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It is doubtful that even a direct appeal to the Quayles could have ousted Weil. Although both father and son are members of Central Newspapers Inc.'s board of directors, much of their stock is of the nonvoting variety. Most policy decisions within the company are actually made by a ruling family triumvirate that includes Eugene C. Pulliam's son and widow, along with Frank Russell, the president of CNI and a longtime family friend. That group reportedly regards Weil as a fair-haired boy, and may be grooming him to take over company leadership in the future.
In any event, according to editorial-page staff members, Cheshire never got the chance to make his plea for help.
"Bill made a big deal out of telling people he was going to run to the Quayles," a staff member says. "Of course, Chip got wind of it and viewed it as insubordination."
Previous slip-ups by Cheshire may have contributed to Weil's ire. For instance, the Republic's failure to run letters to the editor in response to a Lessner column criticizing Miami hurricane victims was an embarrassment. In addition, Cheshire's decision to write a confusing column praising Symington and refuting the opinion of the newspaper's political columnist, Keven Willey, prompted some observers to wonder if the editorial pages were tucked deeply in the governor's pocket--a perception the image-conscious Weil would no doubt find disturbing.
But the threatened end run to the Quayles was "the straw that broke the camel's back," the staffer says. "It gave Chip the reason he has been needing to get rid of the old, conservative guy."
Neither Cheshire nor Weil returned telephone calls from New Times.
Jim Quayle, reached at his home in Wickenburg after returning from a meeting last week of the CNI board of directors in Indianapolis, said he doesn't "feel it is appropriate for me to discuss any problems I may have with the way the [Phoenix] newspapers are being run." But he did coyly point out that the April 26 issue of the National Review noted Cheshire's demotion with despair, observing that he was "fired" and replaced with a liberal.
Calls to Dan Quayle, who was elected to the board during the recent meeting, were not returned.
Weil has brought in the more moderate Paul Schatt, former chief of the Gazette's editorial pages, to replace Cheshire. Co-workers say Schatt's political views are somewhat amorphous, and are based on middle-of-the-road pragmatism rather than on ideology. During his career, spent entirely with the R&G, he has certainly failed to display the kind of hard-line conservatism that was Cheshire's trademark during his time as a campaign aide to U.S. Senator Jesse Helms, as opinion-page editor of the rabidly right-wing Washington Times and at the Republic.
There is already evidence that Schatt is trying to steer the Republic away from some of Cheshire's well-marked positions, especially in regard to Symington, the recipient of slavish devotion from the Cheshire regime.
"Schatt is a man who is attuned to the political realities of the community," says an R&G employee familiar with details of the recent editorial-page upheaval. "You won't see him going over the falls with Fife Symington."
Schatt declined to comment, saying it was "inappropriate" for him "to speak on internal issues."
But an R&G employee close to the scene says the demise of Cheshire and Lessner, combined with the rise of Schatt, speaks volumes about the direction Weil--who is now without a rival within the newspapers--is leading the local dailies.
"I think the readers are going to notice a lot of changes in the kind of issues the Republic supports from now on. The days of dogmatic conservatism are over.
"And Bill Cheshire has learned a lesson. If you want to plot a coup, you better get your ducks in order. Otherwise, they will put you up against a wall.