Friday, November 27, 2009

Oy Vey: Bloggers Do What Now?

The headline reads: Bloggers open the floodgate on mayor.

Read it carefully and with a skeptical eye, unlike most of Pittsburgh is currently.

First of all, everyone who uses Twitter is a blogger? In that case, Luke Ravenstahl is a blogger, Bill Peduto is a blogger, Patrick Dowd is a blogger and Arlen Specter is a blogger.

The article makes it look as though the actual local political blogs are "opening floodgates" of criticism, reveling in the Mayor's familial troubles -- which is demonstrably and honestly not the case. Indeed, it is just a few of us that are bothering to criticize aspects of how the Mayor is handling things -- which Maria does a fantastic job expressing -- but we have all been tasteful and reserved as to the separation.

I should have written this sooner: for the three years I've been at this, the blogs I've read (and I read a lot of them) have shown a tremendous amount of restraint in not ever referencing "the rumors that are out there". So have our commenters, honestly -- more than once I've marveled at how our entire online community has kept it scrupulously dignified, despite many invitations to the contrary and despite our undeserved reputation as a cesspool. On those very rare occasions when an anonymous commenter has floated something sketchy about the Mayor or about Erin, the bloggers have almost always dutifully deleted the comments, scrubbing our spaces clean.

I'm proud to say that Pittsburgh blogs concern themselves with pensions and debt, with development and infrastructure, with personnel matters rather than personal matters, and at our very worst with dot-connecting insinuations about political corruption rather than personal misfortune. The way today's article was framed (never mind that Sciullo piece), the Post-Gazette might as well cradle the Mayor in its loving arms during this trying ordeal for him.


And now, I will get this over with: rumors can be proven true, and rumors can be proven false; but rumors cannot be "proven to be just that -- rumors". That sounds like a nice last-ditch effort to sound as though one is denying a thing, when those who are paying close attention (perhaps too close) can hear clearly that one is denying nothing. Now, I'm not the Amazing Kreskin and I'm not Sherlock Holmes, but from the few facts we have been given, it sounds to me as though the split-up is very likely more his fault than -- as his public story goes -- her fault. The simplest explanation is usually best, after all.

And does that matter? Should I be writing about it? No and yes.

I'm one of those persons who believe marital drama does not matter in my politicians -- unless persons with whom he or she deals in an official capacity become part of the drama. It would be inappropriate, for example, if Mayor Ravenstahl and Guy Costa were discovered to have been having a tryst. Aside from that, I happen to subscribe to Mr. Sprague's advertised ideals on the issue. Yet I recognize that not everybody does, and that nobody has to -- and I would not presume to lecture to those people that they're obviously wrong. For the sake of the many who believe it is important, it is sadly an issue that merits some coverage and reflection by the media.

That is, it would -- in a city that did not reside somewhere between Mayberry, Pleasantville and Pyongyang.

Most importantly, however, if my view is correct and there is some truth to the rumors, it is fully symptomatic of another issue the local blogs have long been covering -- and with good cause. The jet-setting with billionaires instead of 8:30 AM meetings with residents. Commandeering a Homeland Security vehicle to go to a concert. The culture of cigars, scotch and expensive neckties given as offerings of respect. Brashly accepting tickets and admissions to high-dollar events. Setting up good friends with lucrative business deals and allowing them to elude public scrutiny. And the frequent counter-criticism, most often found through anonymous comments on the blogs, that those who are interested in advancing campaign finance reform and cleaning up government are only "jealous", "want to be the ones doing it themselves", are the "have-nots" and "wish they were the Mayor".

This has never been so much a literal "pay-to-play" culture as a "play-to-be-a-player" culture. This has never been a Mayor that has been excellent at resisting temptation. That's an undesirable quality in a leader, as we've seen many times before. This is probably just an indication that rumors of the Mayor's growth on the job have been somewhat exaggerated, if not foisted forcibly upon us from on high.

There. I opened the sluice-gates for a moment, and now they are closed. I recommend it.


