Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher John Block is a cartoon villain come to life. But on Saturday night, the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh alleges that Block took his villainy to a completely different level, claiming that Block, in a fit of possibly drunken rage, became irate when encountering a pro-guild poster and got violent with his 12-year-old daughter.
On Wednesday, the guild, whose contract expired nearly two years ago, published four accounts of Block’s actions that night in the Post-Gazette newsroom. The release comes after Block’s brother Allan, the chairman of the corporation that owns the Post-Gazette, told the publication nextPITTSBURGH that Block Communications Inc. “regrets if anyone present may have misconstrued what occurred as anything other than an indication of strong concern and support for the legacy and future of the Post-Gazette.”
That’s not how newsroom employees who were there that night would describe what happened. Here’s web editor Marianne Mizera:
As Mr. Block stepped off the elevator and proceeded to walk briskly — in a slightly stumbling, awkward manner — through the newsroom toward the “web hub” area, he was immediately yelling about various topics, pointing and waving his finger repeatedly up in the air and swinging his arms.
He was very angry and irate. The entire newsroom could hear his voice.
As he got closer to the hub area, he walked straight to the Guild bulletin board, and pointed to and touched the Guild “Shame on the Blocks!” sign.
It was clear he was intoxicated.
He shouted that he wanted a picture of himself and his daughter taken in front of the Guild sign and demanded it run on the “front page of tomorrow’s paper.” He fervently demanded the photos be taken NOW, right away and forcefully grabbed his daughter’s forearm, pulling her into the picture as she tried her best to pull away from him. She was crying, shaking and pleading with her father that she did NOT want to be in ANY photograph.
She screamed, “Please, please Daddy, no!” multiple times. And multiple times he yanked on her arm, trying to pull to his side so a photo could be taken of the both of them.
That’s not all (emphasis mine):
In his heightened agitated state, Mr. Block continued to walk back and forth in front of the Guild bulletin board and continued with his belligerent behavior. He did not and would not calm down: He repeatedly shouted out rude comments about various current and former managers, mocking them (saying some had “gone to the dark side”), the newsroom staff (what he called “the working class”), and his ex-wife, and bemoaned what he called a loss of millions of dollars on the part of the company.
He yelled at his daughter, up to her face: “You’re a Block don’t you forget it. You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,” repeatedly as he firmly jabbed his finger into her shoulder.
Another account, from reporter Andrew Goldstein (emphasis also mine):
He said he was going to fire Virginia Linn and Lillian Thomas. He also talked about firing other managers — those were the only two names I heard specifically — but he ranted about how he wanted to get every trace of Shribman out of there.
Meanwhile, he was slapping and kicking the wall near the “Shame on the Blocks” sign, and pounding his fists.
Finally, Sally showed up after what seemed like 20 or 30 minutes, and he continued ranting and raving to her. He told her that she was going to be in the office until 1 or 2 a.m. every Saturday. He told her that the newspaper was “going to hell” and that he was “going to burn the place down.”
“I’ve been working in newsrooms for more than a decade, and this is most bizarre thing I’ve seen,” paginator Alex Miller added. “JR behaved in a way that would get any ordinary employee fired on the spot and escorted out of the building for everybody’s safety. He appeared totally out of control. He was loud and violent, and it was frightening to witness because he was so erratic. There was no way for anybody to know what he might do next.”
A phone call to Block Communications went unanswered. We’ve reached out to both John Block and Post-Gazette Managing Editor Sally Stapleton for comment, and will update with any response we receive.
Block’s family has owned the Post-Gazette since its debut in 1927; he is just the fifth publisher in that time. In the last few years, the paper’s ideological bent has shifted sharply to the right. A staunch Trump supporter, he unceremoniously fired longtime political cartoonist Rob Rogers after 25 years, following the paper repeatedly spiking Rogers’ anti-Trump cartoons.
Block also oversaw the paper’s publication of this insane editorial last January—on MLK Day, no less—saying that calling someone a racist is “McCarthyism,” after which we were reminded that Block is very much a racist himself.
“The Guild believes that John Block has personal issues that must be addressed before he is allowed to return to the newsroom and be around his employees, both for our safety and his,” guild president Michael Fuoco said in the union’s statement. “We are distraught over his interaction with his daughter and are highly concerned for her well-being...and we are frustrated that as of this writing, the PG has not yet: 1) Provided crisis counseling for its staff; 2) barred John Block’s access to the newsroom; 3) sought to formally interview any of our members, as would be expected in any business setting where such a situation has occurred.”
Update, 6:12 PM ET: Block was apparently back in the newsroom on Wednesday afternoon, according to guild unit chair Jonathan Silver, and hasn’t acknowledged what went down on Saturday.
Silver also said that on Wednesday, the guild filed an unsafe labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board stemming from Block’s alleged threat to shut down the paper.