Losing an argument? I’m sure you’ve heard of this simple strategy: deny, and counter with false accusations. It’s a great way to throw people off, since it’s a natural human tendency to respond to whatever train of thought you’re being presented with. I see it at public meetings a lot when elected officials don’t want to answer a question.
There’s another facet of argument that probably has a witty adage or saying attached to it, but nothing comes to mind now, so I’ll just explain: I often observe politicians accusing their opponents of doing exactly what they themselves are doing. That ends up making it hard for the opponent to counter with, you know, the truth. “He did X!” “No, he did X!”
And you wonder why people tune out.
Cue the Scranton Times.
In an editorial published on March 20th, called “Revisionist History”, The Times accused Mayor Courtright and his administration of being responsible for the massive arbitration awards that the police and fire unions in Scranton are going to be receiving shortly.
Let’s be clear: Neither the award, or the legal battles that led to it, had anything to do with Mayor Courtright. They were part of a clear strategy of deferment on the part of former Mayor Chris Doherty. For those who don’t recall, his plan was as follows: rather than give raises to the cops and fire fighters, he would fight his way through the court system and get a judgment that said the city didn’t have to do any such thing. He lost. Badly. And we’re paying for it.
In fact, had he negotiated fair raises years ago, they wouldn’t have been so substantial (since the court determined the dollar amount, rather than contract negotiations) and it would’ve been factored into the city budget for years. Instead, the award came down all at once and Mayor Courtright is saddled with Mayor Doherty’s mess.
Let’s look at some of the stretches in the editorial, which begins as such:
Scranton Mayor Bill Courtright issued a remarkably self-serving statement best filed under revisionist history.
Okay, then. So what’s your proof? Here goes:
Mr. Courtright failed to note that he was a councilman for six years of the 12-year Doherty administration, during which he never embraced recovery and treated the unions as a treasured political constituency.
Yes, but the Times conveniently omits that then-Councilman Courtright opposed the Doherty administration’s course of action (which obviously resulted in the exact opposite of recovery). And let’s get real, unions are a political constituency. Any group or neighborhood or aspect of the citizenry is a constituency. To suggest otherwise is undemocratic and exclusionary.
But the mayor forgets that the anti-recovery faction of council to which he once had belonged idiotically forced the Scranton Parking Authority into default in 2012, demolishing the government’s remaining creditworthiness.
This is where the Times gets its most egregious. Mayor Courtright was not on Council when the SPA default happened. Their argument here is guilt by association. Using that logic, we could say this: “Courtright used to be buddies with a guy who committed murder, therefore, he’s culpable.” Umm, no. The Mayor can’t and shouldn’t be blamed for the SPA default. That is revisionism. In fact, there is no love lost between Janet Evans (who led that charge) and Mayor Courtright, which this editorial would’ve noted, had it not been written by an individual (or individuals) who routinely use the page to deride their local political opponents (the mayor, the union movement, teachers, etc.).
In actuality, the deal is a good one. The unions were awarded a much larger judgment in 2011, much of which they voluntarily forgave in the interests of helping the city. And the fact that the current judgment could be larger, but isn’t because of further concessions, is a testament to the unions’ willingness to continue helping the city and it’s a testament to the Courtright administration’s hard work.
So, in what appears to be a running theme this past week, we have a media outlet skewing reality. In this case, the Scranton Times is revising history and cleverly masking it by accusing Mayor Courtright of doing it.
We’re dealing with the fallout of 12 years of the Doherty administration’s failed tactics. And this award will soon be in the rearview mirror. The city finally can move forward. I, for one, am glad.