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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