The Tennessean on Ruhe and Geissler in 1982 - Part II



Here's the 1st add of a lengthy investigative piece by The Tennessean on June 20, 1982 on then-new UPI owners Douglas Ruhe and William Geissler (written by publisher John Seigenthaler and reporter Robert Sherborne). It was headlined: "Out of Stormy Past, UPI's Two 'Mystery Men' Have Covered Long Distance":


x x x business associate.

Ruhe and Richard Geisslere worked together to develop the cafeteria strike. As the strike was in progress William Geissler, who had been attending Syracuse University in New York, came to visit his brother and there met Ruhe for the first time. He eagerly joined in the labor organizing activity which later had the nominal support of the AFL-CIO.

Booted out of VISTA as a result of his strike activities, Ruhe went to Allentown, Pa., where he got a job as a newspaper reporter for the Morning Call. he stayed there for about a year, and members of that newspaper's staff remember him as a good reporter.

"He had a burning desire to be a writer, and he was very conscientious," recalls Dan Pearson, a Morning Call reporter who worked closely with the young Ruhe. "He was green, but he was very well read. He was a personable guy, who was extremely likeable."

It is a tenet of the Baha'i religion to obey laws. Therefore when he was drafted, he did not resist although he participated in protests against the war in Nashville, Chicago and Kansas City, and marched on the Pentagon.

In the Army, he became a medic. He was assigned to Fort Campbell, Ky. From there, in 1968, he came to Nashville one day to listen to a speech by Sen. Muskie, then a vice presidential candidate.

Muskie, in his remarks, did not speak out against the war. Ruhe was wearing civilian clothes and was not identified as a soldier. Outside after the speech, he made a hand-lettered sign which read: "LBJ Controls HHH Controls Muskie."

While carrying that sign Ruhe was attacked and knocked to the ground, but managed to get away without serious injury.

"I have come to love Nashville and while I certainly wouldn't let that memory stand in the way when we had the chance to come back here and open an office for our company," he said.

He and Geissler plan to commute to New York each week, rather than leaving the Nashville area where they have homes.

Because the Baha'i faith teaches that it is wrong for members to show cowardice, Ruhe volunteered for service in Vietnam. He served there for a year, returning in November 1969. He then applied for admission to the University of Massachusetts School of Education.

He had to wait six months to get in. During that period he and William Smith, another Baha'i member, started something called the Street Academy School System Inc., a novel experiment in education of underprivileged children.

In 1970 Ruhe visited a friend at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and there met a young black student -- a gifted pianist -- who was to become his wife. She became a Baha'i and they were married in 1971.

Geissler's life entertwined with Ruhe's several times after that first meeting in Laredo. When they talk about their pasts, the two seem like echoes of each other, but they come from different backgrounds.

Geissler, 36, was born in Caracas, Venezuela, the son of a construction company operator. His mother and father divorced when he was a child, and a German family in Caracas helped his father bring him up.

Geissler's father died when he was 13 and he and his older brother, Richard, were sent back to White Plains, N.Y., to be reared by an uncle. It was years after his return to the United States before he would see his mother again. It was a brief, tearful meeting, at about the time of his marriage, and after it was over she disappeared once again, and he has not heard from her since.

Geissler went to military school in Woodstock, Va., then entered Syracuse university, intending to major in political science. His roommate was a black student from Southwest Africa. He recalls taking him home to visit his relatives -- and was embarassed by the cool reception his friend received.

While at Syracuse, Geissler participated in civil rights marches organized by James Farmer, the leader of CORE.

He left school to join his brother and Ruhe in Laredo and was one of those who personally confronted the mayor when tension built in the city. When that organizing activity was completed, he visited Kansas City briefly with Ruhe and renewed his acquaintanceship with a reporter named Rogers Worthington, who then worked for the Kansas City Star.

Geissler said he first became interested in newspaper reporting during the Lardo strike as he observed how different reporters covered the story.

Leaving Kansas City, he went to Mexico City where he briefly attended the University of the Americas. There, he was joined by Worthington, and the two of them wrote a free-lance article from Mexico City under joint byline in the Kansas City Star.

It was his first journalistic contribution. Later, from Caracas, Geissler and Worthington filed a series of four articles which the Star also carried.

