Thursday, October 27, 2016

More bad journalism: False Bridgegate trial story, column

The upper level toll plaza of the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee in September 2013 (Credit: The New York Times).

Editor's note: Today's post has been revised and expanded.


In a major error on Page 1 today, The Record says the federal judge at the Bridgegate trial has already instructed the jury on the law.

Also on A-1 today, Staff Writer John Cichowski, The Record's pathetic excuse for a commuting columnist, quotes one of his moronic readers comparing the Bridgegate trial to the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II.

The conspiracy trial of two of Governor Christie's ex-aides, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, opened on Sept. 19, and the judge instructs the jury on the law governing the charges only after prosecutors and defense attorneys sum up their cases.

This morning, U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton postponed those closing arguments until Friday, apparently to resolve defense objections to proposed instructions that jurors should ignore the political motive for the lane closings.

Kelly is charged with sending an email to David Wildstein, Christie's crony at the Port Authority -- "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" -- that set into motion five mornings of gridlock, starting on Sept. 9, 2013, the first day of school.

The traffic jams were intended to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat, for refusing to endorse Christie's reelection, prosecutors say. 

Missing type

At least nine words of Cichowski's Road Warrior column between the front page and the continuation page (A-6) went missing due to a production error.

The complete column appears online.

His first paragraph names five "victims" who were "trapped in their cars" when two of three Fort Lee access lanes to the bridge were closed.  

"Bridget Kelly is a single mother who was worried about losing her job, but that's not a good enough defense," says Hyla Epstein. "It's a self-serving argument" (A-6).

In an exaggeration typical of the column, Cichowski says Epstein "recalled nearly being trapped in her Fort Lee home by gridlock for most of the week."

So, I guess we can assume cars caught in the traffic jam mounted the sidewalk and blocked Epstein's front door.

Trial coverage

The biggest flaw in The Record's coverage of the Bridgegate trial was the editors' decision to assign reporters who apparently have little or no experience covering trials in federal court.

Two of those reporters are Paul Berger, who is assigned to the Port Authority; and Dustin Racioppi, a reporter in Trenton who covers Christie.

That can be the only explanation for why Racioppi's report today on a "closed meeting with lawyers" says incorrectly that the judge "read the charges to the jury, a routine procedure in criminal cases so that each member [of the jury panel] understands instructions on how to deliberate" (A-6).

The sub-headline on Page 1 says:

"Jury told to ignore possible
 motivation for alleged scheme"

His reporting and the sub-headline are flawed, because the judge instructs the jury on the law governing the charges in the case right before they start their secret deliberations, and does so in open court.

Since both prosecutors and defense attorneys haven't given their closing arguments, the judge couldn't have read the instructions, which usually are so extensive and complicated they can put even an experienced lawyer to sleep.

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