Tuesday, March 3, 2015

For 2nd day in row, front page has readers stifling yawns

A rare sight in Hackensack: Delivery of home-heating oil.
On Monday morning, a woman was clearing snow in front of a church on Summit Avenue in Hackensack.



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

All this Page 1 coverage today and Monday of new state tests has readers wondering whether Editor Martin Gottlieb's grand kids live and attend school in North Jersey.

What yawners, not to mention the story on Girl Scout merchandising deals at the bottom of today's front page (A-1).

Gottlieb ran not one, but two favorable columns about Governor Christie on Monday's A-1. 

Today, Christie's controversial choice for the Pinelands Commission and a proposed pipeline seem like an afterthought (A-1).

In an editorial on A-8 today, Editorial Page Editor Alfred P. Doblin can't even muster strong criticism of Christie for balancing his budgets with money won in court battles with polluters.

"This misguided maneuver keeps money from being used for its intended purpose: eradicating pollution [italics added]." 

What a genius that Doblin is.

The only item of real interest on Page 1 today is a brief about U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, 78, a Maryland Democrat who says she is shifting her focus from "raising money" for another election campaign to "raising hell" (A-1).

Hah. 

Compare that with all of the stories Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson has written about the so-called war chests of special interest money that have kept Rep. Scott Garrett, a conservative crackpot from Wantage, in office.

In fact, Jackson's stories, which rarely focus on issues, feed voter apathy, another factor in Garrett's success in an overwhelmingly liberal 5th District.

Hackensack news?

Despite all the snow we've gotten, head Assignment Editors Deirdre Sykes and her deputy, Dan Sforza, continue to enforce a drought on Hackensack news (Local section today and Monday).

They might protest, pointing to a story on L-2 today, reporting a Paterson school administrator is taking a job in Hackensack.

Targeting pedestrians

Reporter John Cichowski has sunk to a new journalistic low by putting a target on every pedestrian.

In his Sunday column, the irresponsible Road Warrior columnist actually quoted a maniacal driver claiming:

"At least once a week, I resist the urge to hit a pedestrian because he decides to cross at the last minute in front of me."

In the same column, Cichowski continues to struggle for accuracy in citing data from studies, one of his favorite ways of filling space:

He reported that "most states" showed a drop in pedestrian deaths, but the study he cited reflected an improvement in only 24 of the 50 states.

Seventy-five pedestrians were killed in the first half of 2014 in New Jersey, not the 74 cited by the confused Cichowski.

Etc. Etc.

See the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers:

Road Warrior 'jerks off' readers with more errors

The Record continues to publish one inaccurate Road Warrior column after the other, because none of the editors are doing their jobs of providing checks and balances on a reporter who clearly has lost his mind.

At the end of the line is six-figure Production Editor Liz Houlton, supervisor of the news and copy desks, who continues to laugh all the way to the bank.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Judge rules Van Lenten, 4 others never defrauded NJMG

The Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, where Superior Court Judge Robert C. Wilson dismissed a lawsuit filed by North Jersey Media Group, publisher of The Record, against a former executive.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

In a 40-page decision, a Superior Court judge in Hackensack ruled North Jersey Media Group's fraud allegations against former executive Peter Van Lenten Jr. and four other defendants were completely without merit.

"The lawsuit is clearly an example of 'buyer's remorse,'" Judge Robert C. Wilson wrote, dismissing NJMG's interpretation of New Jersey laws.

"At its core, this case is plaintiff's retrospective analysis of its business relationship with the defendants."

In addition to the estate of Van Lenten, NJMG vice president of information technology until April 2009, other defendants were vendors IC System Solutions and Computer Network Solutions; and ICSS executives Philip Nolan and Nancy Nolan.

The suit claimed NJMG, publisher of The Record, paid more than $2 million "on false/and or inflated invoices" from 2001 to 2009, and an additional $1 million for temporary workers hired at "greatly inflated charges."

Sour grapes

"NJMG now 'feels' that it engaged in some poor business transactions ... and belatedly seeks reimbursement from the defendants," the judge noted in his ruling, which was filed on Feb. 18.

"The law ... does not provide a right to institute legal proceedings against your deceased ... employee [Van Lenten died in April 2010] by simply claiming fraud without any actual proof.

