Wally's Whoppers: A Heads Up to All 2008 Candidates
Founded in 2000, politicsnj.com purports to be an online version of a statewide political newspaper. Yet it falls far short in that its writers, led by editor Wally Edge, who writes only under a pseudonym, have no journalistic ethics to speak of and are content to run their site in the spirit of tabloids such as The National Enquirer.
I know this from personal experience because of the hatchet job politicsnj.com did on the Highland Park mayoral campaign on which I worked. In compiling his "best and worst campaigns of 2007," Wally Edge never bothered to check the facts, wrote statements that could be considered borderline libelous, and refused to print any correction when confronted with his error.
Here is, verbatim, the trash journalism politicsnj.com seeks to pass off as “news.”
Under “Worst Campaigns of 2007,” Wally Edge opines:
7. Nancy Wolf for Mayor
(Democrat, Highland Park)
“The Laurel Kornfeld-led primary challenge to Mayor Meryl Frank was more like a scene out of ‘Fatal Attraction’ than a real campaign.”
As a journalist myself, I can easily say I’ve almost never read a single sentence that contained so many factual errors and outright lies.
To start with, the Wolf campaign should not have been in the “Worst Campaigns” list. A campaign that receives a respectable 45 percent of the vote and is not tainted with scandal or corruption does not deserve this designation. There were plenty of campaigns during 2007 with far worse showings and questionable tactics to boot. This designation only confirms an eight-year pro-Frank bias on the part of politicsnj.com, a bias that has surfaced over and over again in its coverage of Highland Park politics.
Then we come to the libelous part. First, I did not “lead” the campaign. I worked as a writer and researcher and did public outreach, but I was not a decision maker. Wally Edge could have easily verified this by taking the time to look at the campaign’s Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) report, but he never bothered to do so. If he had, he would have seen the name of the real campaign manager and found my name only under the list of donors. Checking one's facts is an integral part of being a responsible journalist.
Even worse is the “Fatal Attraction” reference. Here Wally is referencing a March 2007 police report filed by Frank claiming I was copying her hairstyle and grooming and making other, more serious false accusations against me. I was the one who went to The Star Ledger with the story because it was so outrageous. In a March 27, 2007 Star Ledger article, I made clear that none of the hideous accusations Frank made against me were true. Yes, the story became a laughingstock on News 12, WINS in New York and even NPR’s “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me,” but it was Frank who was the butt of the jokes.
In typical tabloid style, Wally Edge conveniently forgets that everyone is innocent until proven guilty of a crime in a court of law. Even though I was the victim of a false police report intended solely to intimidate me out of challenging Frank in the mayoral race, Wally Edge instead chose to use a highly defamatory reference to make me sound like a stalker instead of a political opponent.
Libel standards are much harder to prove for public figures, and having been a candidate for public office, I am considered a public figure. However, Wally Edge’s single sentence meets all three criteria for libel even against a public figure—it is false; it is defamatory, and it shows reckless disregard for the truth.
Long ago having stopped being a regular reader of politicsnj.com, I was unaware of any of this until sometime in March. As soon as I read it, I emailed Wally and told him that his statement about me leading the campaign was not true. He insisted that he “stands by the story” and refused to print any retraction or correction even though I, a first hand source, told him he was wrong.
He then went on to make a big deal about the fact that three months had passed, so the issue was moot and no longer relevant. In back and forth emails, his main defense was repeating the question, “why do you care after three months?” as if it’s okay to stick with a lie just because some time has passed.
It doesn’t matter if three months, three years, or three decades had gone by. A lie is still a lie, and any journalist worth his salt would acknowledge the error or at least check the documentation in the ELEC reports to find out if a mistake was made. Why do people seek exoneration of those wrongly convicted of crimes even after decades have passed, sometimes even after the accused is no longer living? The truth does not change with the passage of time, unless you’re writing to the standards of The National Enquirer, The Weekly World News or Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984.
Interestingly, while politicsnj.com started as a grassroots effort, about two years ago, it was purchased by Jared Kushner, the son of Charles Kushner, the McGreevey financier and developer who went to jail on charges of tax violations and witness tampering. For those who may not remember, Kushner is the one who financially supported the hiring of Golan Cipel by McGreevey. Cipel allegedly had a personal relationship with McGreevey and allegedly used it to blackmail him, resulting in McGreevey’s resignation. Kushner’s witness tampering involved the hiring of a prostitute in another blackmail scheme.
Jared is not responsible for the actions of his father; however, the significance here is that politicsnj.com is owned by a real estate developer. Jared has stayed in the real estate business and is engaged to Ivanka Trump, the daughter of developer Donald Trump.
In this state, where most of the political establishment is tied to big developers and their politically connected network of contractors, law firms, planners, engineers, etc., where the majority of elected officials have received campaign dollars from developers, it is not surprising that a developer like Jared Kushner would want to control an online “newspaper,” which he could easily use to spin all coverage toward developer friendly political candidates.
Both Wolf in 2007 and I in my 2005 council race opposed high density development in town, any use of eminent domain, and the philosophy of “new urbanism.” It is natural, then, that a developer-owned medium like politicsnj.com would put its clout behind our opponents, who publicly expressed their support for higher density commercial and residential development numerous times. It makes sense that a Kushner-owned site with connections to Donald Trump would want to discredit genuinely green candidates who want to preserve the small town feel of our community and cannot be bought at any price.
On this anniversary of politicsnj.com’s yellow journalism, I as someone who has been “burned,” hope to warn any candidates of the past year, especially those who ran against the developer-backed political machine, to be prepared to find your efforts distorted, even portrayed with outright lies, in politicsnj.com’s New Year’s edition set to be published on December 30.
But here is another message to potential victims of this junk that passes for journalism: even if you see your campaign illustrated in a whopper bigger than anything Burger King has to offer, don’t let it stop you from continuing to participate in the democratic process in the year to come. It’s past time for the developer-run political machine to be exposed as the corrupt system it is and replaced with a true democracy of, by, and for the people of this state.