Part 1—Our propaganda, our selves: How bad is corruption in New Jersey?
Any corruption is bad, of course, including that which continues to spread through our corporate “news” channels.
But how bad is corruption in New Jersey? If you’ve watched Rachel Maddow in recent weeks, you have been repeatedly told that it’s extremely bad.
But alas! You’ve seen no real attempt to examine this claim in a journalistic fashion.
In fairness, references to the Sopranos have largely ended at MSNBC. Routinely, though, Maddow pushes the idea that corruption in New Jersey is extremely bad—“astonishing.”
For a sense of Maddow’s portrait of Jersey, consider just a few of the things she said on last Thursday night’s program. She started with the former mayor of Trenton, focusing on his strange and suspicious name.
“In the indictment, they show his real name, Tony Mack,” Maddow said, right at the start of her program. “Tony Mack! Which is an awesome New Jersey politics name in its own right, right?”
Is “Tony Mack” an awesome New Jersey politics name? That peculiar judgment didn’t seem especially “right” to us. Beyond that, we didn’t know why a former Rhodes Scholar would say such an odd thing.
Which part of his name was awesome? Did his name amuse her? To watch the full segment, click here.
That said, Maddow’s viewers were off to the races with that opening statement, which struck us as somewhat peculiar.
As a result of his conviction on a set of corruption charges, Mack is no longer mayor of Trenton. As Maddow recited these familiar facts yet again, she helped us see how typical this sort of thing is in the state of New Jersey, which even she wouldn’t call great:
MADDOW (2/27/14): In February, this month, [Mack] was convicted of all charges. He is due to be sentenced in May and could get decades in federal prison, based on these charges and these convictions.Plainly, we were expected to gasp at the long list of cities, a list which now numbers ten. Through her familiar histrionics, Maddow helped us understand the main point—the list of corrupt New Jersey mayors is very long indeed.
On the day he was convicted, on February 7th, the Associated Press provided some helpful context for understanding how big of a deal it is for the mayor of this New Jersey city to be going to jail on federal corruption charges. And the short answer is, it is not that big a deal at all, not for New Jersey.
Since 2000, the mayors of Newark, New Jersey, Camden, New Jersey, Patterson, New Jersey, Perth Amboy, New Jersey, Hoboken, Passaic, Asbury Park, Orange and Hamilton, New Jersey, those mayors have all been convicted of corruption or pled guilty in corruption cases just since the year 2000, all of them. And now, you can add Trenton to the list.
The list was supposed to make us see that public corruption of this type “is not that big a deal at all,” not for a state like New Jersey! At the Maddow Blog, staff linked to this AP report, direct from the Washington Times.
At this point, we’ll be honest. Histrionics to the side, the list didn’t seem enormously long to us, especially since it covered cases dating back fifteen years.
New Jersey has an unusually large number of municipalities, we thought we’d heard somewhere. Tony Mack’s Jersey-style name to the side, was ten cases in fifteen years really a gobsmacking number?
We didn’t share our doubts with the analysts, who were already shaking their fists at New Jersey’s appalling corruption. Then, something slightly stranger occurred. Continuing directly, Maddow emitted this:
MADDOW (continuing directly): You know Cory Booker as a United States senator right now. But before becoming a United States senator, Cory Booker was not just the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, the state’s largest city. Cory Booker was the first mayor of Newark, New Jersey, since 1962 to not be convicted of corruption charges and to go prison.“Yes, New Jersey is just astonishing,” Maddow said next. “New Jersey is a sewer of public corruption.”
Any and all corruption is bad, including that found at our cable “news” channels. That said, here’s why Maddow’s highlighted statement seemed strange:
Employing impassioned histrionics, Maddow said Booker was the first Newark mayor since 1962 “to not be convicted of corruption charges and to go prison.”
But that isn’t what it said behind Maddow, right up there on the screen! Rather plainly, the screen behind Maddow said something different and milder.
When we fact-checked Maddow’s source, we learned that her statement was false. Even the accurate fact, which she had embellished, was a bit misleading, for a reason we’ll cite tomorrow.
As we watched Maddow make that statement, we found ourselves wondering:
Did Maddow’s viewers really not see that her impassioned statement was different from the statement right there on the screen? But then, we’ve asked similar questions in recent weeks as we’ve watched Maddow misstate perfectly obvious matters—matters which were visible and apparent, right there on the screen.
Do her viewers really not notice?
Mainly, we marveled last Thursday night at the steady stream of propaganda concerning recent events in New Jersey. We marveled at the absence of journalistic behavior on Maddow’s cable show.
As the evening proceeded, so did Maddow’s denunciations of the degree of corruption in New Jersey. “New Jersey is just a toxic mire of public corruption, and it has been for years,” she convincingly said.
Other such statements were offered.
All corruption is bad, including corruption at cable news channels. But does New Jersey really stand out from the other states? Is its degree of corruption “astonishing?”
At this point, we still weren’t convinced.
In our view, almost every part of Maddow’s long presentation bore the stink of propaganda last Thursday. But we continued to think of that troubling list, a list which includes ten cities.
Ten different mayors in fifteen years? Was that really such a large number?
We wondered if Maddow’s claims and insinuations about New Jersey were accurate or reasonable. But alas! Answering that question requires reporting, something that almost never occurs when Maddow, a scandal propagandist, discusses the sewer of public corruption in this astonishing state.
Tomorrow: Concerning propaganda, what Gabe Sherman said