Some Fine P-G Reporters: Shining a Kleig Light on a Vampire
Frankly, I want the P-G to survive and even thrive. It will do so if it unleashes its best reporters, who are as good as any in the nation. Readers want information that's relevant to their lives (including their wallets), and they will buy newspapers that provide it.
Granted, I have a major problem with the ownership of the P-G, members of the editorial board, and a few staffers. However, any journalist who writes hard-hitting stories and presents information of real value to readers is someone I respect greatly. Fox News basically monopolizes the terms "fair and balanced," but the concepts are important ones.
There's a continuing problem with corruption in Pennsylvania politics -- one I first encountered with the indictment and conviction 20-plus years ago of Pittsburgh city councilman Ben Woods. It has continued up to the present, with disgraced people like Tom Murphy, Cyril Wecht, and Pete DeFazio. Part of my argument with the P-G editorial staff is that it continues to support and endorse people destined to be led off in leg irons or flushed down the political toilet.
The solution is simple: If a candidate is dishonest, don't endorse him or her. If the editorial board doesn't like the opposing individual, endorse no one. Don't go on saluting candidates who become synonymous with corruption, such as John Murtha.
In terms of stories that need telling, look at the recent contributions of Traci Mauriello, Patricia Sabatini, Jerome Sherman, and Rich Lord. Traci, Jerome and Rich are exposing corruption -- major or minor -- in the use of either taxpayer money or campaign contributions. Patricia is discussing some deficiencies in health care that are sources of out-of-control costs.
In my column, I've talked about ways that many average people can save thousands of dollars each year in their health care costs. Frankly, the P-G should be providing some of the same information. "Pick up this paper and save tens of thousands of dollars." Nice slogan, isn't it?
In terms of politics, if an elected official -- yes, I mean you Luke Ravenstahl -- is buying his best suit with campaign funds, something is very wrong. If a political leader is spending tens of thousands in taxpayer money to be chauffered around his district -- hey, Bill DeWeese! -- something is totally amiss.
In Luke's case, he's a seemingly attractive young candidate who inherited a lot of goodwill. But Luke has a bad habit of practicing the hoariest forms of old style politics, even to the point of punishing a fine young policewoman for telling the truth about a political hack. People don't contribute to a candidate to buy his clothes or support his personnel animosities.
In the area where I live, about 35% of the people would vote for Homer Simpson if he were running as the "endorsed" Democrat. After all, more than that number voted for the odious Mike Veon, Pennsylvania's last remaining proponent of the legislative pay raise.
At the same time, about 25% would vote for the Republican, even if he were residing in the Beaver County jail.
That leaves about 40% of the people -- an estimate, to be sure -- who have an interest in whether the candidate is honest -- and where he or she stands on issues. In the recent election, Mike Veon said the main reason (only reason?) for people to vote for him was that he was a "Democrat."
You remember the ad: "Mike Veon, Democrat. Jim Marshall, Republican." Then, the fat guy reciting that particular mantra grinned idiotically at the camera, having made his point about the superiority of Veon.
The response of the 40% to the ad and the candidate's behavior was: "Mike Veon, crook. Jim Marshall, honest -- even if not perhaps the sharpest knife in the drawer." Marshall won in what, for a Beaver County Republican, constituted a landslide.
What destroyed Veon wasn't the excellence of the Marshall campaign. Rather, it was the information, much of it provided by the P-G, that people had about the incumbent. It was like shining a kleig light on a Vampire.
At times, elected officials don't exactly break the laws, but sometimes they bend them into the shape of a boomerang. Then, they do everything in their power to hide the evidence.
Elected officials in Pennsylvania sometimes engage in behavior that causes one's jaw to drop -- consider the aforementioned Mike Veon, consider Jeff Haybay, and many others. However, if bad behavior occurs and no one sees it -- or hears about it -- one could argue it never happened.
It's the job -- a very tough one -- of the Tracies, Jeromes, and Richs of the world to do the digging necessary. Such people will be surprised many times at what emerges from under the political rocks in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Washington, DC.
Note: As this column and other ones demonstrate, I believe most problems in life -- including health care costs and political corruption -- are solvable with fairly simple steps. One of those steps is to provide people with information that will allow them to make wise, economically and politically sound choices. In health care, tell people what things cost and what they get for their money. In politics, tell people who the candidates are and what their actions demonstrates about their real stands on issues.
There, I just solved some of the world's biggest problems in two sentences! :-)