Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pouring Salt on an Old Wound

Since the Giants moved to the Meadowlands in 1976, New Jerseyans have lamented the fact that the official name of the team remains the New York Giants. With the Giants headed for a Super Bowl showdown with the New England Patriots, the Associated Press is pouring salt on this old wound. A national story moving on the AP wire details the long-standing sports rivalries between New York and Boston – without once mentioning that the Giants have called the Garden State home for more than 30 years.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Arrested Developments in Cape May

Clearly it is news when a high profile figure like former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan is arrested for displaying protest signs outside of Governor Corzine’s recent Cape May County Town Hall Meeting on his debt reduction/toll increase proposal.

But is the volume of coverage the incident received this week warranted?

On one hand, it is difficult to ignore the charges and counter-charges over who bears the ultimate responsibility for the arrest. Depending on who’s doing the talking, it could be local police, State Police, local school officials or the Governor’s Office. Meanwhile, Republicans are calling for an investigation by the state Attorney General, and the County Freeholders in Atlantic County are drafting a resolution to ensure that neither protestors nor supporters of the proposal will be arrested when the Governor’s Town Hall meetings come to Atlantic County Community College on February 7.

On the other hand, if the press were to downplay or ignore such actions – many of which are done primarily to garner media attention or for political gain – would our elected officials stop spending time on these matters and turn their attention to some of the pressing issues confronting state and local government in New Jersey?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Photoshop Gone Wild

Last November, there was considerable controversy over an Asbury Park Press photo illustration of the Governor Corzine’s asset monetization plan. Now a photo illustration on the cover of Golfweek magazine has cost the publication’s editor his job.

According to the New York Times, the cover image included “a noose for an article about Gold Channel host Kelly Tilhgman’s use of the word ‘lynch’ to describe how young players could challenge Tiger Woods.”

Although there was internal debate at Golfweek about the cover, the magazine has no African-Americans on its staff.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Obama, Green Bay and a Prayer

Traditional, mainstream media outlets often are critical of blogs and websites for posting unsubstantiated information, which makes its rounds on the Internet and can be regarded as fact by its readers. But mainstream media doesn’t help its case when it elevates the status of such internet rumors. That’s what NBC’s Brian Williams did in last week’s Nevada debate when he asked Barack Obama to respond to Internet rumors that he is Muslim, that he held the Koran when he took his oath of office and that he does not recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now with the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants about to play for the NFC championship, a “Packer Prayer” based on the Our Father is circulating on the Internet. Not only is the Associated Press making the text of the prayer available to its member news organizations, the wire service also has written a story about the “prayer” and the clergy’s reactions to it.

Looking Beyond the Numbers

Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides an opportunity to reflect upon Dr. King’s dream of racial equality, equal justice, equal opportunity and world peace. Indeed, his dream is closer to reality today because he forced the most powerful nation on the face of the earth to examine the moral consequences of its actions and decisions. Yet many challenges remain ahead.

The level of diversity in the news media provides an interesting example -- both in terms of the numbers of minority journalists, as well as how those numbers impact the manner in which news is gathered by media organizations and interpreted by audiences.

To read more on this topic read Looking Beyond the Numbers. It was written about a year ago, but the points it makes still are valid.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Martin Luther King

I will be moderating two panel discussions on Dr. Martin Luther King this weekend. The sessions are part of 2008 Trenton Martin Luther King Week. For details, visit

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Revisiting the Newark Evening News

A panel discussion on the defunct and often-praised Newark Evening News will take place at the Newark Public Library on Tuesday, January 29. Four journalists who worked at the paper will participate in the program, which begins at 6 p.m. Complete deatils are online at

Friday, January 11, 2008

News Coverage

My comments on the Governor's State of the State address were included in an Associated Press story that appeared in several papers this week. Some of the links are below.

Philadelphia Inquirer
Atlantic City Press
Asbury Park Press
Home News Tribune

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Attacking State Debt

With the State of New Jersey in dismal fiscal condition and facing even greater dire consequences for future, Governor Corzine has taken a business approach -- not a political one – toward righting the state’s financial ship.

In his State of the State address today, Corzine, the former chief executive of Goldman Sachs, will announce details of his plan to utilize revenue from the state’s toll roads for needed road maintenance and infrastructure improvements and to pay down the massive state debt that has spiraled to historic levels in recent years.

From a purely political standpoint, the proposal is wrought with danger signals. Republicans have been denouncing it since he first broached the idea a year ago, and members of the Governor’s own party have been less than warm to the concept. Meanwhile, New Jersey motorists aren’t likely to take kindly to anticipated increases in toll rates.

From a business standpoint, the plan reflects Corzine’s knowledge and experience in the fiscal industry. We can agree or disagree with the Governor’s recommendations. That is our right and our responsibility, but at least he has put a proposal on the table for debate and discussion -- instead of following in the paths of others who have taken politically expedient approaches. Two years after taking office, Jon Corzine’s experience as a successful Wall Street executive is finally taking center stage.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Silence and the Judge

It’s disappointing that Karen Munster Cassidy, the Superior Court judge in the McGreevey divorce case, declined the Star-Ledger’s request to be interviewed for a profile story the newspaper wrote about her.

Clearly, Cassidy had a right to decline the interview – and there may be a legal reason to keep quiet – but this is reminiscent of the same mentality the greeted Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini’s comments on the much-publicized case of alleged sex assault by state troopers. At a time when the public is rightfully demanding more transparency in government, Bochinni provided a rare insight into how his office is dealing with this high profile case – on a professional and personal basis. For this, Attorney General Anne Milgram re-assigned the case to another county.

