Monday, December 22, 2008

The Pittsburgh Comet: Two Years of Comedy. Chapter 1: Beginning.

I think I must have been between jobs.

I had been following the news regarding the casino license to be awarded by the state to some outfit in Pittsburgh. Would it be Harrah's in Station Square, Isle of Capri in the Hill District, or PITG Gaming in the North Side?

Seemed to me that a Station Square casino would be wedged in too tightly amongst too much other stuff in that strip. Meanwhile, activists on the Hill were protesting the very notion of a casino in a manner I'd only read about in history books. It seemed obvious to me that the license would be awarded to Don Barden on the North Side.

And so it was, but this came to everybody else as a major shock. I decided I'd better invest in some DSL home Internet access, so I could share my gift with the world.


I learned about the Thursday Massacre through PittGirl. My comment: Susan Malie looks like Alice Cooper. Her comment: this is beginning to look like the end for Bob O'Connor.

I majored in political science and had been a news junky with strong opinions for years, but I never knew or even remotely cared about Pittsburgh's politics. In 2005, I voted against Bill Peduto because I thought Burton Morris was a hack.

I can't recall how I ever discovered the Burgh Blog, but there she was -- every day at work, several times a day, right in front of my eyeballs. Another hour would pass and I'd get that little itch -- I wonder if PittGirl wrote anything new yet? I wonder if there are any new comments?

It didn't take me long to figure out, "Hey, you know what? There is life out here, on the Internets. There is arable land. Especially for local stuff."

When I left that job (being addicted to PittGirl had something to do with it) and invested in Net access I took it upon myself to write a local tip-sheet. My influences were ABC's The Note (back when it was authored by Mark Halperin) and to a lesser degree Wonkette (back when it was authored by Ana Marie Cox). I wanted to combine the best of both, and apply them to Pittsburgh, where it seemed nobody else was doing it. I wanted people to be addicted to me.

The Story at Hand is:

Rob Rossi and Jeremy Boren, the Trib. Know it, love it be it.

Now: Is this just a matter of needing someone to talk Mario down? Can anyone do that?

Or: is this just a canny, aggressive bargaining posture going into negotiations for Plan B+++.

The Real Story is:

With lazer-like focus, as always, on the upcoming Tostitos / Bank of New York Ravenstahl vs. Pedutobowl: (PghC, 12/21/06)

I enjoy spectacle.


I would write about whatever was in the news -- back then it was interminable Penguins negotiations and casino ironings-out. My editorial tone was more one of a sportscaster than a muckraker; I just wanted everyone to be on the same page. (Mine.)

Yet I also found myself covering Wal-Mart and landslides in Killbuck County, reconstruction at Point State Park and the endangered remnants of Fort Pitt, and rumored cuts to public transit -- subjects I only discovered I had feeling for once I started really exploring the news. But mainly, I covered headlines.

Which led inexorably to political scandals.

Other blogs (I was reading and commenting actively on other blogs both to do research and to network) were all abuzz about Mayor Ravenstahl's demotion of a certain police commander.

Today, a federal hearing will take place as to whether or not Ravenstahl violated whistle-blower protections and acted improperly by demoting Catherine McNeilly, in retaliation for her criticism of his then-appointee Dennis Regan.

There is no continuing mainstream news coverage of this story. Nonetheless, the blurghosphere has been incensed. Wherefore such a discrepancy? Is the media treating Ravenstahl with kid gloves? Is this too inside-baseball for most readers? Do news editors believe there's nothing to the accusations?

I await the outcome of the hearings and I reserve judgement. However, I have a theory as to why we find so much rancor against Ravenstahl on the Internet: haters.

You heard me. It is naturally offensive that such a young man has achieved such success and prominence. I feel it also; I could have run for city council when I was 23. Why didn't I? Surely, I wouldn't be making such a popinjay of myself, either.

Be that as it may, I do not think "Politician Rewards Political Allies" would make a very newsworthy headline, nor would "Politican Punishes Internal Criticism." If he has violated the law, McNeilly should be reinstated. But I do not expect saint-like forbearance from my public officials, nor do I require it. Even if he lied about motivations, or the details of his internal investigation, I just do not think this rises to the level of scandal. (PghC, 01/04/07)

That's apparently how I felt about life back then.

Just weeks later, yet another scandal would rock our cyber-world -- Luke had gotten into a shoving match with a police officer at Heinz Field, and had apparently lied about it. Better yet, news of this had broken on a blog -- one of us! One of us!

This was thrilling -- but in the days that followed, I felt McIntire was driving the story in a direction that I didn't entirely agree with. Knowing that McIntire was the big dog in the blogosphere and seeing an opportunity to differentiate myself from what was becoming viewed as an angry, monolithic horde:

John McIntire has been fighting the good fight against the Rush Limbaugh / Fox News / Drudge Report machine for over a decade, and it appears he has finally been corrupted by it.

His latest post includes an open plea for more Ravenstahl dirt from his readers, with the vague suggestion that he's heard something juicy. He is not asking for criticism of the Ravenstahl budget, of city services, or of development projects. He wants evidence of frat boy behavior, an overload of testosterone, and immaturity.

Also, since he is done misrepresenting the original Ravenstahl incident -- remember, his claim that Regan was involved? -- he has gone on to misrepresent Ravenstahl's clear misjudgement in denying that incident, once again backed by just enough "truthiness" to inflate the issue. We believe, as most do, that McIntire's account of the denial is shamelessly exaggerated and inaccurate. (PghC, 01/22/07)

So there you have it. The blogs became a little more aware that they were being read, and thanks to the City Paper, for example, the general public was now vaguely aware of us as well.

We would continue to write about whatever outraged or excited us -- off-duty police detail cost-recovery was a big topic back then, as was non-profit payments in lieu of taxes as well as Pittsburgh's general strategy for development.

Eventually, somebody compared one of our fine local journalists to Cringer from the old Masters of the Universe cartoon series. Presently we began merrily comparing various personalities of Pittsburgh politics to the superheros and supervillains from our childhood, as the 2007 Democratic primary elections approached.


  1. Happy birthday to you, Comet. We at "Green is Good" started up two years ago as well and we will continue our fight to make sure that Pittsburgh is a green city, not just a city.

  2. Oh to be young again. Those were the days.

    Trivia: In 1989, I published my first e-book.

  3. I have, to this day, no earthly idea what you're talking about. You "differentiated" by claiming you knew what I said wasn't true, offering no proof. You claimed "most" thought I was wrong. And your proof of that is?
    I have had conversations with Dennie Regan since the good old days.
    I was not wrong.

  4. Well, I didn't know if what you claimed was true or false, but I knew that you didn't offer any sources. Where I come from, there's sort of an innocent-until-proven-guilty thing about people lobbing accusations at one another. Otherwise it's called rumor mongering.

    So I differentiated myself by attempting to cling bitterly to the "real" issues, in the process styling myself sort of the Eagle Scout of the blogosphere. And I did so by contradicting the pundit who seemed to be on top of the heap, which is what I see them doing on cable news anyway.

    Was I wrong? Were you right? Were you onto issues that were more "real" and to the point than police secondary employment cost-recovery or whatever? Would I behave similarly today toward someone making similar charges? These are questions.

    I only recall the episode to illustrate that when I got started, I was giving the kid a chance.

  5. So is the MacYapper claiming that Dennis Regan told him something that backed up his story?

  6. So Mac, did anyone every come up with something on the boy blunder and friends tearing up the golf course when they were wasted up at Conneaut Lake?

  7. Another opening, another show.

    Happy Birthday Comet.

  8. Happy Anniversary. Next week marks three years for me ... :-)