Monthly Archives: December 2007

The AG, the Ledger and Jo Bo

Mercer County Prosecutor Joe Bocchini’s comments on the much-publicized case of alleged sex assault by state troopers were a refreshing change of pace from the usual legalese that surrounds these events. 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. While Attorney General Anne Milgram may have a valid legal reason for her decision to re-assign the case to another county, we may never know. Unlike Bocchini, her comments in today’s Star-Ledger were brief and vague.

Creating News?

Two unusual stories involving New Jersey are receiving coverage across the nation. The first centers on Francisco Nava, a Princeton University student who admitted e-mailing threats to himself and some friends, then faking an attack of himself. The other is about Max Weisberg and his efforts to get a Cherry Hill dry cleaner to reimburse him for a Santa Claus suit that was accidentally given to another customer.

In both cases, the principals managed to successfully create news that was widely covered by the media. Nava first wrote a column for the Princeton student newspaper criticizing the school for giving out free condoms and then fabricated the e-mail threats and attack. Weisberg decided the best way to confront the dry cleaner was to don a new Santa suit and go to the shop in person – after his wife’s public relations firm notified the news media.

Troopers and Accountants

In an Associated Press story about the seven New Jersey state troopers who were suspended with pay over a woman’s claim that they sexually assaulted her, an attorney representing one of the troopers contends that the activity was consensual and that the troopers were off-duty when they met the woman in question. “They could have been seven accountants,” the attorney, Charles J. Sciarra, said.

Is what these men do for a living relevant? They’re either guilty or not guilty, whether they’re state troopers, accountants, attorneys or members of any other profession.

Different Stories on Fort Monmouth

How did Wednesday’s Congressional hearing on the decision to close Fort Monmouth go? It depends on which news reports you read because they vary widely.

The Star-Ledger and Associated Press both reported that there is little chance the fort will remain open:

AP: Pentagon officials aren’t budging on plans to close Fort Monmouth despite criticism from New Jersey’s congressional delegation. Testimony before a House subcommittee Wednesday is unlikely to change the Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s recommendation.

Star-Ledger: Supporters of Fort Monmouth went before a congressional committee yesterday to restate their arguments and vent their frustration about plans to close the New Jersey Army base and move its communications research operations to Maryland by 2011. But New Jersey lawmakers and community advocates got a clear message from the Pentagon and from the House Armed Services Committee: The 2005 decision by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to close Fort Mon mouth was ratified by Congress, is now law and will not be changed.

The Asbury Park Press, however, painted a much more optimistic picture:

New Jersey congressmen are expressing guarded optimism following a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing yesterday that probed the skyrocketing costs of the Pentagon’s 2005 military base shake-up. The lawmakers called for continued inquiries. There is some reason to believe the subcommittee on readiness hearing would not be the last session in an investigation of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process that recommended the closure of Fort Monmouth and the transfer of much of its mission to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

Why the difference? Read my study, Media Coverage of Domestic U.S. Military Bases and How It Supports the Military Industrial Complex, to see examples of how the Asbury Park Press coverage of the Fort Monmouth issue is flawed.

New Jersey and 1968

New Jersey was featured frequently on the History Channel’s special on 1968.

New Jerseyans Bruce Springsteen and Jon Stewart were among the people who shared their thoughts on that year with host Tom Brokaw. And the program also featured a segments on former Weatherman Mark Rudd (a native of Maplewood) and feminist protests at the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City.

Even Arlo Guthrie go into the act. While talking about Vietnam and the domino theory, Guthrie discussed the possibility of an enemy finding its way into New Jersey. Noting that he has had trouble maneuvering through the roads of the Garden State, Guthrie told Brokaw he had doubts about enemy troops finding their way through the state.

Runway Safety – A Tale of Two Papers

It’s interesting to examine the different ways New Jersey newspapers chose to report the results of a new federal study that concluded that air travelers face a high risk of a catastrophic collision on U.S. airport runways.

The best reporting came from the Bergen Record’s Tom Davis and Herb Jackson, whose lead provided New Jerseyans with the part of the study most relevant to them:

Newark Liberty International Airport ranks among the worst in the nation for runway close calls.

By contrast, the Star-Ledger’s J. Scott Orr took a broader approach and began his story with several paragraphs summarizing the report.

Newark, the home of the Star-Ledger, didn’t get mentioned until the mid-point of the story:

Though the report did not specifically identify any near-accidents at Newark Liberty International Airport, it did rank Newark — the nation’s 13th busiest airport — ninth in the number of incursions from 2001 through 2006 with 25.

In November 2006, a loaded passenger jet taxiing to a runway at Newark Airport clipped wings with another jet. A few days earlier a Continental Boeing 757 landed on a taxiway instead of a runway. No one was hurt in either incident and both are being investigated by federal authorities.

In addition, the Ledger – unlike the Record — relied heavily on a press release for the quotes it used from U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), one of the lawmakers who requested the study.

Meanwhile, the Asbury Park Press and most other New Jersey newspapers used a wire story that contained no details specific to New Jersey. Newark Liberty International Airport may not be in these papers’ circulation areas, but odds are their readers use it when they fly.

One notable exception was the Atlantic City Press. Thomas Barlas’ story included information on runway safety at Atlantic City International Airport, along with comments about the local facility from airport officials as well the FAA.

Sometimes the Public Gets What It Deserves – Part 1

Earlier this week, a group of leading political journalists gathered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., for a forum on media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign.

In response to an audience member who asked why there seemed to be more coverage of personalities than issues, ABC News Senior Political Correspondent Jake Tapper suggested that issues may not be what consumers want to watch.

“It would be great if ABC, NBC and CBS news could each do an hour devoted to each candidate’s health care proposal and be guaranteed that 30 to 40 million Americans would watch it, but that’s not the world we live in.”

Tapper’s point is well taken. His comments came during the Newseum’s Journalists’ Roundtable on the 2008 Election. The event was televised on C-Span and is available online on the C-Span Campaign 2008 Page.

Recommended Reading

Jonathan Tilove of the Newhouse News Service has written an excellent piece on the tone of today’s political campaigns. While Tilove focuses on Hillary Clinton and the personal attacks being directed against her, the article should provoke some needed soul-searching for anyone involved in political campaigns, especially those taking place in New Jersey.

The article, Hillary Hatred Finds Its Misogynistic Voice, ran in the Trenton Times today, but you can find it online at