CORRUPTION SPREADS: New Jersey redeemed!


Part 2—Maddow semi-debunked: Today, in his weekly “Gotham” column, Michael Powell recalls another act of public corruption in the state of New Jersey.

Powell recalls the way the deputy mayor of Newark was convicted of extortion in 2011. This particular deputy mayor served under Cory Booker.

You’re unlikely to hear that incident mentioned by Rachel Maddow. That said, does it justify the scathing portrait of New Jersey Maddow presented last Thursday night, in her latest propaganda-laden TV program?

As we noted yesterday, Maddow really let the state of New Jersey have it last Thursday night.

“New Jersey is just astonishing,” she said at one point. “New Jersey is a sewer of public corruption.”

Later, she restated this claim. “New Jersey is just a toxic mire of public corruption, and it has been for years,” she said.

“Governance in New Jersey is rotten,” she said a bit later. “The business of governance in New Jersey, epically and for way too long, has been the business of people in government helping themselves—helping themselves to public resources.”

According to Maddow, the investigation of the Fort Lee lane closings has brought this problem into stark relief. That investigation has uncovered “a newly sordid picture of how governance works in New Jersey right now,” Maddow said, her language becoming a bit more extreme.

David Samson’s apparent conflicts of interest aren’t as bad as convictions for criminal conduct, Maddow acknowledged. But they represent “the problem of perverted governance in New Jersey” all the same.

Yikes! According to Maddow’s impassioned claims, governance in the state of New Jersey is “perverted” and “sordid.”

The state is “a toxic mire of public corruption,” “a sewer.” New Jersey’s amount of public corruption is “just astonishing,” “epic,” she said.

Maddow’s impassioned language drifted toward an extreme. But as we listened, we were somewhat unconvinced by the way this diatribe started.

Early on, Maddow had treated us to some information, an increasingly rare intruder into her discussions of corruption. According to Maddow, the conviction of Trenton mayor Tony Mack simply wasn’t that big a deal—not in a place like New Jersey:
MADDOW (2/27/14): On the day [Mack] 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.
Ten different mayors, in fifteen years! Plainly, we the viewers were supposed to be shocked.

We were still unconvinced. Is ten mayors in fifteen years really an epic number? In part, we were somewhat less than gobsmacked because we had read Alec MacGillis’ widely-discussed report about Christie’s career in The New Republic.

Among other things, MacGillis had noted this fact about the state of New Jersey:
MACGILLIS (2/12/14): In most of the United States, the big political machines have been broken, or reduced to wheezing versions of their former selves. In New Jersey, though, they’ve endured like nowhere else. The state has retained its excessively local distribution of power—566 municipalities, 21 counties, and innumerable commissions and authorities, all of them generous repositories of contracts and jobs. The place still has bona fide bosses—perhaps not as colorful as the old ones, but about as powerful. The bosses drum up campaign cash from people and firms seeking public jobs and contracts, and direct it to candidates, who take care of the bosses and the contributors—a self-perpetuating cycle as reliable as photosynthesis.
MacGillis was pushing the corruption line too. But with 566 municipalities to choose from, is it really “astonishing” by modern standards to learn that ten mayors have gone down in the past fifteen years? Our confidence in Maddow’s judgment eroded further a few seconds later when she flatly misquoted a statement from the MacGillis report—this accurate statement about Newark’s mayors:

“Cory Booker is the first mayor of Newark not to be indicted since 1962.”

For our money, MacGillis had his thumb on the scale a tiny bit too. Aside from Booker, Newark only had three mayors in the 52-year period under review.

It’s true that all three of these mayors were indicted, but one was acquitted at trial.

Can we talk? As best we can tell, Newark has only had two mayors convicted of corruption in the past hundred years! Unless you were watching Maddow’s show, where McGillis’ accurate statement sat right there on the screen behind her while Maddow misstated the facts.

As she spoke, the horrified star stressed the words “convicted” and “go to prison:”
MADDOW (2/27/14): 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 go to prison.

Yes, New Jersey is just astonishing. New Jersey is a sewer of public corruption.
At such moments, we think Maddow's astonishing! That said, we were still wondering:

The state of New Jersey, “How corrupt is it?” as Ed McMahon might have said. More specifically, do ten mayors in fifteen years represent an “astonishing” level of corruption, judged by national standards?

We’re not sure of the answer to those questions. But when “Governor Ultrasound” got indicted this year, the Washington Post’s Reid Wilson attempted to assess which states have the most corruption. He linked to several attempts to quantify this matter.

Nowhere had New Jersey been found to lead the nation, epically or otherwise. In one assessment, the Center for Public Integrity actually praised the state for its array of ethics practices.

