Friday, December 19, 2014

Today's paper ranges from the boring to the scandalous

What's the explanation for this complaining sign from riders of NJ Transit's No. 165 bus in view of a recent story in The Record, reporting that rush-hour delays have eased for commuters leaving the Port Authority Bus Terminal for Bergen County? I saw the sign on Tuesday afternoon on Platform 232, where I caught the 165 Turnpike Express back to Hackensack.

Earlier Tuesday, while I was waiting for the 165 Turnpike Express to the city, I saw this SUV leave the parking lot of the 7-Eleven on Main Street in Hackensack and drive through the red light. The intersection doesn't have a red-light camera.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The most important story on Page 1 of The Record today carries a headline that is an instant turn-off to many readers:


Assessing the damage
to Berry's Creek

How boring. The real news is in the smaller sub-headline: 

Chemical, oil and other companies "will be asked to pay" for restoration of habit and replacement of lost natural resources (A-1 and A-4).

Still, that's not very riveting for the front page, but the rest of the A-1 stories aren't much better.

The off-lead is about Medicare penalizing Hackensack University Medical Center and other hospitals "for hospital errors and infections" (A-1).

Shame on Staff Writer Lindy Washburn for using "Obamacare," which has become a conservative curse word for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Are readers worried about the free-speech implications of threats that prompted Sony to pull some goofy movie with a sinister message from theaters (A-1)?

And check out the story's bewildering introduction under the byline of Jim Beckerman. What is he trying to say, with a reference to Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., and blah, blah, blah?

Cuba coverage

Everyone except Staff Writer John Petrick knows Cuban cigars, especially those made totally by hand, are the world standard.

So, what is the explanation for the scandalous story leading the Local front today, quoting a Ridgewood cigar salesman who offers mere imitations (L-1)?

Gary Kolesaire claims the only reason Cuban cigars are desirable is that they're illegal in the United States. That's just sour grapes.

Until 2004, when U.S. regulations changed, American journalists were among the privileged few who were allowed to bring home those forbidden Cuban cigars.

Little crime, drugs

A package of Cuba stories from the wire services appears on A-11 today as part of the follow-up to President Obama's announcement that the U.S. will resume diplomatic relations with the island.

"Some fear ... that crime and drugs, both rare in Cuba, will become common along with visitors from the United States," according to The Associated Press story from Havana.

What a condemnation of America's gun- and drug-loving society. 

For decades, Cuban music, food and art, along with mile after mile of beaches and the charms of Old Havana, have lured tens of thousands of tourists from Canada, Europe and Japan, without affecting crime and drug use.

Cuban restaurant

Better Living would seem to have a timely review of Rebecca's, a Cuban restaurant in Edgewater that has a new owner (BL-18).

But Staff Writer Elisa Ung makes absolutely no reference to the easing of relations with Cuba.

I ate at the original Rebecca's many years ago, but won't be returning for the privilege of paying $30 for a red snapper special that Ung liked.

Another dish she liked was guacamole, which is Mexican, with plantain chips!

I'll stick with Casual Habana Cafe on Main Street in Hackensack for Cuban fare, and if I want guacamole, I'll head for Rosa Mexicano.

Deceptive advertising

I rarely look at the Open House real estate advertising section that is inserted in The Record on Fridays, but the lead promotion on an Englewood development caught my eye today.

The headline:

Homebuyers drawn to city centers 
-- The M measures up in Englewood

The text and photo captions actually claim the condo building "borders" the small city's downtown or is located downtown.

But the buildings are only a couple of blocks from Route 4 and more than a half-mile from Palisade Avenue, the main shopping street.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Editors are covering Cuba with the same tired old eyes

In a 2004 photo, a Havana resident standing near a beautifully restored 1956 Chevy in a parking lot off of Calle Carlos III.
Belarmino Rico, left, and son Joseph carving roast pork for Cuban sandwiches at La Pola, a busy West New York cafe. The elder Rico's crispy sandwiches, moistened with a garlic sauce, have earned him the title of "King of the Cuban Sandwich."



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

U.S.-Cuba relations may be improving, but little has changed in the way The Record's cynical editors are covering the story.

A large photo on Page 1 today shows jubilant residents of Havana after President Obama announced the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Still, Editor Marty Gottlieb managed to find an 82-year-old hag who vows not to return to the island she left in 1965 until Fidel Castro dies (A-1 and A-10).

Ana Pulido Nordelo is the same type of hard-liner The Record has been quoting prominently in Cuba stories for ages. 

The photo of a moderate should have been used on the front page and his or her quotes are the ones that should be leading the local Cuban-American reaction story on A-10 today.

Exile coverage

Today's coverage is only slightly better than when The Record assigned reporters Miguel Perez and Liz Llorente, who were rabid anti-Castro Cuban exiles, to every major story about the island.

