Saturday, January 24, 2009

Murtha & Guantanamo Fact Check: What Did He Really Say?

The outrage and the ridicule heaped on Pennsylvania Congressman John Murtha over his Guantanamo comments hit a nadir on Pittsburgh talk radio the other night. A caller warned ominously that homeowners in Murtha's district were doomed to have the government seize their property by eminent domain to create a buffer zone around a maximum security prison for terrorists. The talk show host whooped in mock shock. But did Murtha really say what some are claiming he said?

Clearly, he did not.

I've spent three days hunting, and I've not found one video clip or direct quote to show otherwise.

Let's start with a look at the way the story was translated in local and national coverage:

"...Murtha's invitation to house Guantanamo Bay detainees in his district..."

"...the astonishing offer by Congressman John Murtha..."

"...Murtha audaciously expressed his hope to house Gitmo detainees ..."

"...[Murtha] suggested he would find a prison home for them here in Pennsylvania.."

"...Murtha's Gitmo idea..." "... Murtha's offer..." "...Murtha's Gitmo Invite..."

Get the idea? All of the stories source back to a comment reported by Fox News.

Curious, I thought I'd search for the controversial video on the Fox News website. It's not there. You would think that, not only would it be posted, it would be given high profile -- perhaps offered as an unedited long form segment.

I couldn't find it; let me know if you have better luck.

I broadened my search. The longest online version of the Murtha exchange with a Fox News crew isn't on the network's own website. It's on The Raw Story, a news and politics blog. The headline:

The Raw Story has video of Michele Malkin on Fox & Friends, saying, "Let's put them in Jack Murtha's house and see how welcoming he is then." If you click on the January 22nd video, you'll see the Fox team and their guest mock Murtha -- but in the clip they eventually play, Murtha does not say what they claim. The moment comes at 2:20 into the video, and lasts all of 17 seconds, including the reporter's question. It joins Murtha in progress:

Murtha: " reason not to put them in prisons in the United States, and just handle them the way any other prisoner is handled."

Fox reporter: "Would you take them in your district if there were a prison to handle them?"

Murtha: "I don't have a federal prison, I have a minimum security prison. Sure, I'd take them. I mean, they're no more dangerous in a prison in my district than they are in Guantanamo."

Click below to play the Raw Story video of the Fox News segment.

Raw Story observes:

"Fox & Friends has apparently decided that the best way to drum up opposition to closing the detention center is to terrify Americans with the prospect of terrorists being housed in their own backyards. Even if it means spinning the news that their own network already reported correctly....Although even Fox acknowledges in its online reporting that Murtha clearly meant to say, 'I'd take them in my district if I had a federal prison,' the Fox hosts were quick to twist Murtha's words. Steve Doocy suggested mockingly, 'Just put them in a minimum security work camp in a tent or something like that just outside Philly.' "

What Raw Story describes as the correct Fox reporting is in this story, which says:

"Murtha only has a minimum security prison in his district. But he says he'd have no reservations about holding detainees there in a maximum security prison. "

The Fox website later launched the evolving story we've seen spreading elsewhere. The resulting spin embellishes Murtha's answer beyond recognition by eliciting reactions to something never said. Some highlights:

• "Rep. John Murtha's invitation to house Guantanamo Bay detainees in his district has some local officials seeing dollar signs -- even though Murtha's comment was met with disbelief by others."

• "[State Sen. J. Barry] Stout voiced no opposition to Murtha's offer, though he said he would want to see the details first."

• "Kevin Miller, who lives in Murtha's district, told FOX News that, 'He brings the pork home and people seem to like that.'... 'I guess this is Jack Murtha's economic stimulus package," he quipped.' "

[Miller isn't identified as being the former KDKA Radio talk show host, but appears to be offered up as a vox populi.]

This short clip on YouTube is the only other video sample of Fox coverage. It says Murtha "appeared to offer his district" as a place to transfer detainees.

While there was no proposal by Murtha to bring terrorist detainees to his district, he did issue a formal statement about Gitmo on his congressional website:

"...Guantanamo remained open because the Bush Administration refused to provide a legitimate plan and a legal means to charge and try its detainees, and to relocate them to their respective home countries or to maximum security prisons in the United States..."

In local newspaper coverage, here's the Tribune-Review headline:

• "When pressed during a television interview this week, he said he would have no problem bringing the prisoners to his district."

• " 'They are "no more dangerous in my district than in Guantanamo,' Murtha said."

• "That's a 'ludicrous' position because the 90 miles of water separating the Cuban detention facility from U.S. soil gives Americans extra protection, said Diane Gramley, president of the American Family Association of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit with 12,000 members. ...'I don't think the average murderer or rapist hates all Americans or hates what America stands for like the terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo,' said Gramley, who lives in Venango County. 'You intermix them with the prison population, and there's the very real possibility they would influence those individuals in prison.' "

• "It's not likely that any of the detainees would end up in Murtha's district."