"NJMG had a duty to have internal financial and management controls to avoid such a claimed calamity." 

"There are no facts demonstrating fraud by any of the defendants," the judge said, granting summary judgment and dismissing NJMG's suit with prejudice, meaning  it can never be brought back to court.

Borg, Samaro et al

Left unanswered is why NJMG Vice President/ General Counsel Jennifer A. Borg, Pashman Stein attorney Samuel J. Samaro and other hired guns from the Hackensack law firm pursued the litigation for nearly two years.

In effect, Borg squandered legal fees that could total hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and that's on top of the $3 million "fraud" alleged in the baseless suit.

The costly, embarrassing miscalculation exposes NJMG's longtime practice of closely monitoring the computers and telephones of employees in the newsroom, but not paying any attention to what its executives are doing.

A glaring example was the sexual-harassment suit filed against Jennifer Borg's father, NJMG Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg, by Tracey McCain, who worked for Van Lenten and whose duties included reading his emails.

That case, which alleged the elder Borg sent emails containing pornography to Van Lenten and other managers and supervisors, was settled in September 2011 for an undisclosed amount of money.

570 days of discovery

Judge Wilson noted that about 18,000 pages of discovery (sworn testimony and other evidence) were exchanged "over the course of five hundred and seventy days," ending on Dec. 14, 2014.

In addition, about 200 statements of fact were filed.

Defendants ICSS and CNS were IT vendors who did business with NJMG from 2001-09.

Security cameras

One project was the installation of 18 security cameras at NJMG's printing plant in Rockaway Township at a cost of nearly $282,000.

The judge noted Van Lenten was not required to seek "competitive proposals" as vice president of IT.

The vendors also sold NJMG annual maintenance contracts for the cameras "at $33,000 a year." 

In a certification filed with the court, NJMG Facilities Manager Frank Devetori "belatedly" testified he could account for only nine of the 18 cameras, and that maintenance was never performed.

Document software

NJMG also purchased LibertyNet, a document management software, for $84,800, but decided not to use it in the Human Resources Department as planned.

ICSS made a profit of about 600% on the sale of LibertyNet, the judge noted.

And even though the software was never used, ICSS submitted three invoices for maintenance, "each totaling in excess of $11,000."

ICSS also billed NJMG more than $70,000 a year from 2005-08 for a service called "NOC" to detect "security intrusions" into the publishing company's computer network.

NOC was provided by the other vendor, CNS, which installed two machines at $15,000 to $20,000 each, the judge said, but NJMG claimed it "simply did not need or use" the service. 

These and other monitoring and maintenance services cost NJMG more than $170,000 a year, "and now NJMG claims they were never needed or used, in spite of the fact that NJMG was freely paying for them," Wilson wrote. 

There's more

Judge Wilson also said Van Lenten sought to upgrade NJMG's email system to a platform known as Microsoft 2007.

But the contract for $477,900 was awarded to CNS "without competitive bidding, price negotiation or comparison shopping" ... "and the system never got past Microsoft 2003."

Jon Markey

The judge noted Van Lenten was introduced to Philip Nolan of ICSS by Jon Markey, former NJMG president.

When he ascended to NJMG's throne, Stephen A. Borg took the titles of publisher and president, replacing both his father and Markey.

Today's paper

Check out the faces of greedy Weichert real estate agents in an ad wrapped around Page 1 of The Record today.

The actual front page isn't much better.

Burned-out columnist Mike Kelly again hijacks improved relations with Cuba by dredging up events dating to 1998 (A-1).

Kelly's thumbnail photo, complete with shit-eating grin, also appears on the Opinion front, where he has another boring column about a book he wrote (O-1).

How many columns is the man going to write about Joanne Chesimard, and the suicide bombing that killed Sarah Duker of Teaneck in 1996?

Staff Writer Melissa Hayes declares Governor Christie "laid out his dramatic plans" to rescue the state employee pension and health benefit system he tried to destroy in 2011.

How can you trust a so-called Analysis from a reporter who follows him around like a puppy?

At least an editorial on O-2 criticizes Christie for his broken promises, and a Margulies cartoon sums up the pension mess nicely.

Blaming the victim

Some pedestrians seem to have a death wish, but nothing they do eclipses mean-spirited drivers, especially those who run them down in crosswalks.

