Source: The Star-Ledger -
Several New Jersey politicians who have long been scrutinized by the media turned the tables on Tuesday.
And they didn’t always have nice things to say.
“My neighbors know the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt, but they don’t have a clue as to how real the budget crisis is in the state of New Jersey and what it may do to them,” said Union County Sheriff Joseph Cryan. “I assure you one has more impact on your life overall than the other.”
Cryan was part of a panel assembled by Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) at Kean University. Also participating were former Govs. James E. McGreevey and Donald DiFrancesco, NJTV chief political correspondent Michael Aron, TAPInto.net publisher and CEO Michael Shapiro, conservative blogger Art Gallagher and PolitickerNJ.com reporter Chase Brush. The topic: changes in the media, and how politicians are dealing with them.
Bramnick said the media are too fast to tarnish politicians.
“There were some allegations against Senator Menendez. Within a day, his face was on the front page of The Star-Ledger,” he said of the senator, who was indicted this month on 14 federal corruption counts. “When do you give the elected official the benefit of the doubt? When do you put the story out there? If it’s just a allegation, how much attention does it get?”
Bramnick suggested that coverage of politicians has made many community leaders think twice about running for office.
“I truly believe there’s a chilling effect in bringing some of our best and brightest,” he said.
McGreevey, Cryan and DiFrancesco have all had political and personal scandals that were heavily covered. But the three differed on how much the media’s coverage of politicians has changed.
“I haven’t seen much change. The only thing that’s changed is the social media,” said DiFrancesco.
The biggest change, DiFrancesco said, is that politicians’ own use of social media has allowed them to rely less on the bigger, traditional outlets.
“From my perspective, having been in the minority for 15 years in the legislature, you would kill to get your picture in The Star-Ledger or Bergen Record, what have you. You tried all kinds of ways… But now I think social media is very good for politicians,” he said.
McGreevey said he didn’t think it media coverage has had a chilling effect on politicians because everyone gets a high level scrutiny.
“Perhaps we’ve ironically come to a point where the media is so rapacious and exhaustive that no person can survive that level of scrutiny. So in a sense, all sinners are welcome,” he said.
Aron, who has covered New Jersey politics for decades, said that the way reporters approach stories is “fundamentally the same,” but with a lot more emphasis on speed.
“We’re all fascinated by a fall from grace. That was true 30 years ago, and that’s still true in the era of Bob Menendez and Bridgegate.”
Shapiro — whose company covers local news — says his writers often exercise restraint. He said the outlet was criticized for running only a brief about a local mayor’s arrest for DWI in the police blotter.
“If that elected official was trying to use his office to get out of the ticket, that to me is newsworthy and a story. But we put it in the news blotter, just like any resident who’s arrested for DWI,” he said.
Although the discussion was on the new media, much of the criticism was focused on media coverage from more than a decade ago.
Cryan — a longtime former Assemblyman who served as state Democratic chairman — took aim at online forums on NJ.com from years ago, saying anonymous people leveled false accusations against him that he had trouble getting removed. And he slammed The Star-Ledger for running a photo of then-Essex County Executive Jim Treffinger during his 2002 arrest, showing him in shackles after being arrested on corruption charges. Cryan said reporters worked “off an illegal leak” from the U.S. Attorney’s Office under Chris Christie.
Treffinger pleaded guilty to corruption in 2003.
A member of the audience, Lesly Deveraux, told the panel her misdeeds were heavily covered by the the Star-Ledger, but her subsequent actions have not been.
Deveraux, a former chief of staff at the state Commerce Commission, did prison time after her conviction for official misconduct. She also pleaded guilty to third-degree theft by deception.
“I paid my debt to society. I came home. I got a doctorate. I got a master’s. I got a radio show. I wrote two books…. I was ordinained a minister. Nobody knows anything about that,” Deveraux said. “When you google my name, you just see something that happened 11 or 12 years ago… My question is does there ever come a time when the media will become forgiving?”