Monthly Archives: July 2008

Fifty-seven channels (and nothing on)

The nation’s floundering economy, the war in Iraq, and the need to improve our healthcare system are at the top of the long list of challenges that New Jersey’s next U.S. Senator will confront in Washington, D.C. But you would never know that from reading the state’s daily newspapers over the past few weeks.

Ever since The Record reported that the Lautenberg campaign was planning a fundraiser in which donors who paid $1,500 would receive tickets (which were obtained at face value, or $108 each) to see Bruce Springsteen perform at Giants Stadium, this is the topic that has dominated the coverage of Senate race.

A search of the Access World News database shows between July 20, when The Record’s Charlie Stile broke the story, and today, 13 articles mentioning Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg and/or his GOP opponent Dick Zimmer appeared in New Jersey dailies and the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Times. All but three of them were about the Springsteen tickets.

The three that dealt with other topics all appeared in The Press of Atlantic City. One was a story about an open house Zimmer conducted in Egg Harbor Township and one was a short advance that ran prior to the event. The third story focused on off-shore drilling, but it dealt mostly with Congressional candidates and pundits. Brief prepared statements from Lautenberg and Zimmer appeared at the end of the piece.

Journalists covering New Jersey were not alone in their interest in the campaign’s use of Springsteen tickets. Among the news outlets that the story found its way into were the Houston Chronicle, the Olympian (in Washington State) and the Washington Times.

Back in New Jersey as the coverage continued, The Record reported that New Jersey Democrats had conducted this type of fundraiser in the past. Apparently, they were not alone. In his 2005 re-election campaign, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger offered donors a chance to attend a private pre-concert reception and sit in prime seats for a Rolling Stones’ concert at Boston’s Fenway Park in exchange for contributions of $10,000.

In this case, the tickets came not from a government agency, but from Ameriquest, a mortgage lender and the lead sponsor of the Stones’ 2005 tour. Ameriquest, based in California, donated the tickets to Schwarzenegger’s campaign, raising eyebrows back home where the company was under legal scrutiny for its business practices in the sub-prime lending market. In addition to the concert tickets, Ameriquest contributed $1.5 million to the Schwarzenegger campaign.

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Censorship at the Olympics

Journalists covering the 2008 Olympics will not have access to websites considered sensitive by the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games (BOGOG), such as the website for Amnesty International, which has been critical of China’s policies on human rights. Compounding the issue is the fact that the ban runs counter to promises BOGOG had made about providing the media with the same freedom as had been provided at previous Olympics.

“I regret that it now appears BOCOG has announced that there will be limitations on website access during Games time,” Kevan Gosper, a spokesman for the International Olympic Committee told reporters.

Keeping controversial arrangements secret is nothing new for New Jerseyans these days. As reported by the Star-Ledger, Rutgers University agreed to a secret deal that will allow head football coach Greg Schiano to break his contract without penalty if the school failed to complete a major expansion of its football stadium by 2009.

EPA Gag Order

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued what amounts to a gag order to its employees, instructing them not to respond to questions from reporters. A memo obtained by the Associated Press shows that EPA workers are being directed to forward emails and calls from the media to the agency’s press officers. Such policies are commonplace in large agencies and – from the organization’s standpoint – usually make sense (one voice, one message, etc.). But rarely are the policies stated so bluntly in a memo or other document or file that can potentially be made public.

Springsteen Returns to NJ

With Bruce Springsteen coming to town, we posted a series of papers about “The Boss” and his impact on NJ on the Hall Institute website today. Links to the papers – as well as a few extras — are below:

A Victory for the Tillerman

Sometimes, stories that seem plausible often are as accepted as fact – because they fit a logical storyline, not because they are substantiated. In their book, The Press Effect, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman suggest several examples of how the media has framed stories to fit the expected storylines.

Perhaps that is why the World Entertainment News Network reported that Yusuf Islam, the singer known as Cat Stevens prior to his conversion to the Islamic faith, had refused to speak to – or even acknowledge – women who were not wearing veils during an awards ceremony. It turns out the allegations were false and Islam today was awarded a substantial undisclosed sum in libel damages by London’s High Court.

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NJN, Gannett and the Cincinnati Reds

Kent Manahan’s impending retirement as anchor of New Jersey Network news has reignited discussion about the propriety of a news organization funded by the government it covers. But the relationship between NJN and New Jersey state government is just one example of the many strange bedfellows resulting from the media consolidation that has taken place in recent years.

For example, during the telecast of last night’s baseball game between the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds, an advertisement for CareerBuilder, the nation’s largest online job site, appeared prominently on the fence behind the batter in the shots from the Reds’ Great American Ballpark. CareerBuilder is owned by the Gannett Company, which publishes 85 daily newspapers, including USA TODAY and several New Jersey publications. Among Gannett’s other holdings is partial ownership of a baseball team that just happens to be the Cincinnati Reds.