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Political consulting wasn’t George Gorton’s sole pursuit; he also tried his hand as a media baron. Gorton and Jack Ford bought a group of North County newspapers in the late 1970s. As publishers of the paper group, which included the Del Mar News-Press, Gorton expected a cushy socialite post. But the hard daily grind they encountered shattered those notions.
And as they cobbled together a newspaper, they assembled a remarkable cast of characters. Susan Golding sold advertising and climbed to a post as associate publisher there before her foray into politics. Pete Wilson, by then San Diego’s mayor, visited their offices near the racetrack. A young reporter named Gerry Braun wrote for the paper.
Gorton was as excited about the competitive pursuit of the journalistic scoop as were the eager cub reporters. When the paper photographed a camp of illegal immigrants living in Del Mar, “you’d have thought that George had just given birth to triplets,” says Braun, who’s now a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
“That’s the thing about George,” Braun said. “He has a boyish enthusiasm for his undertakings. He’s not a cynical political consultant the way a lot of them are.”
Braun remembers a camaraderie shared by the employees of the paper, celebrated most often on Friday payday evenings.
“Everybody would race to the bank and the last one there, their check would bounce,” he said. “And then we’d all go to dinner and watch the sun go down. Whoever showed up last, we’d all buy a round of drinks for.”
Gorton’s political ties were useful then. When he and Ford considered selling the paper at a financially tough point, President Gerald Ford called and gifted them $50,000 to help them stay afloat, Gorton remembers.
And Mike Curb, the state lieutenant governor and a friend of Gorton’s, came through the group’s small offices near the Del Mar racetrack, which wowed another young reporter, Cheryl Heuton, in her first gig in journalism. Heuton co-created and is now executive producer for the CBS Paramount television show “Numb3rs.”
When the paper hired 22-year-old Heuton, one of the editors brought in Woodward and Bernstein’s book version of the Watergate account, “All the President’s Men,” and opened it to the page where Gorton was mentioned — “just to make sure I knew who I was working for,” Heuton said.
Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that President Ford won the 1976 election. In fact, he lost to President Jimmy Carter. We regret the error.