Tag Archive: Journalism

The Star-Ledger’s disinterest in investigative reporting.

Back in February, shortly after Chris Christie announced his candidacy for Governor, he held a press conference where he said the following:

“This race is about me…it’s about the record I’ve had for seven years as the U.S. Attorney. And so, I am willing to run on my record if the Governor is willing to run on his.”

Despite some of the best investigative reporting on Christie’s tenure as US Attorney by our own huntsu, there was very little interest by the NJ media in following her lead when it came time to finding out exactly what “Christie’s record” was.  He wanted to run on a reputation that he built and carefully crafted as US Attorney – one of “ethics, responsibility, blah blah blah” – all things that we have found over the past few months apply to everyone but him.  

And even as things came out about Christie, whether it was about his discussions with Karl Rove while still US Attorney, his abuse of power in shouting down officers when it came to traffic violations, the attempted bribery of Assemblyman Merkt during the primary, the no-bid contracts and his brother’s non-indictment for securities fraud, his getting on and off the list of US Attorneys to be fired, his very “timely” subpoenas of Menendez, his warrantless monitoring program, his relationship with Michele Brown and conflicts of interest – the list goes on and on – much of the real solid in depth reporting was done by folks like Marcy Wheeler, TalkingPointsMemo, the ACLU and of course, us here at Blue Jersey.

Sure, the Star Ledger and other media reported what was already out there – whether it came from the AP wire or the Corzine campaign – but more attention was paid to the “Christie said this and Corzine said that” or side issues when it came to Christie’s abuse of power.

It has become well known that Christie’s office stonewalled and was sued when it came to FOIA requests on the warrantless monitoring program, and stonewalled on a number of other requests as well.  And back in late July, 2009, the Corzine campaign made a request (see here for the requests:  Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4) under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for all FOIA requests made of Chris Christie’s office during his tenure as US Attorney (from January 2002 through July 2009).  FOIA requests are very simple – usually a one or 2 page letter tops, and while there were 40 pages of FOIA requests released (some were partially withheld), only one was from the Star-Ledger, was actually made after the date of the Corzine request, and related to Michele Brown’s salary and promotions (see the request here).  What is more incredible is that this request was made AFTER news broke of the loan from Chris Christie, and wasn’t even made by the political reporters.

Now, it was hardly a secret that Christie’s tenure was controversial – I noted a number of things above.  And through all of this time, NJ’s largest paper had absolutely no interest in looking into any of this.  Not during his time as US Attorney, despite all of the questions that were there for anyone to see.  Not during his run in the primary.  And not at all in the general election, with the ridiculous exception noted above.  

If the Star-Ledger ended up endorsing Christie over Daggett, you’d really think they were in the bag for him.  Now, it just makes you wonder why they weren’t interested in breaking some very powerful stories – even more so when the entire news industry is in trouble.

NJ Media Watchdog Series (Part 3): “You down with APP?”

…oh no, not me.

As a tax guy, I tend to gravitate towards analyses of tax issues, and there certainly hasn’t been a shortage of them.  And while the first 2 parts of this series focused on the Governor’s race, this part will focus on the APP and it’s recent attempt to act as teabaggers.

It is true that NJ property taxes are very high.  It is also true that it is a result of a very complex and convoluted system that requires major overhaul – and while Chris Daggett’s plan is interesting, it doesn’t address some of the very large and fundamental issues.

That being said, the APP has gone “all in” when it comes to taxes – but on any level of analysis, it is less substance and more cheerleading for protests and feeding off of the bordering-on-violent hysteria that we all saw this past summer. I’ll highlight three things in this post that at best, show irresponsible journalism and at worst, can be classified as an “in-kind donation” to the Republican party.

