Thursday, November 29, 2007

Return of the I-Man

Nearly eight months after being fired for comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, Don Imus returns to the airwaves on Monday as 77WABC’s new morning host. Author Dave Zirin recently wrote an intriguing op-ed on the I-Man’s return for the Los Angeles Times titled Why is Imus back in the game?

In a similar vein, I explore the recent controversy over fan behavior at Giants Stadium in a piece for the Hall Institute of Public Policy this week. In Mixed Signals from the World of Football, I suggest that the sports world maintains a double standard for women.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Picture is Not Always What It Seems

The controversy over the Asbury Park Press photo illustration on the Governor Corzine’s asset monetization plan reminded me that even an unaltered photo can lead to debate.

This photo, taken in Beirut in 2006, earned photographer Spencer Platt the 2006 Photo of the Year 2006 award from World Press Photo for capturing “the complexity and contradiction of real life, amidst chaos." Indeed, the Getty Images caption that accompanied photo read: "Affluent Lebanese drive down the street to look at a destroyed neighborhood Aug. 15, 2006, in southern Beirut, Lebanon."

It turned out, however, that the young women were not “disaster tourists” whose dress and demeanor was out of place. Instead, they were residents of the area returning to their neighborhood after it was bombed.

To learn more about their story, read World Press Photo Mix-Up. To hear photographer Spencer Platt comments on the issue, visit Award-Winning Photo Draws Criticism for Subjects on NPR.

Monday, November 26, 2007

A Chance To Speak Up

If you feel that television is shortchanging New Jersey residents, you’ll have a chance to let the FCC know this week. The commission will hold a public forum in Newark on Wednesday to receive input on WWOR’s request to renew its license. Several organizations are opposing the renewal, arguing that the station fails to adequately cover the Garden State. U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg is among those scheduled to testify. The hearing will run from from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Paul Robeson Campus Center at Rutgers-Newark, 350 Dr Martin Luther King Boulevard. More details are available in the official FCC announcement and on the Voice for New Jersey website.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Power of the (Asbury Park) Press

The Senate Law and Public Safety and Veterans' Affairs Committee is scheduled to vote on a resolution next Thursday (November 29) urging Congress and the President to reverse the decision to close the Fort Monmouth. According to the resolution, the decision should be reversed because of information uncovered by an Asbury Park Press investigation.

For a different take on the manner in which the Asbury Park Press covered the Fort Monmouth issue, read Media Coverage of Domestic U.S. Military Bases and How It Supports the Military Industrial Complex, the paper I presented at the National Communication Association Convention in Chicago last weekend.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

For Christie, the Best Defense is A Good Offense

Anyone who has seen Chris Christie at a press conference outside a courtroom as part of his ongoing crusade to root out corruption in New Jersey knows that his PR skills may be just as sharp and his legal expertise.

Now he finds himself playing defense since the Star-Ledger today reported that the law firm of former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (who previously was Christie’s boss) could earn more than $52 million because Christie hand-picked the firm to serve as a federal monitor in a case involving kickbacks by manufacturers of knee and hip replacements.

But so far Christie still seems to be succeeding in managing the press.

First he washes his hands by saying he wasn’t involved in setting Ashcroft’s fee.

Next he punts to Ashcroft to respond to questions and take some of the focus off his office.

Then he put the onus for the huge payout on the company that’s being monitored. "If they're being cooperative and timely in their compliance as required in the agreement, there'll be much less work for the monitor to do," he told the Associated Press.

And in the Ledger story, he labeled the $52 million figure “a real bargain” because of what he expects it to save taxpayers if the industry changes its practices as a result of the case.

He also declined to make the agreement with Ashcroft public, citing privacy concerns.

Some of his quotes are provocative, to say the least:

"I certainly don't think it's a problem to hire somebody who used to be your boss but no longer is. What am I getting out of this exactly? I can tell you, I'm getting nothing, except the comfort in hiring people I know I can trust to do the job.”

"I picked these five people because I have worked with them and I trust them and I know that they will approach their job in a responsible way both in terms of the fees they charge and the effort that they put in.”

Christie may well be within rights. Ashcroft’s firm may in fact be the most qualified firm to serve as a monitor in this case. And perhaps its work will someday pay for itself in savings for taxpayers.

