NJ Media Watchdog Series: “Fair and Balanced” instead of the real story at the Star-Ledger

Part One: This diary is the opening salvo in Blue Jersey’s NJ Media Watchdog Series, examining how the news media New Jerseyans are turning to for information are doing in presenting the news we all depend on to make our decisions. Star Ledger is New Jersey’s largest circulation newspaper, and its largest online newspaper as well.

There is one huge pet peeve that I have when it comes to the traditional media, and it is traced directly back to FOX News and its nonsensical “fair and balanced” meme.  This falsely presents a story as “one side against the other” as opposed to actually, you know, reporting the facts as is without having it become a “he said/she said” partisan matter.  

Yes, some things are truly partisan matters, and having each “side” give their story or quote give the story “balance” but usually it is at the expense of actual and true events.  There may be 2 “sides” to a story, but generally to me, the 2 sides are “facts” and “not facts”.  The facts can be spun or presented as partisan, but oftentimes that is just one side trying to explain away or cloud the actual truths and events as something that has 2 equal cases for.  

While climate change or torture are perfect examples – 2 things that really are not up for debate, but are serious issues that have been reduced to “supporters of climate change evidence” or “opponents of torture” – it happens on a much wider scale as well.  And while many many newspapers and media outlets have been reduced to “here is an issue, get a quote from both sides”, the Star Ledger has been downplaying many of the pretty serious conflicts of interest that Chris Christie has been involved with.

There certainly are some issues that are not as “big” as others, but when major actual conflicts are turned into a partisan issue, it does a huge disservice to the story, the truth and most importantly, to the voters – especially when Christie’s entire campaign is based on the one premise that he is a non corrupt “crime buster” and he hasn’t had anything of substance to add which isn’t already a failed republican idea.

I’ll point out a few cases below:

Here is an article from this past April that is about the contributions from Herb Stern’s law firm – a firm that Christie gave a $3 million no bid deal to while he was US Attorney.  Since Christie is running on a platform of ethics and has decried pay-to-play, this is a really huge deal.  Yet, the headline, Foes see tarnish on Christie’s sparkling image, paints this as a partisan political issue as opposed to an ethical lapse (to say the least) on Christie’s part.

When it came to Christie’s discussions with Karl Rove – what certainly looks like a violation of the Hatch Act, the Star Ledger posted a number of articles on this.  However, they were positioned as a partisan issue, as opposed to actually looking into the allegations of the Hatch Act violation – not even discussing what the Hatch Act violation was and why this was potentially serious.  Here are the headlines after the first one on August 11 notes that Christie and Rove spoke: Gov. Corzine says Christie, Rove talks cast doubt on tenure of former US Attorney (August 12),   Gov. Corzine wants GOP challenger Chris Christie to explain Rove talks (August 13), GOP candidate Chris Christie says nothing illegal about governor race talks with Karl Rove (August 17) and then when Federal authorities declined to honor the nonpartisan watchdog CREW’s request to investigate based on the fact that it had no jurisdiction to punish Christie if he did violate the Hatch Act, the article Federal authorities will not investigate Chris Christie’s discussions with Karl Rove painted this as a partisan matter – noting that “Democrats and CREW” made the charges, even though it was CREW who filed the complaint.

Time and time again, stories come out that show an abuse of power on Christie’s part.  And time and time again, the Star Ledger neglects to do basic journalism and research in order to find the real story.  In the interest of lazy journalism, we get a quote from each side, but nothing that even begins to tell the full and real story.

Now, I don’t know if this is because the reporters are overwhelmed, if this is a directive from their bosses or if it is the basic state of mainstream journalism now (I hope it isn’t this one).  But it does show that the facts get blurred, obscured and buried time and time again for a story of “partisan bickering”.

No wonder NJ voters are sick of partisan bickering – that is how every story is presented, in a dumbed down version that leaves out the most important information.

Part Two of Blue Jersey’s NJ Media Watchdog Series on the state’s press hits tomorrow morning, with another look at Star Ledger’s coverage of the NJ Governor’s race, on the implications of Christie’s loan to a former underling, and his conduct during interaction with the police during a traffic accident.

Comments (13)

  1. Rosi Efthim

    Tip here if you want great journalism to thrive in New Jersey, here in the state where it feels like we have an election every 5 minutes.

  2. William Weber (WjcW)

    You’re falling into the same trap. Surely you could have found ONE example to cite in reference to our governor.

  3. Jason Springer

    it’s how they’ve covered the whole healthcare debate.  Much of the media has abdicated the responsibility to educate people in order to capitalize on the opportunity to inflame them. I wrote about the Asbury Park Press coverage of the Adler Town Hall just last week.

  4. Jim33

    This is a critical issue.  NJ’s major newspapers have laid off their best and most experienced real journalists to save a corporate buck for the CEO’s multimillion-dollar pockets.

    Those expert news gatherers and editors with old-school leadership and judgment are gone from the business.  Some can be lured back, if a real news-gathering entity asked them.  Those I know aren’t interested in returning to the corrupt corporate version of journalism.  And that’s a shame.  The pearls are being scattered to the ocean depths, if Obama and Congress don’t get serious about media reform.

    Some are starting to: http://www.toledoblade.com/app


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