Monday, March 31, 2008

Clinton, Scaife: "So Happy Together" Part 2

Richard M. Scaife -- the owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review -- sat in as a columnist for his paper to offer praise for Senator Hilary Rodham Clinton. "Hilllary, reassessed" offers his reflections on meeting with her at the Trib's editorial board.

Scaife writes:

• "Sen. Clinton also exhibited an impressive command of many of today's most pressing domestic and international issues. Her answers were thoughtful, well-stated, and often dead-on."

• "Does all this mean I'm ready to come out and recommend that our Democrat readers choose Sen. Clinton in Pennsylvania's April 22 primary?

• "No -- not yet, anyway. In fairness, we at the Trib want to hear Sen. Barack Obama's answers to some of the same questions and to others before we make that decision."

The New York Times reports on it here, and you can use these Google News and blog search links to track the rest of the mainstream media and the blogosphere reactions.

The White House photo above illustrated a 1999 Washington Post profile of Scaife as "Funding Father of the Right".

Back in November, I posted "Clinton, Scaife: So Happy Together" , noting the Newsweek story about the peacemaking between the former president and the Trib publisher.



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Notes & Quotes -- Alleged Mayoral Threat Edition

I'm continuing on the jury watch at the Wecht trial, but got to report on the clash with council and the mayor after the jurors went home for the day without reaching a decision.

My reporting was based on video gathered by WTAE Channel 4 Action News reporter Amber Nicotra and photographers Dan Pratt and TJ Haught.

Here are some quotes from the council meeting, followed by highlights from Mayor Ravenstahl's response to our questions later in the day .

[* For background, see note below.]

Councilman Ricky Burgess:
"I'll be clear. I'm a grown man. if you want to punish me, bring it on."..."But no, they're not strong enough, brave enough to punish me personally. But what they have to do is, they take their punishment on the majority of council. Shame on you."

Councilman Jim Motznik: "Let's put it out there, and lets hear who's making threats and who's trying to punish and deal with it accordingly. To me this is about good government."

Councilman Bruce Kraus: "I was threatened directly from the mayor -- last week at Councilman Motznik's fundraiser-- that these very actions would be taken if this bill were to pass to take away the cars."

Motznik: "It wasn't a threat at all. It was about letting a new council member know about--" Council President Doug Shields: "If Mr. Kraus decided he was being threatened, I'm sure he's capable of making his own assessment. If you want to be the apologist for the administration, you go right ahead."

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:
"To suggest that I made some sort of threat is ridiculous. Certainly, Councilman Kraus and I had a discussion. And I suggested that if City Council want to live by the Act 47 plan, that they themselves should be willing to make amendments to their budgets to reflect Act 47. So that was the conversation that we had. It was in no way a threat. It was simply a policy discussion around the need for -- and what we believed Act 47 should represent."

..."I'm somebody that always has discussions and has an opinion. And I voiced that opinion to Councilman Kraus. He certainly didn't agree, but I think he's being disingenuous to suggest that somehow he felt threatened by me. I have no authority to tell him what to do. He's an independently elected city official. I have no authority to threaten him with anything because he is, you know, an elected city official in his own right. And to suggest that is unfortunate. But we certainly did disagree and we do disagree on the issue, but I wouldn't escalate it to that of threats being made."

* (If you hadn't been following this story, here's a quick recap. Over the objections of the mayor, council approved Councilman Burgess' bill to cut in half the number of "take home" cars for city employees. Later in the same meeting, the mayor's ally Councilman Motznik introduced a proposal to slash the council's budget for its staff. Talk had been simmering for some time of alleged threats against council and it's staff that would be carried out if the number of take home cars were reduced. During the public meeting, Councilman Kraus said that the threat of political contribution came straight from the mayor's lips to his ears. He said the mayor told him "we're coming after you" and "there's more where that came from".)



Monday, March 24, 2008

Claws Of Fury... or About Those Scratches

This is Sky -- our wild and beautiful free-spirited cat. As you can see in this photo, he also has his sweet, gentle, contemplative moments.

Sky is deaf, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming the cheerful Top Cat here: he's fearless, ever-curious, always ready to play.