But for an individual who has made ethics and transparency a priority in his campaign against corruption and cronyism, it is disconcerting to hear him say that one of his reasons in awarding a $52 million no-bid contract was that he knew the people involved.

This story has just broken. It will be interesting to see how it plays out over the next few days. Will the media be aggressive in challenging Christie’s statements and attempting to unearth some of the details he’s keeping from? Or will he continue to be a Teflon public figure to whom no charge ever sticks?

Stay tuned.

More Than Her 15 Minutes of Fame

Back in September, I asked the students in my public relations class at Mercer County Community College how they would react to the following scenario:

You are in charge of public relations for Southwest Airlines. On Labor Day, Gerry Braun, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune calls your cell phone to ask for the airline’s comment on a story he is writing for the next day’s paper. His story is about Kyla Ebbert, a 23-year-old woman who lives in the San Diego area. She clams that after boarding a Southwest flight from San Diego to Tucson, an airline employee escorted her off the plane and informed her she was dressed too provocatively and would not be able to take the flight unless she changed her clothes. Kyla contends there was nothing offensive about her outfit -- a white denim miniskirt, high-heel sandals and a turquoise summer sweater over a tank top over a bra -- and that it was similar to what many young women wear today. She said she was embarrassed by the manner in which she was treated and would like Southwest to apologize.

From a PR standpoint, I thought Southwest took a bad situation and made it worse by giving the reporter conflicting information and failing to follow through on a promise to call him back with the information he needed – after promising to do so. (His story is online at

Now comes the latest twist. The young woman in question, Kyla Ebbert, came off as a victim when the incident first came to light. Now she is using it to gain additional notoriety by posing nude for Playboy.

Trenton Times Op-Ed

The Trenton Times published my op-ed on why Joe Torre fares better with the press than the media today: Why We Love Joe Torre.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Daily Record Op-Ed

The Daily Record published my op-ed on why Joe Torre fares better with the press than the media today: Why We Love Joe Torre.

Al Leiter, Jon Bon Jovi and More

With the names of celebrities like Al Leiter and Jon Bon Jovi being tossed around as potential political candidates in New Jersey, it's a good time to take a look at how celebrities fare in politics. Authors Darrell West and John Orman address the subject in thir book Celebrity Politics. There's an excerpt online at In it, they discuss why celebrities run for office, what affects their prospects, and how they perform in office.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

U.S. 1

My article on how New Jersey newspapers used the Internet to report the results of the November 6 elections was published in U.S. 1 today. The paper does not post all of its articles online, but there is a version acessible here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Death Penalty Debate

Looks like there will be a lively debate over the death penalty now that Assembly Speaker Joe Roberts and Assemblyman Wilfredo Caraballo have announced plans to make New Jersey the first state in the country to legislatively abolish capital punishment.

Regardless of how you feel about the death penalty, the issue was the basis for one of the best examples of advocacy journalism in recent years. After the Chicago Tribune published a multi-part series that exposed flaws in the state’s legal system that may have led to individuals being wrongly sentenced to death, then-Illinois Governor Ryan announced a moratorium on executions and the creation of a special commission to study death penalty reform. The series, which may have literally saved innocent peoples’ lives, won a Pulitzer Prize.

Mark Your Calendars

Two interesting events coming up at Rutgers:

Running with the Pack (and Going it Alone), an ethics forum sponsored by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists, the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and the Rutgers Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. A panel of veteran journalists will discuss what it's like to cover major stories that attract hordes of national media. The session is scheduled for Thursday, November 15, in Room 212 of the SCILS Building at 4 Huntington Street in New Brunswick.

In December, the Rutgers University Association of Black Journalists will present its annual media symposium. This year's topic is Minorities and the Business of the Media. It will take place Tuesday, December 4, in the Graduate Student Lounge at the Rutgers College Student Center, 126 College Avenue, in New Brunswick.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Covering Election Coverage

With each election, the role played by the internet increases in volume and expands into new dimensions. In HAS ELECTION COVERAGE ENTERED A BRAVE NEW WORLD? on the Hall Institute website, I examine the online reporting conducted by New Jersey newspapers on election night.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

5-1-1, the DOT and the Ledger

Since Tom Feeney’s story on the N.J. Department of Transportation’s new 5-1-1 traffic information system appeared in the Star-Ledger on Election Day, you may have missed it. But Feeney deserves credit for providing New Jersey motorists with a valuable piece of information that the DOT apparently was sitting on.