In one of her stories, Llorente even referred to Cuba as "tiny," apparently unaware that it is, in fact, more than 775 miles long and the biggest island in the Caribbean.

7 trips to Cuba

When I was working at The Record, I made seven trips to Cuba as a journalist.

I was the first staffer to write a Travel section cover piece, "Many faces of Cuba," published on March 26, 2000, after two years of resistance from then-Editor Glenn Ritt.

I followed that with two Food section cover stories on Cuban cooking, including one on the best Cuban sandwich in North Jersey that appeared on Feb. 26, 2003.

My story followed a New York Times story that focused exclusively on Cuban sandwiches in Miami.

Little crime

On my trips to Cuba, I found an island with little violent crime and no drug problem, and one where school shootings were unheard of.

I recall walking all over Havana at night without fear, even when frequent blackouts plunged streets into darkness. 

I would never do that in Manhattan or even my native Brooklyn. 

Before the 1959 revolution condemned by so many in the exile community, wealth was concentrated in the hands of a white ruling class, farmers were not allowed to own the land they worked and rural areas had no schools or medical clinics.

Of course, you never read any of this in The Record or other media, which continued to demonize Fidel Castro even after the United States climbed into bed economically with two other hard-line communist countries, Vietnam and China.

Also on Page 1

The only angle chief word pusher Mike Kelly could find to explore is Joanne Chesimard, who escaped to Cuba after she was convicted of the 1973 murder of a New Jersey state trooper (A-1).

Of course, Kelly can't even manage to craft a logical lead paragraph:

First, he has "animosity between the United States and Cuba seemed to thaw" followed by "another old and painful memory in New Jersey heated up."

"Thaw" and "heated up" are basically the same thing. The contrast he intended isn't there. 

You're left to stare at the shit-eating grin in his photo, and wonder if Kelly is showing any sign of brain activity.

After New Jersey's disappointing experience with casinos in Atlantic City, why would any resident who is not a gambling addict approve games of chance in North Jersey (A-1)?

Check out the three embarrassing corrections on A-2 today -- no surprise with six-figure Editor Liz Houlton in charge of production.

Dog lovers

The lazy assignment editors managed to find another dog-rescue story for the Local front today, following the one on Wednesday (L-1).

What about cat lovers? Don't they deserve to have their heart strings tugged?

Forgive me, but who can feel any sympathy for luxury car owners who allege they were cheated out of many thousands of dollars by a flashy Ramsey auto dealer whose last name rhymes with "con"?

Today's L-1 story reports the FBI is asking for the public's help in finding Bobby Kahn, and the federal agency's phone number appears in the second paragraph.

Give me a break. What kind of crime busters are these?

Tenafly news

Does Tenafly get more coverage than other towns because Publisher Stephen A. Borg lives there?

On L-3 today, a story on the borough's success in luring businesses downtown is unlike anything The Record has reported for Teaneck, Englewood or Hackensack.

Stories on Hackensack focus exclusively on the hopes of officials that apartment development will bring many more residents and potential downtown shoppers and restaurant customers, a strategy that has already failed in Englewood.

'False' post?

A careful reader of Eye on The Record claims my Dec. 10 post was wrong when I reported the younger Borg "moved the printing of The Record and Herald News to a printing plant in Rockaway Township, and ordered a major downsizing of the staff in 2008."

"Mr. Borg played no role in those decisions," the reader says.

The younger Borg became publisher of The Record and Herald News in June 2006, supplanting his father, Chairman Malcolm A. "Mac" Borg.

Stephen Borg was named president of North Jersey Media Group in late 2007.

It's hard to see how, in view of his commanding positions, he  "played no role" in those major decisions.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Here's breathtaking 'local' news you might have missed

News Corp. headquarters on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, newspapers like the New York Post and other media properties here and around the world deliver slanted news every day, not just for the holidays.



By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

The front pages of The Record in the past few days seem to shout: "No news today."

Editor Marty Gottlieb leads today's paper with a political column that poses an unasked question, Which GOP moron do you prefer in the presidential election in 2016?

"Bush" is a four-letter word that only reminds New Jerseyans of the 9/11 attack, the worst recession in memory, and two ruinous wars that killed thousands of Americans, wasted billions of dollars and lined the pockets of the military-industrial complex. (A-1).

Car news?  

How many owners of Mercedes-Benzes know or care where the German automaker's U.S. headquarters are located (A-1)?

Why is this story on Page 1 -- unless it's just another piece of the paper's strategy to cover the biggest advertisers to the exclusion of comprehensive local news?

At the bottom of today's front page, United Airlines and the Port Authority continue their pissing match over what makes flying out of Newark International Airport so expensive (A-1).

Nowhere have I seen any explanation of why my United flight to Jamaica in August didn't even have free music channels.

Brick latkes

If you've been complaining that your mother-in-law's latkes taste like bricks, she might have used a recipe the Better Living section published on Tuesday (BL-1 photo and BL-2 recipe).