Gramley has more to say in a news release on her organization's website:

The astonishing offer by Congressman John Murtha to take the terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo and house them in his district, if President Obama closes the prison, is beyond comprehension. The American Family Association of Pennsylvania (AFA of PA), a statewide family organization, contacted Congressman Murtha and asked him to reconsider his offer.

This AP story on the website notes:

• There isn't a federal prison in Murtha's district, although the Federal Correctional Institution-Loretto, a low-security prison, is nearby.

• A spokesman for the Democratic congressman said he couldn't say if that facility would be suitable or if another facility could be used because nothing has been proposed.

• "Guantanamo has been a sore on America's image abroad, and the point Congressman Murtha is making is that we have to relocate these detainees to either their respective foreign country or to a secure maximum security prison in the U.S.," spokesman Matt Mazonkey said.

Murtha later told The New York Times:

“There are thousands of dangerous prisoners being held securely behind bars in supermax prisons across the United States,” Mr. Murtha said Friday. He noted, however, that there was no supermax facility in his district.

Commentator Michelle Malkin isn't letting up. The headline on her website:

• "Get this: King of Pork John Murtha, the 19-term Democratic congressman from western Pennsylvania, now wants to welcome a flood of Guantanamo Bay jihadists into his district. I don't want to hear a single word of protestation from the constituents who put this money-grubbing, security-undermining fool back into office. As you vote, so shall you reap."

• "Murtha audaciously expressed his hope to house Gitmo detainees after President Barack Obama circulated his draft executive order to shut the facility down by the end of the year. "Sure, I'd take 'em," Murtha glibly retorted."

• "No, what fuels him is unabashed greed and a lifelong edifice complex. The money-grubbing Murtha, you see, just can't wait to snatch up federal tax dollars to build a new maximum security prison for the Gitmo gang -- no doubt with his name and face plastered all over it. Welcome to the John Murtha Jihadist Correctional Facility."

So, to recap, Murtha didn't proclaim an invitation, plan, or offer to bring Guantanamo terrorist detainees to his district. Rather, in answer to a reporter's rhetorical question ["would you take them in your district if there were a prison to handle them?"], he answered: "I don't have a federal prison, I have a minimum security prison. Sure, I'd take them. I mean, they're no more dangerous in a prison in my district than they are in Guantanamo."



Happy Birthday, Macintosh

wenty-five years ago, Apple's Steve Jobs introduced the Macintosh computer. It arrived with an allure of magic in a world where computers were "business machines" that responded only to typing odd text combinations of forward and back slashes, colons, letters and numbers. Before Mac, if someone said they had a mouse on their desk, you'd tell them to call an exterminator. It was the Macintosh that brought the power of point-and-click control out from experimental labs and onto people's desktops. The high resolution images and the text it could display in different fonts were inspiring. Even its all-in-one design -- computer and screen united in one body -- was a marvel.

Here's a link to the Google News roundup of stories about the Mac's 25th anniversary.

Click the image below to reach a Wikipedia account of the Mac's early development.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

Motznik: The Beginning of the End of an Era

he PG reports this afternoon:

Jim Motznik will give up his city council seat to run for district judge...

The Trib has more on the brewing political feuds.

Long before Allegheny County Executive
Dan Onorato began cybercasting...

... or Councilman Bill Peduto launched his
now-silent "Reform Pittsburgh Now",

Motznik briefly but memorably explored the wilds
of Pittsburgh's Burghosphere.

[Click to enlarge.]

His decision means Motznik's "boots on the ground" support of Mayor Ravenstahl in city council will be absent after December.

Not quite three weeks into 2009, it's apparent that 2010 will bring new alignments and alliances in the city council chamber.



Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Behind The Scenes: Local Campaign Finance Reform

The urgency seemed unusual. Mayor Ravenstahl's and County Executive Onorato's noon news conference on campaign finance reform was announced on an hour's notice. Their joint appearances together are usually announced farther in advance. This one -- held at the county elections office instead of their offices -- was not.

Whether unintended or by design, there was an interesting byproduct of their timing and location. It appears that none of the newspaper or TV reporters who cover Pittsburgh government as a weekly beat drew the assignment. That meant Tuesday's first wave of coverage didn't examine Mayor Ravenstahl's conversion on the issue. In June, Ravenstahl's four page veto ridiculed campaign finance reform passed by City Council as "fraught with problems".