By not talking to the Ledger, Cassidy allowed other people to define her (although they did it in glowing terms) and the public missed out on learning what makes the judge in one of New Jersey’s highest profile legal cases tick.

Focusing on the Wrong Target

Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow is in no position to complain about the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is facilitating the surrender of Otis Blunt, a convict who escaped from the county jail in December.

The Star-Ledger is reporting that Romankow is upset because Sharpton's National Action Network notified the press about Blunt's possible surrender before contacting county authorities.

All protocol aside, Sharpton was able to do what Union County authorities were unable to – find an inmate who had been on the lam for nearly a month after escaping from the county jail by chiseling through a wall and hiding the opening with pictures of scantily clad women.

Instead of complaining about Sharpton’s media policies, Romankow should continue focusing his attention where it belongs – on correcting the problems which first made it possible for Blunt and another inmate to escape and then tragically led to the suicide of a corrections officer who worked at the jail.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Irony in the Bullying Bill

One of the many bills slated for final approval before the current legislative comes to a close on Tuesday is a measure that would strengthen state law on hate crimes and bullying. The bill would amend existing law to include crimes based on gender and identity expression, national origin and disability.

The legislation, which specifically adds crimes based on "gender identity or expression" to existing law, is sponsored by two women who warn of the dangers of stereotypes. However, the bill itself is guilty of just that. Language in the legislation calls for creation of a Commission on Bullying in Schools that must include the Commissioner of the Department of Education, or “his” designee; and the Director of the Division on Civil Rights in the Department of Law and Public Safety, or “his” designee.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Sometimes the Facts Don't Match the Storylines

In her book “The Press Effect,” Kathleen Hall Jamieson devotes a chapter to what she calls “The Press as Storyteller.” In it, she uses the 1988 Willie Horton ad, the disputed 2000 presidential election, the Enron scandal and other examples to illustrate how journalists can err in their reporting. Jamieson contends that, when there is a compelling narrative surrounding an issue, reporters can miss facts and frame stories to fit that narrative.

“In a contest between data and dramatic narrative, the narrative is likely to be recalled and stored,” she wrote.

Though not as dramatic as the examples in Jamieson’s book, the coverage of the disposal of some old Hamilton Township files lends support to her argument.

There was a change in administrations in Hamilton at the start of the year and by all accounts, there is no love lost between the old and new regimes. So when a citizen discovered 20 crates of township records sitting among piles of recyclables at the Township Ecological Center, red flags went up and conspiracy theories abounded.

The Trenton Times ran the story on its first page, reporting that new Mayor John Bencivengo was investigating. The paper also recounted details surrounding the disabling of municipal building security cameras while outgoing administration officials cleaned out their desks, ranging from a verbal exchange between the outgoing mayor and politically active police officer to the new mayor’s complaint that outgoing officials had left their offices too messy.

But lo and behold it turned out to be just a big misunderstanding. The next day the Trenton Times reported that a municipal construction code official had placed the documents in the garbage as he does at this time every year when a 10-year retention period expires. The man who cleared up the mystery was Rob Warney, the township’s new director of the engineering planning and inspections. But what remains a mystery is why the newspaper didn’t talk to Warney in the first place – or at least hold off on the story until he was available to offer an explanation. Could it be because, as Jamieson suggests in her book, a case in which reporters “failed to investigate and locate the facts that would have undercut the coherence of a story being told because the lens they adopted made fact-finding seem unnecessary or irrelevant”?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Is There a "Please" in RSVP?

Partisan politics and constructive debate play an important a role in our democracy, but far too often partisanship trumps responsibility and honesty. Case in point: the recent flap over the Town Hall meetings that Governor Corzine plans to hold regarding his financial restructuring and debt reduction plans.

Apparently, Assembly Republican Leader Alex DeCroce took umbrage when he learned that citizens planning to attend the sessions were being required to RSVP to the Governor’s Office.

We don’t know whether DeCroce reached out to the Corzine to alert the Governor of his concern. What we do know is that the GOP leader fired off a blistering press release invoking comparisons to the Soviet Union and questioning why the Governor’s Office was asking potential attendees “to provide considerable information about themselves, including their place of employment.”

Wondering how this could be true, I logged onto the Governor’s webpage on the meetings, but was unable to find any form asking for place of employment. The closet possibilities were boxes for “organization” and “daytime phone number,” but both of these were optional.

But the Governor’s Office was not without blame either. In response to DeCroce’s press release, Corzine spokeswoman Lilo Stainton called the notion that people would be denied entrance to the meetings ludicrous and said, "Anyone that shows up will be allowed in." That’s all fine and well, except for the fact that the Governor’s own website clearly states: “If you would like to attend you must RSVP.”

All the News, Except for New Jersey

In a posting on her column, Debbie Holtz laments the recent decision by The New York Times to eliminate editorials and op-ed articles from its Sunday New Jersey and the Region section. I share her sentiments and hope that this decision is not a harbinger of things to come in terms of the newspaper’s commitment to covering the Garden State. On a personal level, I’ve had the opportunity to see some of my op-eds published in this section of The Times. Most were penned for others while I was working in PR. But I also wrote two under my own name early in my career – a piece on gifted and talented education in Montclair and another urging the State of New Jersey to adopt Bruce Springsteen’s “Born To Run” as its official state anthem.

State of the State

With Governor Corzine's State of the State address coming up next week, this is a good time to revisit The State of Speeches in 2007, a research essay I wrote last year about speeches and the speechwriting process.