing, “She is from Appalachia!” Another pause. “But you are a Block!” he said, emphasizing the name.
He grabbed her by the right arm and dragged her in front of the sign. She pleaded not to be in the picture, saying over and over again: “No, please, I don’t want to be in the picture. No, please, no!”
He was forcefully pulling her and she was trying to resist as she was facing me, leaning as far away from him as she could while begging: “No, please, please, please, no!” Her right hand disappeared into the arm of her coat as she tried to pull away, but he yanked the coat arm in the opposite direction toward the sign. It was a tug of war and her body was the rope.
At that point, I made two exposures. Then I thought if I stopped taking pictures he might leave her alone, so I lowered the camera, walked away and stood still in the center of the circle of desks while not looking at them, hoping he would change his tactics. I sort of blanked, just staring into space briefly and I wasn’t listening as if ignoring them would stop the attack.
This went on for one minute, according to the time stamp on the photos, before I looked back and saw the Publisher standing in front of the sign alone. I thought if I took a photo of the Publisher in front of the sign, he would be satisfied, so I raised the camera and made an exposure. The Publisher was looking right at me and, seeing the camera was in position again, immediately walked a few steps rather than leaping as before to his daughter.
He grabbed her around her shoulders and she began to twist and writhe in an attempt to escape while pleading “No! Please. No!” He overpowered her and dragged her backwards to the sign. The photos show he had grabbed each of her hands with each of his and he had them pinned under her armpits as he dragged her backwards.
She repeated several times “Please! No! I don’t want to be in the picture!” Her eyes were wide, her mouth was contorted and her face was red. She winced, writhed, and grimaced, her teeth clenched as she tried to get away. These details are clear in the photos.
Her knees buckled and she was thrown off balance as her upper body was yanked backward toward the sign. Her elbows were sticking out in an unnatural upward position because her hands had been pinned at her armpits. His jaw jutted out in a fierce grimace, his face was contorted in rage. His arms tightened around her, as he locked her hands against her torso.
This was too much to allow it to continue. I was extremely upset watching this and began to contemplate taking action when manager Tim McDonough approached the Publisher saying, “This is not going to look good. This is not going to look good.” McDonough held out his hand toward the Publisher as if trying to stop traffic.
As McDonough jutted his hand toward the two, I made another two exposures then lowered my camera because the Publisher was gripping his daughter tighter and the little girl looked to be in more distress as her response escalated. She seemed to panic, while crying that she did not want to be in the photo.
She continued to try to squirm away from him I looked away from them and left the area, knowing McDonough was there to intervene if necessary, and thinking if no camera was present, the Publisher would have no excuse to continue to torment the little girl and that he may calm down.
I’ve covered much violence in my career as a photojournalist including riots in three cities. I thought, “This little girl looks like a hostage.” This was more distressing and continues to be more distressing than anything I witnessed in riots. Just as I did in Miami when I was sent there to cover Super Bowl XXIII and a riot broke out, when the police I was with came under sniper fire, I made photos of them reacting first then got out of the line of fire by jumping into their cruiser. I followed the same instincts.
An editor, Marianne Mizera, joined the scene and removed the little girl from the area, which relieved me a great deal.
At that point, the Publisher continued in a frustrated manner to slap and hit the sign and he kicked something. Some items went flying off a desk that was in front of the sign. As he continued to rant, I heard objects hitting the floor and it appeared that he picked somethings up and replaced them on a desk.
The drama subsided slightly and he checked a cell phone. While he was waiting for Sally Stapleton to arrive, he mumbled and stood still alternately walking a few feet in one direction then the other while looking at the phone.
I texted Stapleton: “Prepare for the worst here.” It was 10:13 p.m. To clarify the threat, I texted again: “He is abusing his daughter.”
So, we all waited in stunned silence for Stapleton to arrive which was about 20 minutes.
In the meantime, I had contemplated what do, wondering if I should I pull the fire alarm which I knew went directly, also, to police dispatchers. But, the Publisher was relatively quiet at this time, and so I waited. It seemed like perhaps the worst may be over and I thought of all the other businesses in the building and how everyone would be forced to stand out in the cold night on the sidewalk which had happened a couple of times recently when the water pressure in the building had triggered the fire alarm and everyone was forced to exit. He continued to look at his phone.
I did not have a digital card reader, and I feared that the Publisher would be more irate if I could not download the pictures from the camera, so I called a photographer and asked her to come into the office with a camera and card reader. I told her that this was a worst-case scenario and the Publisher had gone into a rage demanding a photo and abusing his daughter.
Sally Stapleton arrived around 10:30 p.m. and approached him. He spoke loudly but was not screaming as before. I could hear much of what he said from across the room. He pleaded his case with her and talked about how the sign must be removed and he slapped it or pounded on it a couple more times. She calmly listened and quietly made some comments and eventually they moved toward her office, away from the sign toward the perimeter of the room.
Steve Spolar, an executive from BCI Human Resources, joined them in the manager’s office.
I concealed my camera in a hood so he would not see it if the Publisher came my way.
The Publisher and Steve Spolar spilled out of the side office and stood toe to toe. I could hear the Publisher say something, then the HR executive said, “Resign? Resign for you? I am not going to resign! You need to go. Go to your office and sit down.” Then he said something like, you need to leave now.
They were shouting. The exchange was repeated a few times and they were eye to eye, facing each other.
After several minutes to half an hour someone brought the little girl back into the newsroom. I was surprised to see that the child was still in the building. I had hoped other family members had been called to pick her up.
A much lower volume of discourse transpired, and as they were on the opposite side of the large room near the elevator, I could not hear what was being said.
I was shocked that the girl had been reunited with the Publisher and wondered how on earth that could have happened, why she was leaving with someone who was impaired, recently out-of-control, and had just abused her in front of witnesses. Then they all made their way out of my line of site.
Sally Stapleton and Steve Spolar then walked around the room listening to what everyone had to say.
It was 11:30 p.m. and as that was my end of my shift, I left the building after having talked to the two of them and shaking the hand of the HR person and thanking him for intervening.
I went home and tried like hell to sleep, but all I could think of was the violent way the Publisher handled his daughter. When I did sleep, it came in fits. Through that night and subsequent nights, I woke up with a start, haunted by the image of the Publisher dragging his daughter across the room, his face twisted and distorted, his jaw jutting forward, and his elbow thrown inches from her face as she struggled to escape, begging for release. Her face frozen in sheer terror.
Over and over through the night, I tried to go back to sleep as I wrestled with my conscience wondering at what point would I have had to physically confront him to protect the child. I was awake for hours off and on contemplating options and trying to erase the images of him attacking her from my mind which came to mind every time I woke up. But that did not work. It still doesn’t.