He loves to be carried around our home, tummy up, blissfully watching the world go by upside down.

Except when he doesn't.

He abruptly changed his mind on this matter Sunday evening as I was carrying him. Of course, the quickest way to right himself in a flash and escape was to push off hard with his back paws.

Looking for traction to launch himself down to the floor, kicking his legs, he found it. On my face.

Some of the more keen-eyed among you may notice on TV what is obvious if you see me in person: several scratches across my left jaw. One of them was bad enough to require a few stitches.

The scratches and sewing aren't very telegenic...but I figure if Charlie Rose can press on (see the story below), so can I.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Twists And Turns On Grant Street

You can check out my Wecht trial blog posts of the day here on the Pittsburgh Channel.

Meanwhile, here's the latest on some issues bubbling at the other end of Grant Street.

The Burgh Report's post on this flow chart from the mayor's office has stirred up a flurry of discussion.

The Ravenstahl administration is saying that the chart was an informal illustration of lines of communication within the mayor's office... not lines of authority.  It notes, for example, that "there is no permitting department".

Just before noon, the mayor's office sent this update to council.

From: Stettner, Melissa
Sent: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 11:58 AM
To: City Clerk's Office; City Council
Cc: Gibson, Debra; Victor, Art
Subject: Mayor's Office Org Chart

Dear President and Members,

Attached is an updated organizational chart of the Mayor's office for
your information. I will also be delivering hard copies to Council's
front desk. Thank you.


Melissa M. Stettner
Senior Administrator
to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl

Here's the attachment. I'm sure there's more to come on this. The Burgher just called to my attention that the chart shows the law department under the Mayor's chief of staff Yarone Zober.


Friday, March 14, 2008

What A Difference A Day Makes: Ravenstahl Clinton Endorsement?

UPDATE # 3: e-mailed at 11:46 AM. The message is re-sent, this time from Sirk's personal Yahoo e-mail account. The previous message was from her City of Pittsburgh e-mail account. The final version is the same quote from Mayor Ravenstahl, prefaced with the headline "LUKE RAVENSTAHL: PITTSBURGH'S MAYOR. OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF ENDORSEMENT FOR SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES".

UPDATE # 2: e-mailed at 11:16 AM:

Sirk, Alecia would like to recall the message, ""

UPDATE: The following statement from Mayor Ravenstahl was e-mailed by his press secretary Alecia Sirk at 11:12 AM today:

“I am pleased to have the opportunity this afternoon to voice my support for Sen. Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States,” Ravenstahl said. “In one of her speeches, Sen. Clinton said something that had particular meaning for me: she said ‘wait a minute, Wall Street; you’ve had your president. Now we need a president for Main Street.’

“That statement reflects my approach to government: putting neighborhoods first, bolstering job opportunities, ensuring that residents can thrive and grow families in Pittsburgh and other cities like ours. With Sen. Clinton in the White House we will have a partner in the White House who will champion programs that will help Pittsburgh thrive.”

When I asked, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl insisted repeatedly during a news conference Tuesday that he had not decided between Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. Within hours, Clinton campaign sources were widely quoted as saying that in fact Ravenstahl will be endorsing Senator Clinton today.

You can watch the raw video from WTAE Channel 4 Action News on The Pittsburgh Channel website. Click here to open it in a new window. I'm also posting some of my questions and the mayor's answers below. The video also includes City Controller Michael Lamb's endorsement of Senator Obama.

Q: In your role as a super delegate, do you anticipate, have you made a decision on which candidate you're backing? If not, to you anticipate doing that prior to primary day? Why or why not?

A: I have not made a decision. I can tell you that I don't know if I'm a super delegate. I know that Rich (Lord of the Post-Gazette) reported as much. As a result of that, we've had some back and forth, and I don't know if I'm a pledged delegate or a super delegate, so I don't want to be -- I guess I don't want to say that I'm a super delegate. But I can tell you just generally, overall with the race, you know, I haven't made a decision yet. I'm in the process of having discussions with both campaigns and we'll go from there. I do anticipate making an endorsement at some point in time. When that will be, I'm not sure yet. But I think it's important for the mayor the city to make an endorsement at some point, and when I make a decision I'll make sure you guys are the first to know.

