MediaNews Gets Perata Story Wrong -- Twice

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MediaNews reporters Steven Harmon and Steve Geissinger speculate today on why state Senate boss Don Perata locked three of his colleagues out of their offices last week. But one of their theories - that Perata acted boldly because of "fears of being seen as weakened after news emerged last week that the US Attorney's Office had restarted interviews in its two-year investigation" of the senator - is bogus for at least two reasons. First, news didn't "emerge last week." Readers of this site know the news emerged here more than a month ago. Second, there's no evidence in the public record that the investigation ever stopped; so how could it have "restarted"?

Harmon and Geissinger aren't entirely at fault for their first error. Part of the blame should be shouldered by San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier and Ross, who wrote about a new aspect of the Perata investigation last week, but failed to mention that this new revelation was first reported by the Express on February 14. It's nothing new for Matier and Ross to retrace the steps of other news organizations and then present their version as a scoop.

But Harmon has another reason for claiming the investigation was "restarted." Harmon wrote an uninformed story February 5, saying the Perata investigation apparently had stopped (for some reason Harmon's story is not in the Oakland Tribune's archives, but it is available on Nexis - fee required). The Express' story nine days later, however, shows that the feds were continuing to issue subpoenas in the case during the time the investigation supposedly had "fallen into a black hole of obscurity," as Harmon put it.

Harmon jumped to his erroneous conclusion based on the assumption that the senator had stopped raising money for his legal defense fund. But another Express report last year clearly revealed that Perata was raising money through a second campaign account and then transferring the cash into his legal defense fund.

Even if Harmon doesn't like reading the Express, he could have just looked more closely at Perata's legal defense campaign statements. If so, he would have found that the state senator was still racking up more than $50,000 in legal bills during the last months of 2006 to combat the federal probe at a time when it was supposedly halted (for the details, see page 13, Steven).

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