  1. Truth is an absolute defense to any lawsuit.

  2. Bram,

    I know I'm in semi-retirement, but I'm glad you wrote this post. As soon as I read that article this morning, I started whining to everyone in the house. Painting the burghosphere in such a light discourages people from participating in a dynamic, largely high-brow forum that can (and has) led to legitimate political change. The fact that the Post-Gazette threw us under the bus because of a few twits on twitter and some comments on good blog posts is, frankly, irresponsible.

    You should send the first three paragraphs of this post to the Post-Gazette as a letter to the editor. I'm sure many of the other Pittsburgh bloggers would co-sign it.

    Jonathan Cavell (aka Burgher Jon)

  3. Thanks for posting this. Hadn't seen the article, but the idea that these off-the-wall Twitter comments are equivalent to running a site with legitimate political commentary makes me wonder if bloggers aren't the ones who ought to be calling Richard Sprague on the Post-Gazette

  4. Luke has been picking up chicks and boinking them since he was the Council President. He knows it and I would love to hear him deny it.

    He is a piece of crap

    Wonder when one of his lady friends will cum forward?

  5. Indeed. I thought the subhead "Nonsensical onslaught" was more than a bit over the top.

  6. Archi - Actually, nonsensical onslaught was literally correct, in that 95% of the tweets were in the nature of: "Luke has no idea the bird is the word. #ravenstahlrumors"

    However, placing that characterization in the subhead without any real context was another aspect of the stupidity.

  7. I would sign it as well. That article was strange at best.

  8. Is anyone else over the break-up by now? How about beginning today we all just watch LR and not blog or talk about the personal? Going forward there is nothing that can save him from relentless scrutiny. The silliness of the twitter stuff makes me happy I am not interested and technologically deprived.

  9. The story here has little to do about the breakup or Luke's alleged infidelity, but the heavy handed nature in which they're trying to protect against people talking about the alleged infidelity. Sprague's legal hit list is long, including a recent case where he represented a Zappala-owned juvenile detention facility that was bribing judges, and in which the plea deal led to the Zappala being dismissed from the case. How exactly did Luke come to know Sprague? (The always astute Dennis Roddey asked Sprague that very question, and he said he didn't know.) It seems that the people who are invested in keeping this golden calf alive have hired this outright goon to try to scare away the hunters.

  10. Anonymous 8:05 - Honestly I'm about where you are. Over it.

    I'm a little peeved at the Post Gazette thus far for going out of its way (quite out of character for itself, I might add) to instruct us what to think about this in a thoroughly unbalanced manner, and to make this as painless as possible on our mayor. A lovely instinct maybe but not remotely its job.

    And I still have one major craving: someone, somewhere needs to do a Man On The Street article or video report already. The very first, the central, and the most enduring question of this episode is, "Does this matter and should it matter?" So why not gather a collection of opinions from "ordinary Pittsburghers" and balance out the gamut of responses? So that just about everyone can find their own feelings reflected, and also can encounter a viewpoint contradictory to their own? It shouldn't be that hard.

    But even with these dissatisfactions, how long can one stay indignant over something like this. We've about squeezed it dry of all that is useful and there are important and concrete matters on the agenda: leasing schemes, zoning battles both specific and general, development policy, an outstanding budget hole, and Council's future leadership top the list. TGIF, and on to December.

  11. as far as Sprague, I think his hiring comes from he-who-shall-not-be-named having an inflated ego, at least partially. I will be off-line for a while, going deep underground after having made that negative comment.

  12. The whole thing does raise interesting issues.

    I don't know if you've been following it but there are are quite a lot of efforts to intimidate bloggers, who are not given the same rights as official members of the press in terms of protecting sources.

    That's the scary thing. Sprague now has legal precedent on his side.

    As, to the mayor's private life--I'll respect his when he respects mine.

    He got in to this kitchen as the "powerful mayor" happy to take people's private property for the schemes of him and his pals . Now he can't be shocked that people want stick a scope up his--- and find out who he is and what he's been up to.

