Friday, October 1, 2010

Investigative team plays catch-up

The Bergen County courthouse in Bergen County,...Image via Wikipedia

Last November, a team of reporters published the results of a nearly three-year investigation of Michael Mordaga, former chief of detectives in the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office. But the findings were so weak -- despite the stewardship of head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes -- Mordaga's name didn't appear in the lead paragraph.

And despite what I'd imagine was pleading, begging and cajoling, Sykes couldn't get the story on Page 1 of The Record of Woodland Park to justify the expenditure of an estimated $500,000 in staff salaries. To make matters worse, the story described an alleged conflict that had ended nearly two years before.

Now, these same reporters -- Jean Rimbach, Shawn Boburg and Monsy Alvarado, who has severely neglected her coverage of Hackensack -- are playing catch-up, but they have to rely on raw, untested allegations in a civil lawsuit, as detailed in a Page 1 story today that claims Mordaga had a "personal and business relationship" with a reputed mobster more than three years ago.

This story is part of a pattern that exposes the paper's inability to uncover wrongdoing while it is going on. The reputed mobster died in 2007.

The front page is dominated by second-day coverage of a Ridgewood teen's suicide, with some powerful comments by Governor Christie. The two dorm mates accused of goading their fellow Rutgers student into jumping off the George Washington Bridge continue to hide behind the "no comments" of their lawyers. 

Today's story also quietly corrects the lead paragraph of Thursday's A-1 story, which misquoted Tyler Clementi's Facebook message about jumping off the bridge Sept 22. The suicides of Clementi and, two days later, of Chef Joseph Cerniglia call into question whether the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey should immediately release information about jumpers.

Sykes has a terrific Local news section for readers today, though you won't find any municipal news from Hackensack, Englewood or Teaneck. nor any discussion of whether the first two should follow Teaneck's example and merge Police and Fire Departments, at a projected annual savings of $250,000.

The major story on the front of the section is about a former cop who used a "wooden board" to prevent his girlfriend from leaving his apartment in South Hackensack. There is a lot more crime and court news inside the section, too.

Has cost-cutting by Features Director Barbara Jaeger started to effect the restaurant reviews? In today's review of La'Ziza in Clifton, Elisa Ung appears to have sampled only three or four entrees in two visits to the Lebanese restaurant, and somehow missed one of the best -- fried whole whiting (ask them to hold the fried pocket bread that comes with it). 

Most newspapers allow the reviewer to invite three others to visit a restaurant twice, so as many dishes as possible can be sampled. It looks like Ung was accompanied by only one other person, a co-worker who is part Lebanese. Was that Charles Saydah, the letters editor?

Ung also appears to be unfamiliar with Middle Eastern food and nomenclature. "Pita" is the Israeli word for the pocket bread eaten by Syrians, Lebanese and so forth. The word "kibbeh" and "balls" should never appear together, as they do in her review. It's just kibbeh, which are meatballs in various sizes and shapes, made of varying ingredients, such as meat and bulgur (wheat).

Did you see the lavishly promotional Star-Ledger story carried on the front of The Record's Business section on Wednesday about the Tata conglomerate from India? Reporter Joseph R. Perone quotes one of Tata's mucky mucks as saying, "We see ourselves as servants of society."

What a joke. Perone, who once covered the automobile industry, knows full well that Tata sells tens of thousands of Land Rover and Jaguar motor vehicles -- some of the worst gas-guzzlers around.

(Photo: Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack)

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  1. Ung provides us with another gem. I say just relieve her of her duties and use the space her trainwrecks used to be published for advertisements for local restaurants.

  2. The popular blog "Eye on the Eye on the Record" wonders: Did this reputed mobster die a natural death, or was he, shall we say, whacked?

  3. Chuck:

    I'm having trouble opening your e-mail on this topic. Can you re-send? Been having a lot of difficulty with hotmail in past week. Anybody else?

  4. Victor, I just sent you an email. I too have had some Hotmail difficulty the past couple weeks.

  5. Thanks, Chuck. I'm glad I'm not the only one who is having trouble with Hotmail. Often, I can't connect to Hotmail or the message just won't open, and the problems come and go.


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