Monday, December 13, 2010

Royal screwing is complete

Unbalanced scales2Image via Wikipedia

The Record again today devotes most of the front page to beating a dead horse -- mourning the measly settlement of the suit against Ford Motor Co. for massive pollution of a close-knit North Jersey neighborhood, just as residents have mourned those whose deaths are linked to the dumping.

Even the main headline is awkward: "Victory is not here." As in, "Journalism is not here."

Did anyone really expect another outcome? 

The Ringwood residents -- a mix of Dutch, black and Indian blood -- were long derided as "Jackson Whites." The federal government denied them status as an Indian tribe, though they call themselves the Ramapough Mountain People or Ramapough Mountain Indians. 

And, now, a bunch of lawyers completes the royal screwing by settling for a paltry $12.5 million, divided among 633 current and former residents, even though their neighborhood today is one big  Superfund site.

The lawyers, from the Robert F. Kennedy and Johnny Cochran firms, took $2.3 million of the settlement for themselves.

After publishing the huge "Toxic Legacy" series in 2005 and failing to win a Pulitzer Prize, Editor Francis Scandale, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes and their staff lost interest in the Upper Ringwood residents. When rumors of a small, $10 million settlement surfaced in 2009, the paper's Editorial Page was quick to urge them to accept it and move on.

In fact, I don't even recall the paper covering residents picking up their small settlement checks in November at a Mahwah hotel, near where Ford built cars for many years and generated the toxic sludge dumped in Ringwood. Have Scandale, Sykes and the others managed this story for maximum impact?

Despite the thousands of words published Sunday and today, lead reporter Mary Jo Layton has left important questions unanswered:

  • Why didn't these high-profile lawyers reject the small settlement and bring the residents' case before a jury?
  • Why didn't the lawyers hire financial experts to see through talk of Ford's bankruptcy while settlement talks were going on in 2008 and 2009? Ford, the healthiest of the Big Three automakers, rejected a government bailout and now is highly profitable.
  • As a Record reporter covering Ringwood, I wrote about Ford's dumping as early as 1979. Why did The Record wait almost 25 years to investigate?

Look inward

An editorial on A-13 applauds Congress for acting to improve nutrition and the quality of food in schools, including meal subsidies for more poor children, as obesity rates rise. 

But The Record's own editors have refused to acknowledge their own dysfunctional relationship with food. 

The paper had never launched a project on the obesity epidemic, but on its food pages, writers celebrate the consumption of cakes, cookies and other desserts, and ignore whether the food they promote was raised or grown naturally.

Local news

In municipal news, two police captains retire here, a librarian steps down there. And a high school offers a special creative writing course. See Local.

Ex-staffer sighted

I saw Tom Topousis, who was a reporter at The Record in the 1990s, waiting in line with his son Saturday evening at Smashburger in Hackensack. He now is a reporter at the New York Post.

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    1 comment:

    1. There was a story within a story here that the Record never touched on; the local sanitation companies that Ford hired to dump this crap in Ringwood and Southern NY State.


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