October 25, 2005

Media Watch: A Letter to the Editor

October 23, 2005

Mark DiIonno
The Star-Ledger
1 Star-Ledger Plaza
Newark, NJ 07102-1200
VIA Email and First Class Mail

Dear Mr. DiIonno,

When we exchanged e-mails a few months ago I believed you were sincere in wanting to bring about a change in your Union County coverage. A change that would rely less on a taxpayer funded Public Information Department that was being less than disingenuous with the public. As I have informed you, to date, the county has not revealed to the public what this departments budget is, what employees work for this department or what the head of this departments paid days off were in 2003 and 2004. A count of the press releases on the county website proves beyond a doubt that this department exists to keep the all Democrat controlled board in power. The Ledger has never written a word about any of that.

You backed up your words with action and the past several months I have witnessed the Ledger’s coverage being less influenced by this department.

This past week that progress has totally unraveled. Robert Misseck was again quoting a freeholder who is up for reelection. This Sunday’s front page Union County Section has a feature article on County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi.

If you lived in Union County you would see the county Democrat campaign signs are featuring Rajoppi’s name as a headline.

If you’ve read any of my e-mails regarding the Public Information Department you would know that Rajoppi had a total of eight press releases and no photo ops last year. As of today, Rajoppi, who is now up for reelection, has 52 press releases and 25 photo ops listed. Now she has this lovely Sunday’s feature article by Joe Ryan to carry her team into the final stretch of their campaign.

It was a home run for the county public information department. Whoever it is that works for this department earns their keep. However, the county Democrat committee should be paying them, not the taxpayers. The Star-Ledger should not be facilitating this betrayal of the public trust.

Couple this manipulation of the press with the county spending to date approximately $400,000 of tax dollars on mailers and a commercial featuring campaigning freeholders, and it is impossible to mount a campaign against the incumbents. Residents are getting, through their tax dollars, 90 percent of their information about county government directly from the government. The other 10 percent from the government manipulated media.

This is why in the past several years county politicians have been appointed by powerbrokers; because no matter whom they put on the ballot they will get elected. Freeholder John Wohlrab was arrested for beating a woman four weeks before the election last year and because of all the positive media he had received up until then, or perhaps just because he was on the Democrat line, upwards of 80,000 people voted to reelect him.

I find this to be a reflection on Union County as a society and frankly it’s embarrassing that we are so collectively ignorant. But it isn’t society’s fault Mr. DiIonno. It’s the media’s. Only you have the power to inform people. In fact this is your direct responsibility to maintain a democracy.

Union County is not a democracy. It is Senator Raymond Lesniak’s fiefdom. I fully expect Union County’s politicians’ to conduct their business as a fiefdom, what I don’t expect, respect or condone is the Star-Ledger facilitating them. You are supposed to be better than that. You are supposed to be government watchdogs not an extension of their press corps.

Feel free to share this feedback with your staff and superiors as well as publish it. Or ignore it as you obviously have been doing all along.

Tina Renna
Union County Watchdog Association, Inc.