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."



Bram Reichbaum said...

I think a lot of people see Murtha as low-hanging fruit.

EdHeath said...

Even though it's not directly related to your post, I want to point out that the detainee's have mostly not been charged with anything (as I understand it), so bringing them into United States territory would present all sorts of legal problems. The Bush administration simply tore up our judicial system and left us holding the bag. We do need to close Guantanamo, it is a huge international embarrassment and killing our reputation. But we are going to have to find some whole new legal set up of procedures to deal with that mess.

In a way, I do kind of blame Murtha for being a bit of a loose cannon. The Democrats don't need to give the Republicans any openings. On the other hand, this seems to Murtha's role in life, and it hasn't cost him his seat yet. The Democrats will forgive him the occasional slip of the tongues, and the Republicans would make stuff up if Murtha didn't provide them with material. Still, if he is indicted, that will be the end of him.

Anonymous said...

Mayo, you nailed it down perfectly. This was a manufactured controversy -- totally ginned up -- by a reporter who, from all indications, failed to do the honest thing: ask Murtha "What do you mean by that?"

Dennis Roddy

Judge Rufus Peckham said...

This is off-topic and breaking news: Chad Hermann is returning – but not to his old blog. On Monday, he’ll start blogging at That’s one hell of an audience, and I understand he’s going to cut loose. I am just glad that I’ve always been nice to him.

Bob Mayo said...

Oops. It turns out that somehow I mis-set the "Comments" settings for my blog. They were set for "moderated" comments, but it was not sending me e-mail notices that there were accumulated comments to moderate. I happened to stumble across the problem while adjusting some other preference settings in the online software. My apologies.