When Worthington returned home, Geissler stayed on in Venezuela and got a job covering politics with the Caracas Daily Journal; he was there for more than a year.

Geissler's name came up in the draft as he was leaving for Latin America in 1967, but since he was against the war he ignored the orders to report for duty.

However, on returning to the United States in 1969 he notified the FBI that he wanted to surrender and face whatever punishment awaited him. He was indicted and while awaiting trial he visited Ruhe in Tennessee while Ruhe was stationed at Fort Campbell.

They traveled together and developed an idea for a book. Ruhe by then had volunteered for Vietnam and they decided that while he was there he would interview Vietnamese citizens about the impact of the war on their lives. Back in the United States, while waiting to go to trial, Geissler would interview returning veterans regarding the war's impact on their lives.

A book manuscript expressing these two themes was completed and presented to a publisher, but it was not accepted.

When Geissler's draft case came up for trial, he pleaded guilty and went off to serve his time. Just before entering prison he became interested in the Baha'i religion.

"It isn't really appropriate to say I was converted because Baha'is don't try to proselytize," he said. "It requires study and reading and understanding."

The Baha'i religion is based on a belief in the unity of humankind under one god.

Two days out of prison, Geissler met his wife-to-be, who, like Ruhe's, was a student at Smith College. They were attending a Baha'i wedding. A Baha'i member, she was divorced and had two small children.

Later, when they were to be wed, he had to locate his long-lost mother because the religion requires parental consent before marriage. He searched the nation before finding her in California. She visited him once, then vanished.

Geissler was still interested in journalism and discussed a job with the Springfield (Mass.) News. He says he worked there for about five months, and the paper remembers him as a freelance reporter.

"I wouldn't argue with the characterization," Geissler said. "But I covered a five-college beat for the paper and wrote a number of stories."

While doing so he was asked by Rhue to begin teaching a journalism class at the Street Academy. He did so, while applying for admission to the education program at the University of Massachusetts. While his application was pending he was hired by the Street Academy. One of the projects for that school was to create a weekly newspaper, which he and Ruhe hoped would become self-sustaining. It didn't.

After receiving his master's degree in education, and unwilling to continue to teach at the Street Academy, Geissler applied in 1972 for a job at the national Baha'i center at Wilmette. He was employed to publish and edit two church publications.

Ruhe followed Geissler to Wilmette several months later to take a job at the church headquarters, where he began to develop a television program for the religious center.

Back at the University of Massachusetts, the dean, Dr. Dwight Allen, another Baha'i, ran into controversy in 1976. He had befriended Ruhe and Geissler and had put a number of Baha'i members on the education school faculty.

After a series of newspaper stories charging financial mismanagement at the school, Allen and three other faculty members resigned. No charges were placed against Allen, although one faculty member was convicted of embezzling more than $28,000 and was given a three-year suspended sentence.

An internal "blue-ribbon committee" of school administrators also conducted an investigation into allegations that Allen had operated a "diploma mill" while he was dean, but the committee cleared Allen of any wrongdoing.

Allen later was to become a business associate of Ruhe and Geisslere in their TV enterprise

In 1977, Ruhe and Geissler left the Baha'i center in Wilmette to form a Chicago company -- Communications Design Group, Inc., a firm which provided communications consulting serevices to various clients, including Bell & Howell.

A third partner in the venture was Joon Chung, who also had worked at the Baha'i center in Wilmette and now lives in Nashville. Irene Chung, to whom Joon Chung is married, is president of the company's Murfreesboro TV station operation, and both Chungs own stock in Focus properties.

Ruhe and Geissler say the reason so many Baha'i members invested in their television operations is that they (Ruhe and Geissler) did not get outside investors and members of the faith believed in them.

While Communications Design Group made a modest profit in Chicago, the attention of its owners was drawn to television in 1979, when they filed a license application with the Federal Communications Commission for the TV station to broadcast subscription programming to Joliet, Ill.

In the course of negotiations with other applicants for the same license, Ruhe, Geissler and Jung became business associates of Clint Murchison, the Texas millionaire, and with a little-known Charlottesville, Va., investment firm, Amvest Leasing and Capital Corp., which later was to play a significant role in the acquisition of UPI.