The “Tax Crush Series”

While I won’t go into all of the issues noted in each of the 8 days, there are a couple that I want to highlight.  On Day 1 of the 8 Day “Tax Crush Series”, there was a link to “How to Fix New Jersey”.  Sounding noble, it lists a number of “solutions”, however they range from far fetched to outrageous.  Things like Convene a Constitutional Convention (not ever going to happen) to Cutting Expenses (which the APP admits won’t do anything to cure any property tax costs) to Shuffle the Tax Structure (which Daggett’s plan does but takes from the property tax and higher wage income tax and shifts to a higher sales tax base) to Leaving the State (way to support NJ) are the proposed “solutions” – none of which do much other than stir up more angst and frustration.

On Day 3, the top story puts blame on unions – a favorite target of FOX News and the Republican party, and also cites the much debunked “people are leaving the state” argument.  Both of which are tried and true “blame game” actions and not much else – even more since a basic google search will debunk both of these claims.

The “Action Plan”

Short of actually sponsoring and organizing teabagging parties, the APP posted its “Action Plan for Citizens as an OpEd shortly after its 8 days of riling up its readers.  Ironically, after the 8 day “Tax Crush Series” finger pointed and complained, the article started with the following:

Are you ready to stop complaining about your taxes and start doing something about them? Here are some ways to fight back

And as Jason Springer wrote recently about this:

Search the online comments section for other outraged people to make yourself more angry. That’s responsible. It’s quite clear they’re pushing a partisan agenda, which while not surprising is still disappointing, because now more than ever we need real reporting to inform the readers of the complex issues facing our state.

Some of the “action items”?  

  • Make noise. Let your elected officials know you are out there, that you’re angry and that you want them to lower your tax bills.

So the first action item after “ready to stop complaining” is to complain and complain loudly.  Others noted include:

  • On Tuesday’s editorial page, we will publish a survey we will provide each of the candidates for state office in November. It will ask them to state their three most important ideas for reducing taxes and government spending, and which of the 20 points in the Asbury Park Press/Gannett New Jersey tax relief plan they would push for if elected. The candidates’ responses to the surveys will be posted at APP.com. If you don’t see their response, badger them until they have completed the survey.
  • Organize. Join together with neighbors and friends who feel the same way you do about unaffordable taxes. Plan letter-writing campaigns, protests, rallies and other actions that will demonstrate to your elected officials that you will not go away until things change.

So….you should stop complaining and (1) complain loudly, (2) “badger” your local office candidates and (3) organize protests, which is complaining loudly together with others who are angry.

How responsible of the APP.

After the jump, I’ll get into APP’s call for “A Citizens’ Army”.

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

Part Two: This diary is Part Two of 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.   You can read Part One here, if you missed it.

In Part One yesterday, we took a look at two issues in the Governor’s race that the Star-Ledger handled with “kid gloves”, or at a minimum, didn’t do the full story justice.  Below, we will look at two other issues in a similar vein.  

Before we do, I want to address a general issue that will certainly come up again as we continue to examine other traditional media outlets.  There were a few comments asking whether we were succumbing to the same “bias” as we are noting that the Star-Ledger had exhibited.  While this is a valid question, I feel the answer is “no” for a few reason.  For starters, I am not sure there are many (if any) people in NJ who think that Governor Corzine is being treated as a “media darling”, or has gotten a pass on his stances.  With Corzine, there are generally few who (if they are truly being unbiased) think he is either corrupt or hypocritical.  He may not have been as effective as he would have liked to have been – some his fault and some not.  But here ,we are not talking about minor issues that are blown up into something bigger.  Those are things I don’t care about – regardless of whether they are against Corzine or Christie (in fact, I have been critical of Democrats both here and at Daily Kos on numerous occasions).  What we are talking about here is the overall central theme of Christie’s campaign and gaping holes in his stories, conflicts of interests on an ethical level and things that he has prosecuted others for, while explaining away when it happens to him.  If he were to come out with any policy points, those could be debated on the merits, but sadly, he has yet to offer anything up that isn’t the same old slogans that trumpet failed Bush era policies.

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As I said yesterday:

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.

The Star-Ledger is NJ’s biggest newspaper.  It is the go-to paper for politics, and every other aspect of daily life in New Jersey.  We depend on them in all parts of the state.  It has columnists with wide readership.  It is, in short, THE paper in NJ, and that is why we decided to focus on them first.