But how about all those corruption convictions? In fairness, the bean counters say that convictions can sometimes be a measure of a state’s refusal to accept corruption. Judging convictions however you like, the New York Times reported that New Jersey ranks 11th among the 50 states in corruption convictions per capita. And that’s without factoring in its profusion of municipalities, counties and commissions!

If you rank 11th in such convictions, you’re getting more officials convicted than the average state. But Maddow hadn’t painted a portrait of a state with more convictions than average. For whatever reason, she said New Jersey was “astonishing, epic”—a toxic mire, sordid, a sewer, where governance is rotten, as in the state of Denmark.

From Maddow’s impassioned portrait, would you have imagined that New Jersey wasn’t even in The Top Ten for convictions? And convictions aren’t the only measure of a state’s ethics/corruption culture. Here’s the start to that report by the Center for Public Integrity:
CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY (3/12): State officials make lofty promises when it comes to ethics in government. They tout the transparency of legislative processes, accessibility of records, and the openness of public meetings. But these efforts often fall short of providing any real transparency or legitimate hope of rooting out corruption.

That’s the depressing bottom line that emerges from the State Integrity Investigation, a first-of-its-kind, data-driven assessment of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms in all 50 states. Not a single state—not one—earned an A grade from the months-long probe. Only five states earned a B grade: New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, California and Nebraska. Nineteen states got C’s and 18 received D’s. Eight states earned failing grades of 59 or below from the project, which is a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Global Integrity and Public Radio International.
Say what? Despite its overall gloomy tone, the CPI said New Jersey was one of the five best states!

Does New Jersey have too much corruption? By definition, the answer is yes.

In our view, so does Maddow’s increasingly propagandistic program. In fairness, the propaganda is especially thick when Maddow goes ape on corruption.

Is Maddow really engaged in propaganda? Tomorrow, concerning that unpleasant word, we’ll examine what Gabe Sherman said.

Tomorrow: Gabe Sherman, Jane Hall discuss Fox


  1. Tracking down scandals has nothing to do with politics. It's police work. Trying to take down a political opponent through yellow journalism is as important to governance as finding out more about bat-boy.

  2. Even if corruption is worse elsewhere, how does that make New Jersey less of a "toxic mire of public corruption"?

    1. Dude, we got a "B"!

    2. It speaks to Maddow overstating and inflating the issue.

    3. "It speaks to Maddow overstating and inflating the issue."

      No -- if you think that then you're just a "BOBfan."

      All critiques of Rachel Maddow are invalid if voiced by Somerby, dontcha know that???

    4. If someplace has a higher crime rate, it is hard to tell whether it is because (a) more crimes are being committed, or (b) crimes are being more aggressively prosecuted. We had a huge increase in speeding tickets in my municipality. Was it because there was more speeding? No, it was because there was more enforcement (to increase revenue during the recession). If the IRS is catching more tax cheats, is it because more folks are cheating or is it because they've added more auditors to their staff?

    5. I am afraid, 5:25, that you fail to understand the term BOBfan, which we coined some time ago. If you understood it, you would have written your sentence this way.

      "All critiques of Rachel Maddow are valid if voiced by the OTB."

      One true mark of a BOBfan is to assert that someone who finds fault with BOB automatically thinks everything BOB writes about others is wrong.


  3. Unfortunately for anon 5:25, Bob has rather heavily cherry-picked and slanted the data here. Obviously, as noted, the population of the state messes with the per capita numbers a lot. Among large states (over 8 million), according to the New York Times chart in the linked article, New Jersey ties with Ohio for the highest number of convictions over the ten year period per million residents. Only Illinois, Florida and Pennsylvania are at all close to that, while Texas and California are far lower. (The per capita numbers shown in another chart do not jibe with the totals in the first chart, which have the advantage of being from a stated period of time.)

    1. Is 10 mayors (at least) in 15 years high? Extrapolating on a per capita basis, we would have expected about 340 convictions over that period. Guess Wikipoedia has a long way to go for a comprehensive national list if New Jersey's level of public corruption at the mayoral level is not out the ordinary.

    2. Whoops, I somehow dropped a second paragraph from the first comment. Wikipedia lists 42 mayors nationwide convicted for corruption on federal charges since 1965. It is obviously uncertain how comprehensive the list is, but that said, 16 of them are from New Jersey.

    3. Well done, UL. I might add that it's pretty difficult to get the evidence and convict a corrupt pubic official. Although only 16 were convicted, I'd guess the true number of corrupt public officials in NJ has been much, much higher.

      Incidentally, it would be interesting to perform Bob's type of analysis on business and corporate corruption. Sixteen corruption convictions from 566 municipalities over 15 years is a fairly small percentage. However, given the huge number of businesses in this country, I'd guess that the rate of corporate corruption convictions has been much lower.

  4. Number of convicted officials is meaningless as is per capita convictions. Neither measure the severity of the crime against the public or punishment of the official. I suggested number of years sentenced as a variable.

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