Today, Road Warrior John Cichowski channels drivers who blame the victim -- the pedestrians themselves (L-1).

The demented reporter seems not to have noticed New York City is now filing criminal charges against drivers who hit pedestrians in crosswalks.

He should be asking why New Jersey isn't doing the same.

Six-figure head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes came up short on local news for today's Sunday section, and a layout editor had to resort to filling the yawning hole with a long wire-service obituary (L-6).



Saturday, February 28, 2015

More really bad news for commuters, state environment

Removing winter's grime at a hand car wash on Route 4 in Englewood.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The Record's story today on former reporter Michael Drewniak, who just left his damage-control job with Governor Christie, surely will have you hurling at the breakfast table.

In his inimitable style, Drewniak (rhymes with "maniac") managed the news by confirming on Tuesday he was leaving as Christie's chief spokesman, but not saying he was taking a six-figure job at NJ Transit, the state mass-transit agency (A-3).

Staff Writer Christopher Maag, the paper's chief transportation writer, doesn't even attempt to explain why Drewniak is qualified for "a newly created position ..., overseeing policy, strategic planning, technology, safety and capacity for all bus and train services," according to an NJ Transit press release on Friday.

As Christie's mouthpiece since 2002, what does Drewniak know about mass transit after spending all his time riding in enormous SUVs driven by federal marshals or state troopers?

Stonewalling

Nor does Maag say how Drewniak's annual salary of $147,400 as NJ Transit's "chief of policy and strategic planning" compares to what he made working in the Governor's Office.

Christie got his money's worth when Drewniak helped stonewall the media and officials investigating the politically inspired George Washington Bridge lane closures.

Drewniak also defended the GOP bully's decision to kill the Hudson River tunnels in October 2010, denying NJ Transit rail commuters more rush-hour seats into the city.

And he stood by the governor when Christie snatched hundreds of millions in leftover tunnel money to fix New Jersey roads and bridges, rather than raise the gasoline tax. 

Funding crisis

The governor's refusal to raise that tax then and now means the state's Transportation Trust Fund for repairing roads and bridges, and improving mass transit, may run our of money in a few months.

Finally, Drewniak bears an uncanny resemblance to the former editor of The Record, Francis "Frank" Scandale, who presided over a drastic reduction in local-news coverage in more than a decade of running the Hackensack newsroom.

Publisher Stephen A. Borg showed Scandale the door on Halloween 2011, two days after a snowstorm paralyzed North Jersey. 

Scandale was blamed for The Record's pathetically weak coverage of the storm by a skeleton weekend crew.

Christie sellout

The Christie administration reportedly is putting the fossil fuel industry and the governor's White House ambitions ahead of the environment by settling an $8.9 billion lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for only $250 million (A-1).

The Record reports Christie, while he was chairman, raised nearly $18 million for the Republican Governors Association from the oil, gas and utilities industries in the first nine months of 2014 (A-8).

An in-house Exxon attorney also donated a total of $3,200 to the RGA.

The Woodland Park daily doesn't explain how it was scooped by The New York Times on settlement of the suit over pollution at the Bayway Refinery in Linden and another site in Bayonne.

Tennis, anyone?

Today's feature on the 30th anniversary of the law mandating wearing of seat belts in New Jersey seems an odd choice for the Better Living cover (BL-1).

Odder still is the byline, freelancer Neil Amdur, a former New York Times sports reporter who may know Martin Gottlieb, The Record's editor and himself a former Timesman. 

Bloomberg.com lists Amdur as editor-in-chief of Tennis Week magazine.

Bob Simon

Amdur reports Bob Simon, the veteran CBS newsman, was unbuckled and became "a back-seat bullet" when his limo crashed in Manhattan on Feb. 12. Simon died of his injuries.

Contrast that with reporting by Staff Writer John Cichowski, who used his Road Warrior column to contrive an elaborate scenario in which Simon would have survived, if only the Lincoln Town Car he was riding in had rear side curtain airbags.