After months of negotiations, Ruhe, Geissler, Joon Chung and a small group of other associates, most of whom were Baha'is, were awarded a permit for the Joliet station, which went on the air late last year.

One of the factors which drew favor from the FCC was the fact that the owners of the new station were multiracial. Another was the fact that they -- the owners -- planned to operate the station, rather than hiring someone else to do it.

However, in October 1980, before the station went on the air, Ruhe, Geissler and Chung moved to Nashville and brought Communications Design Group with them. Last January they changed the name of the company to Focus Communications.

Here, they filed another FCC application for a license for a new subscription television station in Murfreesboro. The construction application for that station was approved last month.

it was not approved without objection, however, for a competing company noted that the Focus application claimed that two of the same "full-time" employees listed in the Joliet application also were listed as full-time employees of the Murfreesboro station.

The FCC considered this a minor point, deciding that the relocation of Rhue, Geisslier and Chung was a sufficient reason for making the change.

There also have been complaints against the Joliet station concerning its promise to provide a certain amount of local programming. The station had been broadcasting a suburban news program, but that show recently was canceled.

Ruhe and Geissler say the program simply flopped and that another local program is being piloted.

Focus Communications has FCC applications pending for at least four other subscription television stations, as well as 14 low-power TV stations in different parts of the country. It also is processing about 150 applications for other applicants.

In spite of this intense interest in broadcasting, it seems that the careers of Geissler and Ruhe will now be interlocked with the survival fight of UPI, a business which piqued their interest three years ago.

it was then that Ruhe saw a story in the Wall Street Journal saying UPI was for sale. He made inquiries of First Boston Corp., which was acting as financial agent, but that institution refused to provide the desired data, saying there were several large corporations interested in acquiring the news agency.

However, about 18 months ago Ruhe saw another story saying UPI was still on the block. He contacted Overgaard, his lawyer, to see if he could get more information. Some facts were forthcoming.

Three months ago, Overgaard contacted Small.

"When Cordy Overgaard called me," Small said, "he told me he thought that the chances to save UPI were two -- slim and none. But he told me these two men he knew were very smart and creative. We met and began discussions as to whether it could be done. We are convinced it can. Of course, it is a risk. But it is a risk worth taking."

Small was asked if any of the revelations about Ruhe and Geissler surprised him.

"Not in the least," he smiled. "Obviously we talked a good deal and they told me about themselves."

He had expected a press reaction -- although the negative intensity of it has surprised all the new UPI operators.

All the new associates in UPI say they understand that it is a gamble. The news service has been in the red so long that it will take what most news executives would call a "miracle cure" to turn it around. Journalists in and out of UPI fear that if costs are slashed significantly, UPI won't be able to compete effectively with AP.

Still, the owners say they have a plan to "turn it around." They are almost as reluctant to discuss the details of it as they are to talk about the financial details of their purchase. It may be, of course, that there is a direct relationship between the two.

UPI, which has some 7,500 clients around the world, maintains a staff of more than 2,000 employees working out of 224 bureaus. The company's last financial statement listed assets of $21.5 million and liabilities of $4.3 million.

Visiting the executive offices of the UPI at 220 42nd St. is an interesting experience. Both Geissler and Ruhe work in offices furnished in spartan fashion, plainly decorated and unpretentious. In that regard the suite is similar to their offices in the Focus suite at One Commerce Place.

Those offices seem to reflect the lifestyles of both Rhue and Geissler. They live simply, obviously following closely the rules of their religious belief.

While Ruhe and Geissler may be considered "hustlers" by some in the news media who have viewed their sudden meteoric rise from obscurity to celebrity and even notoriety, they appear to be low-keyed and undemonstrative. They are not typical "super salesmen." They seem comfortable together -- both tall, conservatively dressed and wearing neat mustaches.

Geissler says, however, they are opposites.

Doug is a supreme optimist, I am the pessimist. We are friends but we argue and get mad at each other at times. Most of the time we get along because we know each other."

They don't know UPI, yet, but they do know it is a business in deep trouble. They know that if UPI fails, their involvement will be blamed for a massive loss.

It was noted that their suite in Manhattan is on the 13th floor of the building occupied also by the financially troubled New York Daily News.

The response: "We don't worry about it." Superstition isn't a part of the Baha'i religion.

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