  13. This is actually pretty funny watching the bloggers and press squirm. You throw around "corruption" and "pay to play" almost every day. Now you all run and hide at the site of lawyer that threatens to sue you. A bunch of paper tigers.

  14. what,

    Luke Payed to Play???

  15. It's quite disappointing to know that we now have the Trib and Trib Lite to read with our morning coffee. I have been a newspaper addict my whole life, and I am seriously thinking about giving it up . . .

  16. You tell them Matt aint nobody afraid of Luke.

  17. Oh yes you tell them... Because Matt is the poster child of ethical behavior.....

    pot... kettle.... black....

  18. On one hand, Bram you question heavy handed tactics...

    And, then you apply same eraser to me (?).

    Funny thing 1st Ammendment Right.


  19. Funny thing is that freedom of speech in the First Amendment refers to the government not being able to stifle speech -- such as the mayor of a mid size town -- it does not in anyway say that someone can, say, act like a douchebag on someone's personal blog.

  20. Correct, Monk: I am not a government official -- and I never threatened you with legal action, preemptively or otherwise. So it's very different. Oddly, you threatened to sue ME ... and you complained about me to the Mayor's Complaint line. Which I did not understand.

    Anon 4:45 - Was this really the best post on which to suggest that bloggers are running scared of the Mayor and his goon attorney? Did you read it? What else would you have me do? Put on a puppet show?

  21. Wow, the level of discourse on this post has deteriorated quickly. I'm really surprised by the relationship of anonymous to signed comments here. It concerns me a bit.

  22. "Oh yes you tell them... Because Matt is the poster child of ethical behavior.....

    pot... kettle.... black...."

    What unethical behavior have I done?

  23. I think the funniest thing about this whole sordid affair and the proactive approach to stifling rumors is that, for those who have been paying attention, there's really no need to delve into rumors regarding the Mayor's personal life. He's got so many publicized governmental and political indiscretions that what he does in his private life is not just irrelevant but also extraneous.

    We don't need extramarital activity to roast the Mayor. There's plenty of ammunition out there already.

  24. A couple of observations. First is that a number of the anonymous bloggers (as opposed to anonymous commenters) in Pittsburgh have gone away. Pittgirl became not anonymous, and the Burgher and the Admiral have largely or entirely disappeared. So it is bloggers out in the open, such as Bram, Matt and the 2PJ's who are stepping gingerly around this issue. I find considerable irony in Anonymous 11/28/09 4:45 calling bloggers "paper tigers" for being careful. Not even willing to sign his/her name to these “safe” insults directed at bloggers.

    Second, I will disagree a bit with Chris Peak. Various semi-ethical lapses of the Mayor's have been out in the open for all to see for some time now. The SUV incident, the Lemieux golf thingie, the Tiger Woods/Oakmont incident, the Halloween handcuffing and more; none of it seemed to affect the voters. Now, in truth, I would have to say that whatever has happened between the Mayor and his wife ought not to be any of our concern. I mean, it goes to character, but we already have a pretty good sense of the contempt this Mayor has for ethics without finding out about his personal life. But maybe a good personal scandal is what is needed to bring this Mayor down. The Mayor certainly thinks so, otherwise he wouldn’t have waited until after the election to announce the separation.

  25. You found that movie? Now you know why I can't run for mayor. #msmonrumors.

  26. What unethical behavior have I done?

    No one said you did??? Feeling guilty?

    But how about this - You come down hard on this fellow....

    But you buddy Rob Katz gets free fill and you seem to gloss over it....

    Hmmm.. Now just what's going on here Matt? I think you did a better job as the mayors lap dog because at least then we knew you were full of crap. This "trying to be an watchdog" crap is pitiful.

    And just for the record...I still think you are full of crap. It's too little too late for me but I hope you keep plucking away after they used you up and threw you away like a Coghill yard sign because you keep looking like a bigger and bigger tard with each post you make.

  27. Dear Luke

    Because power corrupts, society's demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.

    Very truly yours,
    John Adams