Dirty Laundry: Airing out political reporting in NJ

Dirty Laundry: Airing out political reporting in NJ

With apologies to Don Henley, I don’t make my living off the evening news.

I really do want to know what’s going on.

The folks at PoliticsNJ.com feel the same way. So they asked me to blog about political reporting, with an emphasis on potential biases by the media, actual conflicts, factual errors, and shortcomings in news stories.

‘Cause sometimes when it’s said and done the press hasn’t told us a thing.

Okay, enough with the ‘80’s rock lyrics.

For a couple of decades, I was in the State House press food chain. I fed ‘em and occasionally got chewed on by them. I’ve also gagged on plenty of smoke in those back rooms where the “people’s business” really gets done.

Full disclosure: my paychecks used to come from Trenton and DC politicians for more than 20 years. For more than half of my public career, I worked for former NJ Senate Majority Leader Dan Dalton. I followed him into the Florio Administration where I served as Assistant Secretary of State. Following that brief stint, I directed a federal agency during the Clinton Administration. On the political side, I have managed dozens of campaigns for Democrats throughout the state.

I’ve long since gotten out from under the Gold Dome and up into the ivory tower of academia. I have a Masters in Public Affairs and Politics, and I’m working on a doctorate.I am currently an Adjunct Lecturer at Rutgers and working in both the English and Public Policy departments. As a member of the Society of Professional Journalists, I’d like to believe I’ve got the subject matter covered from the inside out, the practical and the theoretical.

So think of this blog as a reader’s guide to translating news reports about Jersey government and politics.

Regular features will include:

Full Disclosure – In government, they put up Chinese walls which limit how soon high ranking officials can lobby their former government employers after they leave the public payroll. In the media business, temporary fencing isn’t even erected. Often, there’s just a revolving door.

So how does a former reporter make the transition?

Perhaps Lilo Stainton, Corzine’s new press secretary, has charted the path. Whether by design or happenstance, Lilo put both some time and distance between her earlier State House Gannett digs and those now housed in the front office. By having a cooling off period, she was able to avert any appearance of real or perceived conflicts. Congratualtions Lilo!

Journalism 101 – From basic fact-checking to named attribution, we’ll keep score of who got it right – or wrong – in the rush to publish or go on air.

Questions We’d Like to Ask – This section is for anyone who has ever shouted at the TV “Hey, why didn’t you just ask the Governor why double dipping is OK for Susan Bass Levin but not for legislators???” Not to mention the hundreds of other elected officials that hold public sector positions!

The Black Hole – Recalling investigative stories once doggedly pursued in the tradition of Woodward and Bernstein now all but disappeared from the headlines. What ever happened to the federal probes into vanished or destroyed records at UMDNJ? The recent investigation into “possible financial improprieties at UMDNJ’s Camden campus” and the unsecured laptop computer reminds us that the case obviously isn’t closed and all the records still may not be properly safeguarded. So why aren’t we reading about it anymore?

The Tittle Award – Calling out outrageous statements even Trenton’s most quotable source would admire. Who reporters quote really matters. Particularly when they have no subject-matter expertise.

Editor’s Note – To be fair, if a reporter or their editor ever has an issue with my take on a column, I’m all ears. Even if I disagree, I’ll post an Editor’s Note which offers a rebuttal or provides their side of the story. My Inbox is open.

BTW, blogging is a contact sport, so don’t sit on the sidelines.

Let me know what stories you think cross the line, what questions went unasked or unanswered, or when you sense a real conflict. Email me at pressrow@aol.com or click Comments and get into the game.

Dirty Laundry: Airing out political reporting in NJ