Tuesday's joint news release arrived by e-mail from the county executive's office at at 10:43 AM and from the mayor's office at 11:01 AM. I e-mailed Onorato spokesman Kevin Evanto and Ravenstahl spokeswoman Joanna Doven separately, asking "What led to the one hour's notice for a story like this one?". Evanto promptly e-mailed back: "I was told at 10:30 this morning that we were having a news conference. I let you guys know as soon as I did." Doven did not respond to the question.

Today's Trib and PG stories flesh out the coverage.

The reforms Mayor Ravenstahl vetoed in June would have put much stricter limits on political contributions than his current version. City Council would have capped contributions from individuals at $2,000 per election and at $5,000 for political action committees. Onorato and Ravenstahl say their proposed contribution limits are $4,600 per individual each year and $10,000 per political action committee each year.

In his veto message, Mayor Ravenstahl wrote that the campaign finance reform bill would "have a chilling effect on the labor movement" and "inhibit the ability of challengers to mount successful campaigns against incumbents."

The Post-Gazette reported at the time:

"Mr. Ravenstahl raised $1.15 million in 2006 and 2007. At least $299,000 of that came from 25 supporters -- including individuals and labor union PACs -- that wrote checks of $10,000 or more."

Here are links to City Council's version and the mayor's veto of that bill.



Monday, January 12, 2009

Campaign Reform News Conference

The following news release arrived by e-mail at 10:43 AM from the county executive's office and 11:01 AM from the mayor's office:


City of Pittsburgh



TODAY – January 12, 2009

Onorato, Ravenstahl to Announce Comprehensive Campaign Finance Reform

EVENT: Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will announce their partnership to reform campaign finance in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

DATE: TODAY – Monday, January 12, 2009

TIME: 12:00 noon

PLACE: Allegheny County Elections Office

# # #

Sent from my mobile device


Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Club Pittsburgh Controversy

UPDATE: Click the image above to hear the Q&A from Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's news conference on the Club Pittsburgh controversy.

Mayor Ravenstahl says political contributions by the owners of Club Pittsburgh were not behind the way the city resolved a zoning cease-and-desist order against alleged sex-related activity at the Strip District business. The club first made headlines this week when a man was found dead in one of the its rentable private rooms. The current wave of reporting is not about the death of 31-year-old Cleophus Pettway, however. Local news organizations have had ongoing coverage examining how the city deals with politically connected businesses, with reporting by The Post-Gazette's Rich Lord breaking new ground on this topic several times over the past year. Lord's story today put's a finer point on information revealed during the mayor's news conference: city officials did not inspect the inside of Club Pittsburgh to follow up on the alleged code violations, but relied solely on the assurances that it was now in compliance.

I managed to get a comment directly from one of the club owners on Wednesday. When I reached Peter Karlovich by phone shortly before 12:30 PM, he told me he's:

• "Very saddened that somone died at the club."

• "Particularly disgusted that the news media is focusing on paperwork and not on a man's death."

• He also said "this is being used as an attack on the mayor and is clearly and transparently an attack on the mayor."

Mr. Karlovich has also joined in the discussion in the comments section at Sue Kerr's blog, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents.

You can watch video of my Channel 4 Action News report at this link.

Here are some breakout quotes from Q&A with newsmakers about this story:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl:

• "Every contributor that has ever given money to me is not given preferential treatment. and the story line that continues is unfortunate."

• "Every contributor that gives to us should not be scrutinized or penalized for the fact that they give money. they give money based on their first amendment right."

Council President Doug Shields:

• "I'm not buying this 'well the lawyers dealt with this'. Lawyers go back and talk to people that tell them to talk to people, and these things don't happen in a vacuum."

• "Both property owners, for good or for bad, were done a disservice by the actions taken by the administration."



Friday, January 2, 2009

Drink Tax Ruling

Judge Olson grants injunction blocking use of drink tax revenues and
interest for anything other than:
-matching funds for the Port Authority,
-capital expenditures for PAT,
-and payment on debt service for capital expenditures made exclusively.for PAT.

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Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day Notes, Wonder Boys, & Three Pugs

I'm working this New Year's Day -- and just learned a bit of interesting history about one of the businesses gutted by the fire on Western Avenue this morning.

The Modern Café's interior stood in for "The Hi-Hat" Club in the movie of Michael Chabon's novel "Wonder Boys" ; it's been at that location since Prohibition was lifted.

(My story for Channel 4 Action News at 11 tonight focuses more on the owner of KS Kennedy Floral , who lived upstairs from his now burned-out business.)

Here's the trailer for "Wonder Boys", the film shot in Pittsburgh starring Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, and Robert Downey Junior. (See the New York Times review.)

As a break from my usual fare about local government and politics, I also offer this video link as a palate cleanser for the holiday. The Three Pugs:

Here's wishing you a Happy New Year.