Christie’s loan to Brown

Similar to the two items noted yesterday, when it came to the $46,000 loan that Christie made to a subordinate, without reporting it in numerous places, nor reporting the interest, the initial story noted it as such, while the subsequent headline noted that he failed to report the interest.  However, failing to report that Christie investigated and prosecuted those who did the same thing, as well as not noting how Christie had a “zero tolerance” for this when it came to others, the subsequent articles took it as a “he said/she said” story – even drawing a false comparison to Carla Katz and her non working relationship with Governor Corzine.  Other headlines indicated Gov. Corzine, NJ Dems continue to attack Chris Christie over unreported $46K loan (August 19) and NJ governor candidate Chris Christie fires back at Democrats over $46,000 loan criticism (August 24) – noting that the criticism is at issue, not Christie’s behavior.

Christie’s driving record and the REAL issue

I’ll point out a fourth one – the ones about Christie’s driving record.  The article titled GOP gov. candidate Chris Christie not issued traffic ticket after accident that injured motorcyclist in 2002 mentions how Christie identified himself as US Attorney to get out of a ticket, but doesn’t do any basic homework in the only subsequent article, titled GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie downplays driving record.   Nothing about Christie lying about not being sued, or about the changing story from him going to the swearing in vs. coming from the swearing in, or about how the officer drove Christie to his office, or, the biggest one of all, how Christie broke DOJ rules by pulling rank on his traffic stop(s).

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In closing, and as I said yesterday, 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.  

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.

Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite on air

Walter Cronkite died tonight. They called him the most trusted man in America.

His was the voice that broke announcing the murder of a President. His editorial – following a trip to Vietnam – criticizing the war on the CBS Evening News was a devastating blow to the President that followed. “If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” President Johnson was said to grouse.

When human beings landed on the moon, bouncing around and picking up rocky souveniers for the trip home, it was his sense of wonder that mirrored the world’s.  Tonight’s Apollo 11’s anniversary.  Forty years ago tonight, we were on the way to the moon. Now we’ve lost the moon’s color commentator.

The best of the reporters in New Jersey strive for the kind of workaday, unembellished and investigatory approach to the news that Cronkite practiced. The 21st century, with its wall-to-wall tv coverage – full of fast-moving shiny objects, often short on context,  and investigation – has been a rough environment for so many good reporters, and too many have been driven to law school by shrinking news holes, and papers in crisis. Cronkite, essential to the 20th Century, is a standard worth shooting for, as we collectively struggle to figure out what journalism will look like now.

I used to work for the CBS News/NYTimes News Poll, at the tail end of Cronkite’s tenure at the anchor desk. So authoritative was his reputation that every poll started with the words, Hello, I’m calling for Walter Cronkite and the CBS/New York Times News Poll. I started on the phones. And just about every person asked to talk to Mr. Cronkite, whom none of us had ever met, because our offices were at the Times. One day, Cronkite had a meeting and walked past the call room. This time, when the lady – from Medford, NJ – asked for Cronkite, I told her he was right there, stood up, and handed him the phone.

Oh, it screwed up a whole night of polling. But he rewarded me with a big smile for my cheekiness, parked on the corner of my desk and yakked for 15 minutes. The whole call room stopped to listen. And I got a promotion I think Cronkite had something do with.

A good guy. And that’s the way it was.

Why I refuse to vote for a candidate who refuses to answer questions.

We’ve all consumed so much propaganda from politicians who want to redirect our attention by demonizing the very people who can ask some of the toughest questions they don’t wan’t to answer- the press. This is a refreshing take on what Christie’s avoidance means to one mindful voter. – – – Promoted by Rosi Efthim

It’s become an almost daily occurrence: Chris Christie won’t answer questions from the media while on the campaign trail.

He’s not the first. Incumbents refuse to participate in debates all the time. (See: Frank Lautenberg in the ’08 primary; Scott Garrett every two years.) And these few examples unfortunately won’t be the last.

