NEW YORK: PR executives, journalists, lawyers and poets gathered
last Tuesday to attend the funeral of John Scanlon, 66, whom PRWeek
recently hailed as one of the greatest PR people of the 20th
Scanlon, known for taking on clients with major image issues, such as
Monica Lewinsky and tobacco firm Brown & Williamson (B&W), died the
previous Friday morning of a suspected heart attack.
He had spent the day preparing former Sen. Bob Kerrey to address
students at The New School in New York.
Speaking at the funeral, which was held at the Cathedral of St. John the
Divine in Manhattan, were close friends, including ABC anchor Peter
Jennings, Daily News columnist Pete Hamill and Nobel prize-winning Irish
poet Seamus Heaney.
The 500-strong crowd reflected Scanlon's huge circle of influence and
included US News & World Report writer John Leo; antitrust lawyer David
Boies; Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter; renowned journalist Carl
Bernstein; Time managing editor Jim Kelly, and former client and Sony
CEO Howard Stringer.
When Stringer worked for CBS, Scanlon defended the company's news
division against libel charges by Gen. William C. Westmoreland, former
chief of staff of the US Army.
While Scanlon had countless friends in the media, he rarely leaned on
them. According to Kelly, Scanlon merely asked people to lend his
clients an ear.
Kelly remembers how Scanlon was able to get 10 magazine staff in a room
to listen to the CEO of American Airlines: 'We were there for 90 minutes
listening to pricing structures. He just managed to get you to
Scanlon's reputation fumbled at one stage while working for B&W. He was
much criticized for putting together a report containing questionable
information about Jeffrey Wigand, a former B&W employee who became a
Scanlon's role in the debacle was immortalized by actor Rip Torn in the
movie The Insider, but Scanlon said he never saw the film. 'I prefer my
fiction in print,' he told PRWeek at the time.
Michael Powell, a partner at Westhill Media Strategies, where Scanlon
worked, said: 'John liked controversy. He liked to be involved in
high-stakes debate and liked to prepare himself to argue on both
Among Scanlon's other famous former clients are Ivana Trump during her
divorce battle with Donald Trump (who was represented by rival Howard
Rubenstein) and the Rev. Bruce Ritter while he was embroiled in sex
'John was a criminal defense attorney. And everyone is entitled to his
or her defense in the court of public opinion,' said Kelly.
At the funeral, Jennings told of how Scanlon would ask new employees
questions such as 'What were the names of King Lear's daughters?'
Heaney read a poem he had composed for Scanlon's 60th birthday called
Scanlon began his career as a New York schoolteacher before becoming an
advisor to New York mayor John Lindsay in the early 1970s. He then
became a partner in Abernathy MacGregor Scanlon, and later a senior
counselor at Edelman.
As manager of crisis communications at intelligence firm DSFX
International, he represented a Sudanese businessman whose factory was
bombed by the US government.
In October 2000, Scanlon set off for a new venture named Westhill Media
Strategies, formed in partnership with Ed Reilly, Lou Colasuonno and
His clients there included Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman and the
Rev. Jesse Jackson. Said colleague Michael Powell, 'His office looked
liked that of an English literature professor rather than a PR
He had stacks of unread articles. It was a very cerebral setting.'
Scanlon was also a mentor to many in the profession. These include Dan
Klores, who remembers Scanlon as 'liking a good fight and respecting a
good adversary,' and newcomer Elliot Sloane, who said, 'He read more
newspapers than anyone I know. I will miss him very much.'
- See Letters, p. 10.
FRIENDS REMEMBER SCANLON
Graydon Carter editor, 'Vanity Fair'
'We have been friends for 23 years. He never pushed a client, but would
be helpful if they were in the news. He thought like a trial lawyer and
was a master of rhetoric. He lived a good life and worked a good life,
and kept the two in balance.'
Jim Kelly, managing editor 'Time'
'He was always clear about what was professional and what was
friendship. He managed to remain friends with journalists because no one
ever felt used by him. He never sold a product, he was a PR person who
Peter Jennings, senior editor/anchor ABC News
'I first met him 20 years ago. He collects friends like you would
furniture and old books. But he knew the difference between a friend and
Dan Klores, Dan Klores Communications
'For years we flirted with going into business together. It was
wonderful to be able to call him and ask his advice or take on any
situation. He had a feud or two ... and would tell you if you were full