Kean, Sr.: ‘I Think We’re Going to be in Serious Trouble’

SHORT HILLS – Politicians like saying nice things about the press after they leave office.

That’s not necessarily a criticism, just an observation about human nature.

And so it was Thursday night that former governors Thomas H. Kean Sr. and James McGreevey took turns praising the press’ vital role in a democracy at the second annual Byrne Kean Dinner at the Short Hills Hilton. The affair was a benefit for the Corporation for New Jersey Local Media, (CNJLM), a non-profit created in 2020 to bolster local journalism in the face of continuing cutbacks by corporate-owned newspapers.

CNJLM owns the New Jersey Hills Media Group and its 14 weekly newspapers in central and north Jersey.

“Brendan and I were old guys,” Kean told the crowd in a reference to the late Brendan Byrne, who preceded Kean as governor.

Kean was talking about how newspapers and their influence were so much greater when he and Byrne were in office. He recalled a time when the Star Ledger had about seven reporters covering Trenton and that the Bergen Record had about five. Such blanket coverage kept everyone “on their toes” as the former governor put it.

Now with newspaper staffs – and readership – in decline, Kean said, a bit dramatically, “I’m not sure what our future is as a nation.” He added a bit later, “I think we are going to be in serious trouble.”

McGreevey also extolled the virtues of a robust press, noting that the tradition dates back to colonial times. That, of course, is why press freedom is enshrined in the constitution.

But McGreevey wasn’t as pessimistic about the state of journalism as Kean.

“I’m not as sad and morbid as some,” he said, adding that he thinks the press is in transition, or as he put it, in a “period of fluidity.”

McGreevey also offered – perhaps unintentionally – some evidence of how politicians are truly not all that enamored with nosy reporters.

One of a number of people getting awards at the dinner was the recently-retired Loretta Weinberg, who as a senator always backed government transparency, including the Open Public Records Act, or OPRA, in 2002. McGreevey, who was governor at the time, joked that the only reason it passed was because the state Legislature exempted itself from the law.

The line got some laughs, but it also showed how public access to government activities is always difficult. Things have not gotten any better.

Weinberg’s attempts to update access and more specifically the 1976 Open Public Meetings Act or Sunshine Law failed. Another problem is that some government officials have used the pandemic as an excuse to deny public information requests.

This may not happen if there were more reporters pestering officials on all levels. And that, of course, is the laudable goal of the CNJLM.

No dinner honoring Byrne would be complete without paying homage to the former governor’s great sense of humor.

McGreevey recalled telling Byrne that Tom Kean Sr., who was reelected in 1985 by a record margin, could be New Jersey’s “patron saint.”

Byrne agreed, but added that in New Jersey, the bar is pretty low.

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3 responses to “Kean, Sr.: ‘I Think We’re Going to be in Serious Trouble’”

  1. There is no more “robust press” as Kean puts it. The current state of the press, especially newspapers, are nothing more than Communist Tabloid Rags akin to the former Soviet Union’s Pravda newspaper. The newspapers, e.g., NY Times, WaPo, Star-Ledger have turned into Far-Left propaganda rags that offer no viewpoint other than their own. Nobody is reading the newspapers anymore, because the papers cut their own throats by going over to the “dark side” of Left-wing, Communist journalism. There is no dissenting or opposing viewpoints. People have had enough and won’t waste their money on false stories, personal ad hominem attacks on those with opposing political or social viewpoints, etc.

    As far as I can see, cellphones, along with social media, is everybody’s choice. Newspapers are a thing of the past, and are only good to line the bottom of bird cages or cat litter boxes. Even the Newspaper websites offer no opposing viewpoints on all things political and social. It’s their way or the highway. This is not a “robust press”. It is an insipid press.

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