Politically, I understand Christie’s tactic, especially during the primary when a candidate must campaign to the “base.” The candidate wants to try to avoid saying anything he or she will regret in the general election, where the center is crucial to victory. To prevent an “I voted for it before I voted against it” incident that will come back to haunt you later on, just shut up and stick to the stump speech. Makes sense.

Pragmatically, it’s beyond stupid. And not just because a candidate who ignores the “evil media” will be hounded ad nauseum.

I refuse to vote for any candidate — Democrat or Republican, liberal or centrist — who refuses to answer reporters’ questions. And so should you and every other voter who cares about his or her community, state and country. Here’s why.

Star Ledger Stenography

I generally enjoy Claire Heininger’s work at the Star Ledger, which is what makes a piece by her, published yesterday, that much more disappointing. It starts off this way:

The internal memo from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, dated July 6, lists programs for education, unemployment insurance, transportation and other areas that required the state to meet certain standards to receive money from President Obama’s $787 billion recovery plan.

I’ve bolded the word nonpartisan, because although it’s stated twice in the first two paragraphs, ten paragraphs later in the same story Chris Christie is allowed to get away with this lazy lie of a talking point:

“This partisan report doesn’t change the fact that stimulus money with strings attached leads to mandated programs that will continue even when the federal money runs out,” Christie spokeswoman Maria Comella said.

Excuse me? How can you allow that quote without actually pointing out that it’s based on a complete lie which you have already made clear.

The media has an extremely vital role to play, but they have to make sure they report past the talking points. Especially if the talking points completely contradict the story they’ve already told. I would hope for more in future stories, because Christie will continue to do this if sees he can get away with it.

The Dilbertization of The Record Continues

If you are a New Jerseyan of A Certain Age, chances are you never got over the habit of referring to The Record as “The Bergen Record.” As long as the paper was still based in Hackensack, the mistake didn’t matter. But in the very near future, the Record is going to leave Bergen altogether for smaller lodgings in Passaic County:

The Record of Hackensack, N.J. is planning to vacate its main headquarters and move staff to the site of its sister daily, The Herald News of West Paterson, according to a staff memo from Publisher Stephen A. Borg. The memo declared: “We must re-invent ourselves.”

The memo stated that the move could save about $2.4 million per year. Borg confirmed the memo and said that most of the news staff would actually become mobile journalists, working from the field, while others would also relocate to one of the paper’s eight weekly newspaper sites.

“The number one objective is more mobile journalism,” Borg, who said the paper has about 30 such “mojos,” who report from laptops and cell phones, told E&P. “And to take advantage of our other offices.”

Borg said the move has not been scheduled, but added, “I wouldn’t want it to occur any later than January ’09. Advertising has already moved. In the last six weeks.”

The memo refers to Record relocating to Garret Mountain Plaza, an office building in West Paterson that houses several operations for parent company North Jersey Media Group, including the Herald News. Borg said The Record would occupy some of that leased space. “We are working on the logistics,” he said. “But reporters I want out in the field, the vast majority of them.”

Moran Blows It

As a columnist, I like Tom Moran. A lot. And I know quite a few people who know him personally and speak very highly of him. But I’ve got to say that I found something in his Star-Ledger column this morning really offensive. Here’s a comment he made on Senator Menendez’s deep involvement in Congressional immigration talks.

No one was closer to the action on this one than U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), himself an immigrant from Cuba, and one of only three Latino senators.

Senator Menendez is not “an immigrant from Cuba.” And what bothers me is that Tom Moran knows this. It’s the Senator’s parents that were immigrants from Cuba. Menendez himself was born right across the Hudson in New York City.

It could easily be said that the offensive part here is that Moran assumed Menendez was an immigrant just because he’s Hispanic. But at no point would I ever assume that Tom Moran of all people would make a mistake like this based on any sort of inherent racism. Rather, it’s the sloppiness of the claim that is so offensive. Moran just had to endure a year’s worth of biographical information about the Senator — he knows better. This kind of laziness has no place in otherwise solid journalism.