Phil Garber is a small-time editor of a weekly newspaper operating out of Mount Olive, in Morris County. Garber has never heard of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the oldest association of writers and editors in the United States, and if he had heard of them, his actions over the years confirm that he's never read the Code of Ethics of the SPJ.
In a recent headline, Garber reported that Mount Olive is getting $292,500 from the state for a repaving project. Garber noted that the funds were possible because of the recent gas tax increase that has more than doubled the amount of funds for local road and bridge safety improvement projects.
Of course, Garber had pissed all over the Republican who led the fight to prevent the bankruptcy of the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF), from which those funds were drawn. That was in 2016. The Tax Restructuring Package that cut five taxes and re-funded the TTF through a 23-cents a gallon increase on gasoline was passed in 2016 and signed into law by Republican Governor Chris Christie on October 14, 2016.
But that did not stop Editor Garber from making this the first sentence of his story: "The first fruits of the new administration of Gov. Phil Murphy have been harvested in terms of a grant of $292,500 for the first phase of repaving International Drive North."
No shit. Phil "the swallower" Garber wants us to swallow this. The "first fruits" of an administration that didn't take office until January 16, 2018. How did that work?
Garber works for a newspaper that is owned by the wife of Mark Magyar, one of Senate President Steve Sweeney's top aides. In December of 2014, Magyar was hired as the Democrat's new Director of Policy and Communications. Magyar had been a statehouse reporter for the Asbury Park Press and the Bergen Record, as well as the editor of the New Jersey Spotlight.
The corporate and political empire of Democrat Party boss George Norcross -- the political machine of which the Senate President is a part -- has a history of co-opting or attempting to co-opt local and regional newspapers in that part of New Jersey where his authoritarian rule is almost uncontested. The machine is in the process of solidifying its rule in its southern New Jersey base, while expanding its power across the state -- and beyond. The machine is allied with powerful lawyer-lobbyists like former Governor Jim Florio and Camden County Freeholder Director Lou Cappelli, who are expanding into neighboring states. And while the machine's first such foray ended in prosecution and tumult, it might well be successful, and could usher in a period of sustained, anti-democratic ruthlessness, unique in the experience of post-Prohibition America.
Mark Magyar is the spouse of Elizabeth K. Parker, Co-publisher and Executive Editor the New Jersey Hills Media Group. The group is controlled by the Recorder Publishing Company, a privately held entity in Bernardsville, that owns and publishes 17 local newspapers in Republican Morris County, Somerset County, and Hunterdon County -- and in Republican towns in Essex County. Their readership comes from towns that usually get the short end of the sick from the Democrats in Trenton.
Elizabeth Parker owns Recorder Publishing with her brother, Co-publisher and Business Manager Stephen W. Parker. He oversees the print and on-line advertising operations. The company also sells other services, including website development, search engine optimization, "Reputation Management", and "Social Media Management".
Some of the newspapers they control have been around for more than a century -- like the Hunterdon Review, established in 1868; the Bernardsville News, 1897; Madison Eagle, 1880; and The Progress, 1911. Recorder Publishing was started by the late Cortlandt Parker, who founded the Morris Observer in 1955. His company expanded to its current size with the acquisition of the Eagle-Courier Group in 1991.
Cortlandt Parker, who died in 2002, had residences in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts. His New York Times obituary describes him as having progressive positions on "social issues" and cites as an example his refusal to accept cigarette advertising in his newspapers "before it was common to do so."
While taking a position against the generally working class pleasure of tobacco, Mr. Parker was an advocate of that upper class pleasure -- wine. He founded the Greenvale Vineyards in Rhode Island and published several magazines about the wine industry in the Finger Lakes region of New York, New England, Long Island, and Virginia. The New England Wine Gazette is published by Recorder Publishing, at its Bernardsville operation.
Newspapers were never as pure or disinterested as their cheerleaders would have us believe, but at least -- once upon a time/ just yesterday -- they did constitute a locus of power independent of political machines. Not necessarily of their corporate advertisers (per Herman and Chomsky), but certainly of base political machines. Those days are drawing to a close.
New Jersey is unique in its forms and ways of political corruption -- especially of systemic corruption -- in that it rides the wave just ahead of the rest of America. Sadly, it appears that what we once called journalism is on a rapid descent into the realms of propaganda and in future will be little more than coarse party broadsheets -- advertisements using histrionics worthy of Pravda or the Völkischer Beobachter.