I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, March 12, 2011

How Myths Are Created

A lesson in journalism this morning:

One of the New Jersey right's talking points has been that Jon Corzine was in the pocket of the public workers unions. Christie himself has said Corzine stood on the capitol steps at a rally of public workers and proclaimed solidarity with them back in 2006.

Who or what is the source of this story? According to factcheck.org, it's "Crazy Uncle" Paul Mulshine:
Lastly, Christie misquotes a statement attributed to Corzine at a state worker rally in 2006. 
Christie: My predecessor, Governor Corzine, stood on the front steps of the Capitol at a public sector union rally and said, “I’ll fight to get you a good contract.”
Did Corzine really say that? We could not find that quote in Nexis, the newspaper database, but we found one that was somewhat similar. Paul Mulshine, a conservative columnist for the Star-Ledger, quoted Corzine as saying more than once, "We will fight for a fair contract!"
But promising state workers a "fair contract" is not necessarily the same thing as promising them a "good contract." After all, fair — as defined by Merriam-Webster — means "marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism," or "free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice," as defined by dictionary.com.
Before we continue: I don't always trust these "fact-checking" type of sites. And I don't have access to Nexis myself, so I can't confirm the term search used here.

But Googling "'We will fight for a fair contract'+Corzine" pretty much seems to confirm that Paul Mulshine is the sole source for this quote. It's been passed around by the Wall Street Journal and Ann Coulter, among others, but Mulshine is certainly the origin.

factcheck.org gives four examples of Mulshine quoting Corzine. None date back to 2006, when Corzine allegedly said it in real time. The earliest example is from 2/26/08:
3) End breathing bonuses.
Public employment is based on the premise that the longer people work, the better they perform. This is not the case. Some people do indeed improve with age and should be compensated accordingly. But some people just sit back and collect those annual longevity raises until they're eligible for those oversize pensions.
Even unionized employees in private industry don't get longevity pay, as ironworker Steve Sweeney, also a state senator, pointed out to his fellow Democrats during debate on the property tax reform plan of 2006. Sweeney's sensible stance prompted the governor to go before a rally of public employees in Trenton and proclaim, "We will fight for a fair contract."
Start fighting for the taxpayers, guv. [emphasis mine]
Not much context there. So I went to the Star-Ledger's archival retrieval site, and searched "Corzine 'We will fight for a fair contract'". I got four articles from between 2005 and 2007: all by Paul Mulshine.

Sorry, I'm not about to shell out $3 an article to read Crazy Uncle Paul's stuff from back in 2007. But it's looking increasingly clear that Mulshine is the sole source for this quote; there are no stories from the state bureau reporters of the S-L that show up in my search.

I doubt, given both his style and the restrictions on the length of his column, that Mulshine's provided much context for a fair reading of what Corzine said. And I think there's a real possibility he just plain got this quote wrong. Here's why:

Here's a picture of Corzine at the rally dated June 19, 2006 from the Professional Firefighters of NJ. No quote, but the caption reads:
Governor Jon Corzine restates his pledge to support pension funding and hard working public employees [emphasis mine]
Pledging to fund the pension - something Christie is now doing (if he gets everything else he wants) - is different than saying, "We will fight for a fair contract."

Here's a real-time report from the rally:
Corzine made an impromptu appearance in which he expressed solidarity with the thousands of state workers.
"I'll stand with you for your pension rights and collective bargaining rights. I want to tell you again, I believe in collective bargaining," he said. "It is and has been good for all of New Jersey." 
"I hear you," Corzine said. "It's time for the other people in this statehouse to hear you."
Reading the story, it's clear the entire rally was about pension funding - NOT contracts.

Can I say for sure that Mulshine got this quote wrong? No, obviously not. Can I say that the quote seems incongruous with the rally itself, and that it's given with little or no context? Yes, I can.

And yet, despite the lack of corroboration, Christie and the rest of NJ's right-wing is allowed to make this statement without any challenge.

This is yet another example of why you just can't believe everything you read in the mainstream press. Too often, they are reporting received wisdom whose veracity is dubious at best.

UPDATE: Found this:

Corzine Gives In on Part of Tax Plan in Trade-Off for His Embattled Budget

Published: June 20, 2006 
With time slipping away until the New Jersey Legislature has to vote on his embattled budget plan, Gov. Jon S. Corzine tried on Monday to bolster eroding support from fellow Democrats for his most controversial proposal -- a sales tax increase -- but yielded on another point, taxing hospital beds in the state.
On a day of fast-moving developments surrounding the $31 billion budget -- which several leading Assembly Democrats have vowed to vote against -- Mr. Corzine refused to give ground on another component of his plan that would provide more than $1.3 billion to help finance pension benefits for state employees.
Addressing a lunchtime rally of more than 6,000 state workers in front of the State House Annex on Monday, Mr. Corzine pumped his fists and vowed to keep his pledge to increase the pension contributions.
''I will fight for you,'' Governor Corzine told the crowd, made up largely of members of several municipal unions. [emphasis mine]
That is NOT about contracts - it's about pension contributions. 


jcg said...

Myths flooding the media for corporate reforms are being written and underwritten by the man behind the curtain- Bill Gates. He's has a multi-pronged strategy for propagandizing the public discourse.

According to Valerie Strauss in WaPO, "The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spending at least $3.5 million to create a new organization whose aim is to win over the public and the media to its market-driven approach to school reform, according to the closely held grant proposal."

At the same time, the Gates foundation has developed a grading system for media coverage of education issues with its obnoxious “Media Bullpen”. A clear intimidation tactic to marginalize dissenting or investigative journalists. Bill guarantees he'll be out in front of Jane Mayer-types with a clear counter argument to muddy the issue.
http://mediabullpen.com/ Check out the batting averages and home runs for school choice,teacher’s unions, and funding.

All while the Gates foundation is investing $400-million into program-related investments such as providing guarantees for bonds for charter schools.

Does anyone see a major conflict of interest designed to guarantee a steady flow of public funds to Gate's private interests?

Duke said...

Great stuff, jcg. Will use in next post.