Remember Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer? It was not all that long ago that she ascended to national prominence after alleging that she was intimidated by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and that Trenton was prepared to withhold federal disaster aid from her city unless she approved a local development project?
Those were serious charges that were largely taken by at face value by a credulous press, which spent most of January parroting any allegation of misconduct by the Christie administration. Each claim was elevated by the press as the much-anticipated second shoe to drop, augmenting the already wall-to-wall coverage of the allegation that Christie’s staffers orchestrated lane closures on the George Washington Bridge to exact political revenge.
Zimmer’s was the most serious and substantiated claim of intimidation to follow the revelations surrounding “bridge-gate,” and she spent a week repeating her allegation on a variety of high profile news outlets. But few national press outlets or media personalities dug into Zimmer’s background or past statements in order to determine whether her claims merited such uncritical coverage.
Today, however, with the passions accompanying the scandals surrounding Christie having cooled, sober-minded folks are uncovering some details about Zimmer that should embarrass the media outlets that failed to perform any investigation into her and her claims expected of a journalistic enterprise.
In July 2013, attorney Louis Zayas deposed Zimmer while representing a Hoboken public safety director who had filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city. Two months after Zimmer said she wrote in her journal that she was moved to tears by the betrayal of the Christie administration, she testified under oath that she did not keep those kinds of records.
“When you have meetings regarding day-to-day activities involving Hoboken business with your department heads, do you memorialize any of the conversation that takes place yourself?” Zayas asked in the deposition.
Zimmer replied, “No, I don’t transcribe it.”
Zayas then asked if she writes “notes in a calendar or some sort of memo pad that says follow up on a text or this was said during this meeting; anything that would help you recall what was said during the course of the meeting?”
Zimmer replied, “No, I don’t.”
This testimony does not immediately defuse her claims of intimidation – and, certainly, Zimmer’s decision to speak with a U.S. Attorney about the matter speaks to her genuine belief that she was strong-armed. However, her past behavior certainly does call those claims into question.
Details like this would have greatly informed the average news consumer who was treated to unduly credulous coverage of Zimmer and her claims. This development confirms that the treatment Zimmer received in the press after she leveled a charge that many appeared to hope was the final nail in the coffin containing the remains of Christie’s 2016 hopes was undeserved.
After nearly three weeks of sustained coverage of local New Jersey politics – often delving into arcane details about the relationships that make Trenton function – the press has largely moved on to fresher stories. Minor details like this will not be widely reported, and the public will not be disabused of their impression that Christie presided over the widespread bullying and intimidation of political rivals.
And they wonder why faith in the press to accurately convey the facts of any given story is waning.
[Photo via screen grab]
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