A Singer and a Governor Travel a Thunderous Road

Having spent many years as a reporter, I think it’s great that Bruce Springsteen wrote a letter to the Asbury Park Press in response to a news article. In fact, I think it’s great whenever a journalist writes a story that moves someone enough to write a letter to the editor.

In this case, however, the commotion that followed Springsteen’s correspondence was a bit too much, even for a letter penned by a rock’n’roll superstar.

Lost amid the brouhaha that ensued was the fact that the news article that moved Springsteen to write his letter was an excellent piece of journalism. Some news stories, such as reports on accidents, fires and crime, virtually write themselves. This was not one of those.

The author of the article, veteran State House reporter Michael Symons, examined two separate reports that had been issued by different agencies and identified a common theme that ran through both studies, namely how to convince citizens and lawmakers of the need to address social issues such as poverty and child well-being at a time when politicians and much of the public are clamoring for smaller government and cutbacks in services. Symons then made the story timely and topical by placing it within the context of the state budget process under way in Trenton.

As Springsteen observed in his letter:“The article is one of the few that highlights the contradictions between a policy of large tax cuts, on the one hand, and cuts in services to those in the most dire conditions, on the other.” Following some additional comments about the article, the long-time Monmouth County resident concluded his letter with a nice homey touch: “I’m always glad to see my hometown newspaper covering these issues — Bruce Springsteen, Colts Neck.”

That could have been the end to a nice little local story, but instead, the story went national. And the storyline wasn’t always “Superstar Praises Hometown Paper.” More often, it was along the lines of “NJ Rock Star Bruce Springsteen Takes on Republican Governor Chris Christie,” as illustrated by a few of the headlines that topped the story:

  • Springsteen Takes on Chris Christie (Fox News website)
  • When Bosses Collide (National Journal)
  • Gov. Chris Christie may love Bruce Springsteen’s music, but Boss doesn’t love GOP pol’s politics (New York Daily News)
  • Bruce Springsteen at odds with NJ Gov. Christie’s budget (USA Today)
  • Christie’s rock idol knocks him in letter (Politico)

Headlines like these, and copy such as “…with the barbs now coming from the Boss, Christie may have met his match (McClatchy Washington Bureau),” created the impression that Springsteen and Christie were actively engaged in a heated exchange. Springsteen’s letter, however, made no direct reference to New Jersey’s Republican governor.

Sure, it’s easy to read between the lines, and based upon the two men’s public records, it’s clear they have some strong ideological differences on public policy. But to infer that Springsteen “slammed” the Governor (as more than one news report did) is somewhat misleading.

Of course, Christie didn’t make things any better when ABC’s Diane Sawyer asked him about the letter.

Christie, who happens to be a huge fan of Springsteen’s music, easily could have dispensed with the issue by responding that the Boss really didn’t specifically say anything about him, so there was no reason to continue the discussion. But Christie is not an individual apt to throw water on a fire. Gasoline more often is his choice – and that is what happened when he answered Sawyer’s question.

Rather than calm the fire, Christie stoked it by saying he was not surprised at Springsteen’s comments because the Bruce is a liberal — and then he added a completely unsubstantiated statement about the boss: “Bruce believes that we should be raising taxes all the time on everyone to do all the things that he’d like to see government do.”  It didn’t take long for The Star-Ledger to write an editorial calling the Governor’s comments “a cheap shot at Springsteen” and making note that the phrase “raising taxes all the time on everyone” was nowhere in Springsteen’s letter.

Nevertheless, we were treated to a second round of stories, this batch all about Christie’s response to Springsteen’s letter. The whole episode is a bit reminiscent of Seinfeld – a show about nothing: First, Springsteen writes a letter with no mention of the Governor, yet that sparks a series of news reports about a Springsteen-Christie feud. Then Christie adds fuel to the fire with his response to the feud – a feud that may not even exist outside of news reports.

Surely, there must be more important things in the news today – like why Rutgers paid Snooki $32,000 for an appearance at New Jersey’s state university.

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One Response to A Singer and a Governor Travel a Thunderous Road

  1. Joan Goldstein, Ph.D. says:

    Good article. Shakespeare would have called this Governor – Springsteen dispute, “Much Ado About Nothing.” Don’t we all have better things to do with our time? For example, just in case Snooki can’t make her date to speak, (entertain) at Rutgers, maybe they can call on me for back-up. I promise not to sound intelligent – really.
    Joan G

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