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It was no slap, say opponents at Tampa health care forum

TAMPA — During a heated health care forum, Karen Miracle put her hand to Barry Osteen's face and pushed.

It was not a slap, Miracle and Osteen agree. More of a nudge, Miracle says, and over so quickly Osteen hardly remembers it.

But that moment, captured last week by St. Petersburg Times photographer Chris Zuppa, has gone viral.

It is emblematic of the polarization of the health care debate. It also is political fodder for those opposed to the President Obama health care plan.

But the truth has gone out the window.

The blog Common Sense Journal called Miracle "the fascist pig who slapped Barry Osteen simply for disagreeing with her.'' Another conservative blog criticized news media for ignoring it. Zuppa has been blasted by anonymous readers for not calling it a slap.

But Zuppa said he was careful to call it a "push," not a slap, and was surprised by the criticism.

"It is what it is," he said.

This is what happened, according to Osteen, Miracle and Miracle's husband, Garry.

Osteen was shouting questions during a panel discussion about health care for undocumented immigrants. He was arguing that the health care system is fine.

The Miracles, sitting a few seats away, said Osteen was so disruptive people were leaving.

So Garry Miracle asked him to be quiet. Instead, he kept shouting. Miracle shouted back.

As the argument escalated, Karen Miracle went to pull her husband back. She said she didn't want him to get worked up because he has a heart condition.

She said Osteen was talking so loud and fast that some spittle flew out of his mouth.

"I mean, it wasn't like he was spitting," Miracle said. "He was just yelling and some saliva came out, so rather than have that on my body or face, I just took my hand and moved his chin."

Osteen confirmed her account.

"No, she didn't slap me," Osteen said. "In fact, I don't even remember her pushing my face."

A police officer asked Osteen to sit down and he did. They all figured that was it.

When the photographs appeared on the St. Petersburg Times Web site, tampabay.com, there was a visceral reaction by readers.

Karen Miracle is treasurer for the East Hillsborough County Democratic Party Club, which has about 50 members. She says she manages about $2,000 and her role is minimal. But she says right-wing blogs have blasted her as an example of an out-of-control Democratic official.

Osteen said he's angered by an account on tbo.com that he was heckling a woman talking about a child with cancer before the photo. He said that's untrue.

"I'm over it all," Osteen said.

"Hopefully I'll be old news pretty soon," Karen Miracle said.

"It was just silly," Garry Miracle said. "It really was."

Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Garry Miracle was involved in an argument at a health care forum last week in Tampa. A story Friday used the wrong first name.

It was no slap, say opponents at Tampa health care forum 08/13/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 4:31pm]
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