Q (from a second reporter): Will you be making the rounds with Senator Clinton tomorrow and Saturday?

A: You know, I don't even know what that means at this point. I don't know what the rounds are. I know she's going to be in town, but other than that I don't have any specific information. So, as of now, I don't know but I'm not planning on it at this point. It depends on what the specifics are and I don't have any of them at this point.

Q (from the second reporter): Has she talked to you recently about supporting her?

A: Not personally she hasn't, no. I talked to the president last week and Senator Obama this week and their campaigns respectively but I haven't directly spoken with her.

Q: Have you directly spoken with Obama, you said?

A: Yes I did.

Q: And what -- tell us about that conversation.

A: Just very vanilla. Obviously asking for support, and just looked forward to being in Pittsburgh and meeting me and, you know, spending some time in the state and the city.

[...later in the news conference...]

Q: Some people presume that Hillary Clinton would have the inside track for getting your support; is that not the case?

A: You guys are all speculators. I don't -- again, I like them both. It's a very difficult situation to be in. I think Democrats across the country are struggling with this. We've seen that when Senator Clinton got ahead, then all of a sudden here comes Senator Obama, and vice versa. So I think it's good healthy dialog and debate for the Democrats because we understand as a party, I think, what I just illustrated: that we need a change in this country and I think that's what you've seen happen over the course of time and certainly will happen in Pennsylvania over the next six weeks.

[...still later in the news conference, on the topic of whether he is a super delegate...]

A: " my discussions with the county executive, he suggested I was not a super -- I don't know what you reported, but his understanding of what you reported was not accurate. Now, I don't know what that means, I don't know -- I haven't talked directly to the state party. So, I think I am some form of a delegate, but I don't know that I'm a super delegate to speak my mind as I see fit.

Q (from a third reporter): I wasn't told you were a super delegate, but a PLEO, which is something different.

A: The distinction that he suggested -- and I didn't get a chance to read the e-mail from the state party -- but was that I was not free, necessarily, to speak my mind as I see fit. So, I'm pledged, in that I may have to, you know, whatever the state does or the city does, have to go that way. So I don't know that I'm free to speak my mind, is I guess the caveat that's different than perhaps what was reported. But I'll try to find out today, if I can.



Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reminder: SPJ Digital Democracy Event

There’s still time to be a part of Digital Democracy, the 2008 Society of Professional Journalists Regional Conference on March 14-15 at the Omni William Penn Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh.

Join journalists from across western Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, and beyond as we explore how the digital revolution - including blogs, online video, websites and social media - is changing traditional news media coverage and citizens’ access to the political process. Hear speakers from The New York Times, Hearst-Argyle Television, J-Lab, NewsBusters, Media Matters, The Media Bloggers Association and more.

Hosted by the Pittsburgh Professional Chapter, the conference includes a Friday night reception and Saturday full of conference activities, including the annual regional Mark of Excellence Awards banquet.

There is no late fee for online registration. Rates start at $65 for students and $85 for professionals.

For out of town attendees, a limited number of hotel rooms at the SPJ discounted rate still are available at the Omni William Penn Hotel. However, they will not last long. To book a room, call (412) 281-7100 or visit the conference Web site,

See you there!


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Update On Reporter Facing Fines

Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy won't have to start paying fines during her appeal of a federal judge's contempt of court order against her. A higher court has granted a temporary stay. The fines are intended for force her to reveal the identity of her sources. (See Tuesday's post.)

Here are links to coverage in USA Today, The New York Times, and The Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Editor & Publisher is reporting that 50 media companies and organizations are urging Congress to pass a federal shield law.

You can track the latest on the Locy case in Google News.



Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Subpoenaed For Her Sources, Journalist Fighting Fines

Toni Locy

Former USA Today reporter and current WVU faculty member Toni Locy is filing an emergency appeal of a federal judge's order fining her thousands of dollars a day out of her own pocket for refusing to name her confidential sources. The paper quotes the Pittsburgh area resident as saying she can't afford the unprecedented fine. "I don't have $46,000 lying around. …Can he freeze my bank accounts? Can he take my house?"

