Sunday, December 20, 2015

Ramapoughs are victims of news media, legal system, too

A 2011 image from CBS2 coverage of Ford Motor Co. pollution in the Upper Ringwood section of Ringwood.

Editor's note: My first beat as a reporter at The Record was covering Ringwood and West Milford. When staffers were researching the "Toxic Legacy" series in 2005, they came across stories I did around 1980 on Ford Motor Co. dumping in abandoned mines.


Mixed-race members of the Native American community living in Ringwood have suffered discrimination throughout history.

But in the past decade, their treatment by the news media -- including The Record -- legal community and public officials is the most despicable.

Today, a 10-year retrospective of the newspaper's "Toxic Legacy" series contains a major error in reporting on a class-action lawsuit against Ford Motor Co. for decades of paint-sludge dumping and the resulting illnesses and death among the Ramapoughs (A-1).

Chump change

Staff Writer Scott Fallon refers to "a $12.5 million award for 633 current and former members -- far less than other pollution cases across the nation" (A-12).

In fact, whatever money the Ramapoughs received -- minus hefty legal fees -- was the result of a settlement, not an "award" from a jury.

Fallon doesn't mention the Ramapoughs' lawyers rushed into the settlement, citing the financial problems of Ford and the other Big 3 automakers during the recession.

Nor does he report The Record's editorial page urged the Ringwood residents to take the deal, and not continue their long struggle for justice.

Checks ranged from $4,368 to  a maximum of $34,594, The Record's Mary Jo Layton reported in December 2010: "How much is a life worth?"

Ford and the lawyers laughed all the way to the bank. Unlike GM and Chrysler, Ford didn't need a bailout from the federal government.

Sloppy editing

The flawed reporting and sloppy editing of today's story on the Ramapoughs have become commonplace at The Record of Woodland Park. 

Another example appeared on Saturday's front page, showing the editors' ignorance of even the most momentous of issues.

Editor Martin Gottlieb or his minions could have crafted a climate-change package out of a large photo of English miners and a story on electric cars in New Jersey (see today's Opinion front).

Instead, the photo appeared by itself, leaving thousands of North Jersey readers wondering what the end of coal mining in England had to do with them.

Just shocking

And the story on the anemic sales of all-electric cars had holes big enough for a Tesla Model S to race through.

Fallon, an environmental reporter, wrote this story, too, and claimed the drawbacks of electric cars are "the limited range and lack of charging stations in New Jersey and elsewhere" (Saturday's A-1).

He never mentions the typical electric car, with a range of 85 to 100 miles, is ideal for the tens of thousands of senior citizens whose daily driving involves food shopping, visiting doctors and volunteering.

And though he reports the sleek, luxurious Model S has a range of more than 200 miles, he doesn't tell readers Tesla is the only manufacturer with a nationwide network of fast, free Superchargers that make long-distance travel a breeze. 

Health-care bias

Saturday's front page also carried the pejorative "Obamacare" in the lead headline when the words "Health care" would have fit and showed objectivity.

And once again, Staff Writer Lindy Washburn forgets to remind readers Governor Christie's refusal to set up a health-care exchange in New Jersey has slowed sign-ups in the Garden State.

GWB probe

The end of the state Legislature's probe of the George Washington Bridge lane-closing scandal isn't Page 1 news (A-1).

Everyone is on the edge of their seats awaiting the identification of "unindicted co-conspirators" during the federal criminal trial of two Christie aides, now set for April.

In the court of public opinion, the GOP bully certainly was involved, despite all the protestations from The Record's editors, columnists, reporters and editorial writers.

Local news

Don't look for much municipal news in today's paper, but you'll find the editors are paying plenty of attention to retailers who are among the paper's biggest advertisers (A-1 and L-1).

Staff Writer John Cichowski continues to scrape the bottom of the barrel for his so-called commuting column with a discussion of short cuts around road construction projects (L-1).

Readers are wondering when the burned-out, error-prone Road Warrior is going to find his own short cut to retirement.

Leonia stands still

On L-3, head Assignment Editor Deirdre Sykes runs another story on Leonia, but has never explored why this town is so poorly run or why officials have downsized the Police Department (L-3).

In August 2014, the lack of an officer directing rush-hour traffic at Broad Avenue and Fort Lee Road, a major intersection, has been cited in the death of Leyla Kan, 60, who was struck in the crosswalk by a small school bus and dragged to her death.  

Nothing has changed.

In today's story, Leonia Police Chief Tom Rowe continues to bitch and moan over not having enough police officers to handle the crush of George Washington Bridge-related traffic.

Food phobia

Restaurant critic Elisa Ung's Sunday column continues to ignore the poor quality of beef, poultry and other food served in even expensive restaurants (BL-1).

Today, she complains about a far less compelling issue, small type and typos on menus. Maybe she needs glasses.

Weighty issue

Today, for a change, Real Estate takes a break from celebrating the greed of Realtors, home builders and owners to tackle a weighty issue, radon (R-1).

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