An A-2 correction today notes "six eggs" were omitted from the ingredients list by Nina Rizzo, presumably a freelancer. LOL.

That's just another example of careful editing by Food Editor Esther Davidowitz, who betrayed her Jewish heritage by missing this error in a recipe for potato pancakes.

Puff pieces

Also today and every Wednesday, Davidowitz runs press releases from North Jersey restaurants that advertise heavily in the Woodland Park daily (BL-2).

The feature is called "FYI: What's new, what's happening and what's trending in the North Jersey dining scene."

What's trending is that Elisa Ung is rewriting promotional press releases from many of the same restaurants she should be evaluating critically as the paper's chief restaurant reviewer.

Davidowitz's contribution to the Better Living section, Coffee with the Chef, doesn't say which Hackensack Thai restaurant Koson Sillpsitte once worked at (BL-2).

What is the point of this feature, except to further glorify chefs and restaurants? 

In one recent column, a chef recommended salting pasta water "like the ocean," advice that was of little use to anyone, especially people trying to avoid excessive sodium.

Breaking local news

The Local news section today leads with the rescue of a dog from a Fort Lee house fire (L-1).

An accident photo on L-3 shows first responders standing around with their hands in their pockets, and the caption tells you little about the cause or whether a summons was issued.

Tuesday's Local front was dominated by a photo showing the wreckage of a FedEx tractor-trailer on Route 287 in Mahwah, but the story didn't say whether any packages destined for North Jersey residents were damaged or destroyed.

Below that, Staff Photographer Tariq Zehawi came up with yet another filler photo of a non-fatal collision of two vehicles in Emerson (Tuesday's L-1).

Wow! Look at how the hood and bumper of that new SUV came off in the crash! Wow! Look at that fireman with his hands in his pockets!

Another great job by head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes, Deputy Assignment Editor Dan Sforza and their minions.

Elderly drivers

Road Warrior John Cichowski has spent so much time campaigning against life-saving red-light cameras, he has completely ignored the challenges faced by older drivers.

Did he or his lazy, clueless assignment editors see the story on L-2 of Sunday's Local section, reporting that two elderly pedestrians were struck by cars driven by older drivers in separate Fair Lawn incidents on Saturday?

An 82-year-old woman was "severely injured" by a driver "in his 80s" behind the wheel of an enormous Mercury Grand Marquis.

"Ten hours later and a mile away," a 64-year-old man was hit by a car driven by a 71-year-old male.

All four were residents of Fair Lawn, but I haven't seen a follow up on whether the drivers were issued summonses.

Noe does Cichowski seem to care whether retraining or other help is available for older drivers.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Should a journalist side with speeders who run red lights?

Road Warrior John Cichowski of The Record has been writing about red-light cameras for more than three years, but the first paragraph of his column today demonstrates that he completely ignores that kind of driver -- speeders -- who are most likely to blow through lights and cause crashes. The Hackensack intersection shown doesn't have a red-light-running camera.


By VICTOR E. SASSON
EDITOR

Road Warrior John Cichowski claims drivers who pass red lights fail only to "slip through ... while it's still yellow," according to the first paragraph of his column in The Record today.

This is the veteran reporter's third column on red-light cameras this month, in what amounts to a campaign against continuation of New Jersey's 5-year pilot program (L-1).

The program ends at midnight, but many cameras will remain in place. However, violators will no longer be fined $85.

This was hardly the highest fine for a traffic violation, but complainers completely got Cichowski's ear, drowning out the majority -- police chiefs, mayors and other officials who wanted the "safety" program to continue.

Drivers who don't speed and blow through red lights think the fine is a small price for violators to pay to reduce intersection crashes and cut deaths and injuries.

Lives saved?

None of Cichowski's recent columns have reported just how many lives have been saved in the five years of the red-light camera program -- in keeping with his irresponsible journalism on the controversy.

"Right-angle crashes at red lights typically kill 14 to 18 [people] yearly statewide," he reports on L-6 today, without saying if the number has been cut since the program began.

Of course, Cichowski has made so many errors in the more than 11 years he has been writing the Road Warrior column, readers no longer know whether anything he reports is correct.

Crosswalk law

On Nov. 20, he reported incorrectly that one of the "Infuriating Driving Issues of the Day" is that drivers must wait for a pedestrian in a crosswalk to reach the opposite curb.

But there isn't a single crosswalk statute governing that; there are four, depending on the width of  the street, number of lanes and other factors, and drivers don't always have to wait until the pedestrian reaches the other curb.

In that Nov. 20 column, Cichowski also reported pedestrian deaths have fallen since the crosswalk law took effect in 2010.

But "pedestrian deaths for 2014 have already exceeded the final tally for all of 2010, and only fell in one of the previous three years," according to the Facebook page for Road Warrior Bloopers.

See: Infuriating Accuracy Issues of the Day