Locy is scheduled to speak at the SPJ Regional Conference "Digital Democracy" here in Pittsburgh this weekend.

The USA Today editorial headlined "Judge forces reporter to pick between sources, bankruptcy" says Judge "Walton refused to give Locy time to appeal. That, too, is unusual. Locy's crime? Keeping her word to sources so that readers could learn what those sources only dared disclose privately." USA Today's coverage is here and here.

Locy was the target of a contempt-of-court request by lawyers for Dr. Steven Hatfill for her refusal to identify sources who provided information to her about the 2001 anthrax attacks and the subsequent investigation. Hatfill was publicly identified by then-Attorney General John Ashcroft as a "person of interest" in the investigation. Hatfill is suing the Department of Justice for violating his Privacy Act rights by leaking information about him to reporters.

The AP reports that "Locy's brief says Walton is imposing "destructive financial penalties upon a reporter who has — in complete good faith — invoked a constitutional privilege not to testify so that she can secure appellate review of her unique situation."

Journalism organizations are speaking out in support of Locy, including the Society of Professional Journalists and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which notes:

• "No judge has ever officially ordered that a reporter held in contempt may not accept reimbursement from an employer (or anyone else.)"

• "The fine (up to $5,000 a day) is punitive. If the judge wants to punish Ms. Locy, he should try her for criminal contempt and let a jury find that she willfully, intentionally and criminally forgot who her sources were for these stories."

As the Wall Street Journal's law blog notes, "starting at midnight [Tuesday], Locy is ordered to pay the fines — herself — until she appears before the judge on April 3."

American Journalism Review writes:

Journalists and press advocates said they were riled and shocked by what they regard as the judge's heavy hand. "If this judge's decision stands, it means that reporters are going to have to have insurance," says Kathy Kiely, a friend and former colleague of Locy's and a USA Today reporter. "If people think that they're going to be faced with financial ruin for doing their job, it's going to be really hard for anyone to be a reporter anymore. This raises some very, very serious long-term implications for our business and our profession."



Friday, March 7, 2008

Mayor Pays PEMA For Yukon Rides

Remember the questions raised over Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's use of a police SUV paid for with federal Homeland Security money? Tonight the mayor says that he's paying about $150 to put the matter behind him.

Ravenstahl used the GMC Yukon -- intended for the city's police intelligence unit -- to take friends to a concert, among other things. The mayor's office says Pennsylvania's Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) found that the cost of the mayor using the SUV was minimal. Ravenstahl has written a personal check to the state for $145.50 to cover the cost of the 300 miles he put on the vehicle.

I'd blogged here about Federal Emergency Management officials telling the state to look into the matter. The Yukon was purchased under the federal "Buffer Zone Protection Program". That means it's to be used to "protect and secure critical infrastructure and key resource sites across the country". The mayor and Police Chief Nate Harper fielded reporter questions on this last fall.

The mayor's office e-mailed its announcement shortly before 5:00 PM on Friday. No PEMA or federal officials were available for comment. You can check out the news release below.

[Click to enlarge.]

I noticed the news release letterhead is now bears a copyright by the mayor's office. I'm sure that with "fair use" exemptions there's no problem reproducing it here.



Thursday, March 6, 2008

Google Mapping The News

View Larger Map

The image above is from Google Maps' street view of the scene of the deadly house explosion in Plum. It was e-mailed to me by crime blogger Steve Huff, who I first heard from a couple of years ago while covering the Brandi Dunn murder case.

Steve writes:

Hi Bob,

We've corresponded a bit in the past about some interesting cases in your area. I make a living with my writing and reporting now, but I still do plenty of blogging on my own. Today I grew interested in the house explosion in Plum, in part because such things are kind of rare. Thinking it probably wasn't crime related, I've written a personal blog entry about it here (I think of my blogs as "crime blogs" and just "personal blogs" where I write about whatever):

It's really just one angle on the story, still, it might be an angle that wouldn't occur to a lot of people. I just thought you'd find it interesting.