By: Jim Rosenberg
Denied to a political opponent by the state’s supreme court in March of last year, e-mails – held to be protected by executive privilege — between former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and an ex-girlfriend who was a powerful union leader were published for all to see Aug. 1 by the Sunday Star-Ledger, the state’s largest newspaper.
Teased atop the Saturday edition and occupying almost all of Sunday’s Page One and six entire inside pages, the package consisted of an in-depth write-up accompanied by all 123 e-mails received by the newspaper, with only very minor edits for obscenity and relevance. The investment in paper and ink preserves not only every intimate detail and typo, but also, as the story notes, “clear discussion of state business.”
From the Star-Ledger‘s statehouse bureau, Josh Margolin supplied background and a long look at the issues that brought the e-mails into play. The communications stretched over two months in early 2007, when Corzine was in contract negotiations with several state workers’ unions. Lawyer and former girlfriend Carla Katz was the president of one of them, the Communications Workers of America’s largest local.
Both were divorced, and their 2-year romance had no effect on the former Goldman Sachs chairman and CEO’s new career as a U.S. Senator. But years after the break-up, e-mails mostly from Katz became a ceaseless irritant to the state’s first elected governor after the resignation of Jim McGreevey (for coverage of which the Star-Ledger won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize).
As the matter wore on, relationships with the press deteriorated after the Star-Ledger reported that Corzine’s gifts to Katz amounted not to a few hundred thousand dollars but to a few million, as well as several thousand to her brother-in-law, a state worker who promptly resigned.
For the most part, Katz pushes hard for communication with Corzine and has the harshest words for reporters pursuing the story, while Corzine generally resists communicating and, with the exception of a talk-radio station, is less strident in his reaction to reporters, even hiring one of the most active, a Star-Ledger staffer, to be his communications director. Most of the others have since moved to different news outlets or left the news media.
But for all the bad-mouthing of New Jersey and New York news reporters, one Trenton byline is missing from the e-mails.
“I was doing other stuff,” Margolin laughs. “So I didn’t get hit.”
His paper had been trying for years to obtain the e-mails, but they came into its possession only about three weeks ago, according to Margolin.
Not including review by editors and the publisher, about a half-dozen staffers played some role in wading through the e-mail messages and preparing the package, according to Margolin. In an age of automatic spell check and correction, “the process included reading out loud every single e-mail,” he says, to present the messages accurately, even in their errors.
Eventually, Margolin’s story was married to large photos of the couple in question and smaller pictures of the Hoboken address they shared and the house she lived in that he paid for. The story concludes on the page where the e-mails commence – a readable, comprehensible and chronological five-page layout that intersperses brief and useful explanatory text.
What “The Forbidden E-mails” did for single-copy sales remains unknown, as the paper’s circulation management could not be immediately reached.
“The newspaper apparently has gotten a lot of calls and e-mails,” Margolin said. Most of his calls, however, came from other journalists. Among the few readers who did call him, however, reaction to the package was about evenly divided in favor and against using the material.