One hesitates to quote Shakespeare to the Editors of the Record. The thought of all that dust rising from their library shelves is enough to make me sneeze. They do, however, “protest too much”.
The Editors of the Record (known affectionately as the “Hacks on the Hackensack”) announced that they were closing their main office, firing photographers, and reporters would operate from homes and automobiles by cell phone. This announcement, in the context of falling subscription rates and declining advertising revenues, led to the inevitable observation that the Record is on a course to bankruptcy.
It was a fair point. Newspapers are failing every day. The Record is located in one of the best demographic regions of the nation but has been increasingly marginalized. Its readership is aging and limited to the least educated and lowest economic base of Bergen County. Subscription rates and the County mortality rate are almost exactly equal.
The Record probably would have died anyway but the decision to abandon its role as the staple of suburban living and adopt an angry and mean tone accelerated the larger destructive trends. Newspapers are dying every day but some survive by filling niches. The Star Ledger has become the only credible source of state news while the New York Times and Washington Post have become indispensable as sources of international or national information. The Record decided that it had a role as the mirror of everything that was ugly on the face of its own constituency.
The Hacks on the Hackensack (hereafter; “The Hacks”) responded to my observations with a vitriolic diatribe of insults. It didn’t seem to occur to them that their angry and mean tone was a confirmation of everything that I observed about them. It did, however, occur to the scores of people who called me or wrote to the Record. The Hacks’ denials of decline were on their face absurd. I can’t imagine GM describing plant closing as a “reinvention” of their industry. This “reinvention” of journalism without offices would be less absurd if the New York Times wasn’t still celebrating the opening of its new headquarters.
With all of the sophistication of an adolescent rage The Hacks countered my arguments by citing my driving record (you read that correctly). They must not have learned that the first lesson of every American school yard is to never lead with your chin. The Publisher of the Record, Malcolm Borg, is a convicted drunk driver. It’s a miracle that his drunken rampages didn’t kill somebody.
The Hacks, inevitably, went into a review of the investigation that my campaign and I endured several years ago. I’m certain that they’ve convinced themselves that if they write this enough, their version of events will assume the character of truth. Suffice it to say that they never mentioned that my files include an almost unprecedented letter from prosecutors informing me that there was no evidence to warrant proceeding and the matter was ended. Allegations against me continue to fuel the Record vitriol although a Federal Judge described my accuser of being a “chronic liar”.
The Hacks, however, must only read their own pages for journalistic research. Missing from their account is the fact that Federal Authorities never took these absurd rantings seriously enough to subpoena or even question me. In recent years I’ve learned that they also never subpoenaed my accuser to testify. The final result of months of investigation and millions in legal costs was a bipartisan letter from the Senate Ethics Committee. The Committee’s most serious finding was that I paid a wholesale price for a television that cost $200 more at retail stores. I apologized and paid the difference.(You might wonder what this has to do with the Record closing their offices. Me too!)
Now let’s stroll down memory lane together and consider the ethics of the Record. They’ve had something to say about everybody in Bergen County. How about them?
There was the time that the Publisher asked to meet with me after an Editorial Board Meeting. He needed help with an environmental problem and gave me a thousand dollar check for a Pennsylvania Congressman. I wanted to go home and take a shower.
Then there was the time that a political reporter was found to be taking “outside income” from political opponents of mine while he was assigned to report on my campaign. The reporter was, appropriately, removed from the paper but The Hacks refused to explain or apologize to their readers.
Now there are two other issues that strain the credibility of the Record. Thousands of Bergen County residents are straining to pay their real estate taxes. Many families are losing their homes. The Record belongs to trade associations that lobby to require local governments to spend millions on legal ads. These same official notices could be placed on the Internet more effectively for free. Millions of tax dollars are spent by working people to subsidize millionaire publishers. Now that’s a moral outrage.
Soon there’ll be another test of the high standards that The Hacks have set for everyone. The Record is abandoning its offices on the Hackensack River. The site regularly floods and may be the last parcel available for the people of Hackensack to have access to the River. If anybody else attempted to develop this flood prone land, editorials would appropriately ring with denunciations. Those of us from Bergen County already know that the hypocrisy of The Hacks will keep their pages silent. The question is whether their intimidation will silence Hackensack officials, environmentalists, or the State of New Jersey.
There’s every reason to be concerned. Last year I wrote a blog outlining the best and worst newspapers in New Jersey. The next day an outraged Record reporter suggested to a State House Official that “it’s time to do a little research into Bob Torricelli’s life”. These people behave more like an organized crime family than a newspaper.
The odd thing is that during seven Congressional elections, I was always endorsed by the Record. Twenty five years ago it was a respected publication and I might not have defeated an incumbent Congressman without them. Somewhere it all went wrong. Most people feel a tremendous sadness when their local newspaper fails. There’s a sense of loss for the community. In Bergen County there’ll be a sense of relief.
The Hacks might deny that firing staff, falling subscriptions amid collapsing advertising will lead to bankruptcy. I suspect that they’re secretly dusting off those high school equivalency diplomas and double spacing their resumes. There must be something that they’ve done which will appeal to the fast food industry.