The new system provides real-time information about accidents, construction delays and other incidents on highways throughout New Jersey. Although it’s fully operational, the DOT wasn’t planning to announce it until next spring, along with some other new projects designed to provide motorists with traffic information. That’s all well and good, but I think that those of us who struggle with New Jersey’s traffic congestion on a daily basis would rather know about a service that makes our lives easier NOW -- not when the DOT and a bunch of state officials decide to schedule a photo op to announce it next spring.

Kudos to Feeney for taking the initiative to report the story now and not wait for the official announcement from the DOT.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Is A Picture Worth 600 Votes?

Posted by Picasa

When the courts ruled – on the day before election day -- that Hamilton Township’s annual financial statement had to be made public, it created a thorny issue for the Trenton Times.

On one hand, since the statement revealed that the township was facing a $5 million budget shortfall, it was a legitimate news story – and a big one at that. On the other hand, with Hamilton’s election for mayor’s taking place on the day the story would run, the newspaper’s approach to coverage and the article’s placement were likely to impact voters going to the polls.

When the paper came out Election Day morning, the shortfall was its lead story with a headline proclaiming $5M shortfall for Hamilton on the top of page one. Later in the day, when the votes were tallied, incumbent Mayor Glen Gilmore, who had opposed the efforts to release the financial statement, had lost the election by about 600 votes.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What Year Is This?

Lest there be any doubt that today’s elections are already being eclipsed by next year’s presidential contest, NPR’s lead political stories today (Election Day ’07) all were about the ’08 presidential campaign, beginning with leads such as: Today is Election Day 2007, a year from the quadrennial election when voters choose the 44th President of the United States.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The Windy City

The National Communication Association will hold its annual conference in Chicago from November 15 to 18. I'll be speaking on Sunday morning (November 18), presenting my paper on the media's coverage of military base closings. The paper, Media Coverage of Domestic U.S. Military Bases and How It Supports the Military Industrial Complex, includes an analysis of The Asbury Park Press’s coverage of the decision to close Fort Monmouth.

Blame It On the Stones (and the Media)

Hillary Clinton’s campaign is blaming the press for making her look bad in last week’s Democratic debate, and here in New Jersey State Senate candidate Seema Singh is whining that the unfair coverage from the media has damaged her chances of winning election. Now CWA 1035 President Carla Katz is ripping into the Star-Ledger’s Josh Margolin in a blog posting that has generated more than 50 responses, almost all of them anti-press.

Reminds me of Blame It On the Stones, an old Kris Kristofferson song in which the Rolling Stones took the fall for just about all of society’s ills.

Blame it on the stones; blame it on the stones
You'll feel so much better knowing you dont stand alone
Join the accusation; same the bleeding nation
Get it off your shoulders; blame it on the stones


Why We Love Joe Torre (and Hate Politicians)

Managing a baseball team is a far different job than holding public office. Yet there are some valuable lessons that politicians can learn from the manner in which Joe Torre conducted himself with Yankee management, with his players, with the fans and with the press. To learn what they are, read my Hall Institute paper titled WHY WE LOVE JOE TORRE (AND HATE POLITICIANS).

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bob Woodward at Rutgers

Bob Woodward spoke at Rutgers today and shared several stories from his long and distingushed career in journalism. As one would expect, his comments and insight were educational, entertaining and thought-provoking. But perhaps the most valuable piece of information he relayed to an audience that included manhy college students preparing for careers in journalism was the value and importance of getting out of the office to learn and confirm facts firsthand.

Before he broke the Watergate story with Carl Bernstein, Woodward wrote a story about a popular Washington, D.C., hotel coffee shop that was being closed for health violations, and he relied upon a city Health Department report for his information. Only after a city editor told him to get out of the office and go to the coffee shop himself did he learn that although the coffee shop shared the same name as the hotel, it was not located there -- as he had written in his story. Fortunately, he had time to correct the error before the paper went to press and he avoided an error that could have derailed his career.

More than 30 years later, the lesson Woodward learned is still a valuable one, especially in today's internet environment when information is readily available, but not always confirmable.