“You’re a Block don’t you forget it. You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,”
By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor
The Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh has released to local media four witness accounts of what transpired Feb. 9 in the newsroom of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during a near hour-long “berserk” tirade by Publisher John Block . Among other behavior, witnesses said Block referred to them as the “working class,” and told his daughter, who was with him, “You’re a Block, you’re not one of them,”
You can read our full account of the incident here from Monday as well as yesterday’s follow-up story about union leaders asking that Block be barred from the building or searched for weapons before entering. Guild leaders say that as of Wednesday afternoon, Block has not yet returned to the office. Block entered the building at 10 p.m. with his daughter, demanding that the Guild remove a sign that read, “Shame on the Blocks!” Emails from Guild leaders described the outburst as “berserk,” and the witness accounts, which all tell a similar story, seem to confirm the level of rage that Block reportedly unleashed on the employees.
Guild President Mike Fuoco said he was releasing the accounts after a quote that Block Communications Chairman Allan Block gave to Next Pittsburgh Tuesday. In the statement Allan Block said, :
“The frustration over financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry led to an unfortunate exchange with employees of which I have been made aware,” Allan Block, the chairman of Block Communications Inc., told me in a emailed statement. Block Communications 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,” he continued. “We want the entire staff to know that we will continue to value all of our employees and their contributions to the PG.”
But Fuoco says Allan Block’s comments are an attempt to minimize what hapened.
“There was no ‘unfortunate exchange.’ Nothing was ‘misconstrued.’ And there is no Guild member who feels that BCI executives ‘value’ them. To blame John Block’s erratic, menacing and disturbing conduct on ‘financial and other challenges in the newspaper industry’ is cowardly, despicable and a blatant lie,” Fuoco wrote in an email. “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. We are distraught over his interaction with his daughter and are highly concerned for her well-being. We are dismayed that Allan Block’s only response was to try to whitewash this incident and politicize it by blaming it on corporate financial stresses.”
The four accounts are lengthy and all agree on the fact that Block was acting erratically. Below are excerpts from each account, with an effort to reduce repetition.
Marianne Mizera, Web Editor
“[Block] was very angry and irate … 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. … 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. … At some point, I stood up from my desk and, putting up my hand, told Mr. Block “Stop. This has to stop.
Andrew Goldstein, night cops reporter
“I quickly recognized JR’s voice and walked around him as far as possible to avoid whatever was going on. But when I got back to my desk, I realized there was no avoiding the disturbing situation playing out in front of me. JR was ranting like a madman and his daughter was visibly terrified. … He was going crazy over the “Shame on the Blocks” sign on the guild bulletin board and demanded that someone take a photo of him and [his daughter] in front of it. She was screaming that she didn’t want to, crying hysterically and red-faced. I felt terrible about what I was watching. JR proceeded to rip the cell phone out of Caroline’s hand because he thought she was trying to call her mother. He was screaming in Caroline’s face about the Block family legacy: “Do you want to be high class or low class? You’re a Block, you’re one of us! You have to learn how to lead!” … Then JR started ranting about guild leadership, Shribman and other managers. He said he was “going to get rid of the bad guys, Jonathan Silver and Fuoco and … Shribman! I fired David Shribman! I fired David Shribman!” He continued to rant about Shribman — he said Shribman went to the “dark side” — then he complained about John Craig, and how John Craig hated the Blocks. … He went off about the lack of managers in the newsroom on Saturday nights. (Apparently, he didn’t realize there were at least two there.) He said he wanted more managers there on Saturday night and at least 40 or 50 people working in the office on Saturday until 1 or 2 a.m. … Meanwhile, he was slapping and kicking the wall near the “Shame on the Blocks” sign, and pounding his fists. Finally, [Managing Editor] Sally [Stapleton] 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.” The incident was highly disturbing, and prevented many people from working for close to an hour. Marianne quipped to me that she couldn’t work as the situation was unfolding.”
Carl Remensky, sports desk
“Marianne Mizera walked over to the sports desk, where I sit, near tears, and [said] she was on the verge of calling the police.
Alex Miller, paginator
“JR paced back and forth in front of the poster. I could hear him punching and slapping the poster and the wall. He yelled again that he wanted the poster to come down. He said he’d lost $300 million on the newspaper, and then he said… “Do you know how much money $300 million dollars is?” Followed by, “No, of course you wouldn’t.” … I’ve been working in newsrooms for more than a decade, and this is most bizarre thing I’ve seen. 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.”