What nonsense, but typical of Cichowski's hype, exaggeration, distortion and clearly inaccurate reporting in more than a decade of writing the column.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Christie -- the consummate bullshitter -- is hitting his stride

Winter green in Hackensack. Meanwhile, weeks after the first major snowfall, several NJ Transit bus stops on Summit and Prospect avenues still haven't been cleared, forcing riders to stand on the pavement or follow a well-worn path of packed snow to the curb.



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Governor Christie explains his obnoxious personality this way:

"I care about fighting for people I represent," he told a questioner at a conservative convention in Maryland on Thursday.

But The Record's Page 1 story today, written by Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson, never identifies those "people" (A-1 and A-6).

The GOP bully must mean all those New Jersey millionaires -- including the Borgs, who own The Record -- he has repeatedly spared from a tax surcharge despite the state' massive financial problems.

Christie must mean real estate mogul Jon F. Hanson, one of his biggest fund-raisers and a close friend of North Jersey Media Group Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg.

And hasn't he screwed -- rather than represent -- the middle class in New Jersey by under-funding the state's public employee pension system, cutting homeowner rebates and killing the Hudson River rail tunnels, among other mean-spirited decisions?

In fact, his travel schedule is keeping Christie out of the state he professes to represent:

"On Thursday night, he was scheduled to hold a fundraiser in Richmond, Va. ... Today, he has fundraisers in Newport Beach, Calif., and San Francisco, followed by several events in Sacramento, Calif., on Saturday" (A-6).

Another big lie

In Maryland, Christie also was caught in a lie when he boasted of repeatedly vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood health services, "something he'd previously said was solely for budgetary reasons, because women had other health options available" (A-6).

Also on Page 1 today is more great publicity for Avalon Bay's cheap wood construction at the Edgewater apartment complex hit by a fast-moving fire on Jan. 21.

Staff Writer Linh Tat relates chilling passages from Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson's post-fire report, obtained through a public-records request (A-1).

Ferriero trial

When I glanced at today's lead A-1 story on the federal trial of Joseph A. Ferriero and saw Columnist Mike Kelly's thumbnail photo -- complete with shit-eating grin -- I thought Editor Martin Gottlieb had gone completely off his rocker.

Why play Kelly's overly long, boring column about the trial on Page 1? 

But that was just telling readers his column is on A-6. Confusing.

In the news story from Staff Writer Peter J. Sampson, the first three paragraphs sum up opening statements from the prosecutor and the defense attorney for the former leader of the Bergen County Democratic Party (A-1).

Basically, jurors will have to decide whether Ferriero abused his position and lined his pockets "with hundreds of thousands of dollars through a series of bribery, extortion and fraud schemes," according to the prosecutor (A-1).

Then, readers who bother with Kelly's column will find many of the same quotes duplicated there, and not much else besides a bunch of rhetorical questions, including, "Who is the real Joe Ferriero?"

What a waste of space.

There isn't much suspense here. Ferriero was convicted of a federal mail-fraud charge at a 2009 trial, but that verdict was set aside on a technicality.

Hackensack news?

The Record didn't bother covering this week's Hackensack City Council meeting, but a two hour-plus video is available on YouTube:

Feb. 24 meeting of the Hackensack City Council

I guess Staff Writer Todd South, who was assigned to the city, has gone south.

South covered two fires in Palisades Park for today's paper (L-3).

He also wrote a single paragraph on a Route 287 fatality near Mahwah, but the cause of the crash and name of the victim doesn't appear (L-2).

L-3 also carries two drive-by accident photos with no hint of what caused one car, driven by an elderly man, to sideswipe a parked Porsche and turn over in Dumont, or what led to a van and tractor-trailer to crash on Route 17 north in Upper Saddle River.

Crappy steaks

If you're a steakhouse owner who serves dry aged steaks -- even those raised on harmful antibiotics and growth hormones -- you can charge an arm and a leg, and still have Elisa Ung in your corner.

Prime Steakhouse in Washington Township sounds dreadful, and doesn't deserve the 2 stars she bestows on it in today's review (BL-12).

She claims Prime Steakhouse is "dead serious about its beef."

That doesn't mean the beef was grass fed and raised free of additives. It just means all of the beef is graded "prime."

She defines prime as "most marbled and thus most succulent," but doesn't tell you "marbeled" is a polite way of saying that grade also has the most artery clogging fat.

A porterhouse steak for four is an outrageous $172.95.