How Paparazzi ARE a Free Press

[Author’s note: This blog piece has been posted simultaneously here and on countywatchers with only a few words of the lead-in example altered]

What became obvious to me early on blogging here:

Public plan actuaries lie about everything for personal gain and to appease their patrons

What then became obvious, and disturbing, is that the media, what little of it there was (and is) covering real issues on this topic, did not seem to notice and the general public suffers to varying degrees due to their willful ignorance, self-interest, or simple laziness in admitting this useful piece of information into their coverage which would then explain a number of subsequent fiascoes that I chronicled here that always seemed to catch the general public by surprise and should have opened up those mainstream media outlets to derision, if not legal action.

It’s not happening and one new book even takes the position that it is the blogosphere that is intruding upon the news outlets who whore themselves out to those they cover. In The First Amendment Bubble: How Privacy and Pararazzi Threaten a Free Press, Amy Gajda argues that abuses by quasi-journalists (publishing mugshots and revenge-porn) is limiting what ‘real’ journalists get access to and she uses the example of The County Watchers (sic) in her book (from page 153):

Towards a Narrower Definition of “Journalist”

Further proof of the need to define journalist and journalism comes from courtrooms. Not surprisingly, judges similarly seem to be inclined toward a narrower definition.

A court in a 2013 case from Texas defined journalist narrowly. There, a labor union for service employees had published website posts as a part of a “Justice for Janitors” campaign and the union argued that such publications made it a member of the news media. It was an important issue because Texas gives electronic or print media special jurisdictional considerations, a distinction based upon the Constitution’s press freedoms. The court, forced to define journalism, decided that such posts did not qualify. “A ‘journalist,'” the court wrote, quoting Texas law, “is defined as ‘a person who for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain, writes news or information that is disseminated by a news medium.” It also suggested that other factors would contribute to such a determination: the author’s journalistic background, how established in journalism the reporter was, the character of the posts at issue, the editorial process involved including decisions based on the newsworthiness of  stories, and the size and nature of the readership. Given the Texas law and those considerations, the court found that the union should not receive the special jurisdictional considerations that a traditional journalist would.

A New Jersey state court facing the definition issue that same year defined journalist more broadly and decided that a blogger who wrote for a website called The County Watchers would be protected under the state’s shield law, preventing her from having to testify regarding her journalistic research in a criminal case. The court found that the blogger’s posts on something the communi8ty called “Generatorgate,” her exposé on “Musicfest,” and her stories on pension padding and theft of county property, among others, would be considered “news” under the statue. Moreover, the court decided, the blogger’s purpose was to disseminate news to the community as opposed to publishing information for a limited audience. Given those considerations, the shield law – one written to protect “a person engaged on, engaged in, connected with, or employed by news media for the purpose of gathering…editing or disseminating news for the general public” – protected the blogger. In delineating between journalist and quasi-journalist, however, the court suggested that the definition for the former would not always be inclusive; it reiterated an earlier warning that “new media should not be confused with news media.” It also suggested that the legislature might further define the term within the shield law if it found it necessary given the “changing times.”

The trend seems to be going the Texas way – toward a narrower definition for journalist – even in cases far closer than that of a service union. Charles Tobin, a chair of the American Bar Association Forum on Communications Law and a media defense attorney, called the trend “disturbing” and worried that courts’ or legislators’ willingness to define who counts as a journalist would inevitably leave some legitimate truth-seekers outside the scope of protection.

As the courts ruled and Amy Gajda admitted (albeit as a counter-example to her main theory) Tina Renna is a journalist and a truth-seeker though she has a major advantage over her colleagues who report-for-pay: she is free to think for herself.

26 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by skip3house on January 17, 2016 at 6:49 pm

    Both you and late Dunstan McNichol of Star Ledger noticed years ago, but were ignored, especially after someone suggested either of you could be Treasurer of NJ…..! Kind of like Ike’s warning ~1959…..?


  2. Posted by anon on January 18, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    The intro seems like hyperbole for clickbait and I kind of thought you were better than that. Focus on the tangible ways that there is an epidemic distortion instead. An example would be the logic of “our return assumption is at the low end of our peers, so we must be reasonable” being a common statement without acknowledging that that is prefaced on everyone not being unreasonable. Maybe you’re right and it’s possible that there’s no way for actuaries to avoid the agency risk and that that in itself is an argument against defined benefit plans, but make that argument, don’t resort to exaggeration


    • I was toying with the idea of using the 80%-funding myth in the intro but that wound up as too complicated (distorting PPA for at risk plans and politicians jumping on it to get a lower target for their reform projections) and the ‘public actuaries lie’ bit did ring true when I put some thought into it.

      Undervaluing funding costs
      Keeping quiet (outside of an occasional footnote on page 32) about the dangers of skipped contributions
      Allowing for gimmicks like open amortization, inflating asset values above market, back loaded cost methods

      You would think that somebody would catch on when funding ratios keep dropping though most states put in their ARCs which are supposed to pay off the normal cost plus amortizing the unfunded.


      • Posted by anon on January 18, 2016 at 12:58 pm

        What would an honest valuation report of a public pension plan look like?


        • Good question though it’s probably a waste to go into the details since they are never going to be allowed to see daylight but here goes:

          1) Adjusting commutation factors since these underfunded plans are not going to make the earnings they assume.

          2) Unit credit funding so you properly cost for (and expose) the games a lot of insiders play by accruing service and then cashing in with a high salary in the last year or three (or returning to a job for pension credit at nominal salary after you have established you high average).

          3) Market value of assets

          4) Projections as to drop-dead dates (best thing GASB did)

          If not part of the regular valuation that the government entity pays for then these should be part of some supplemental schedule that everybody has a right to see.

          They might also look into auditing asset values. With all the junk NJ has in alternative investments and this recent stock drop the funds may now be at another level of bankruptcy by now (ie having only the value of employee contributions left in the plan).


          • Posted by Tough Love on January 18, 2016 at 2:06 pm

            The solution to your #2 is easy…….. do what Private Sector Plans do, getting 1 year of service credit is NOT tied to a reaching a modest level of paid wage in the year ($7,500 ?), but a documented 1,000 hours of work in the year.

            Our Legislators won’t do so because THEY are one of the biggest offenders and beneficiaries of this THEFT of taxpayer wealth (by unjustly goosing their pensions).

            Re your #4, GASB “caved” by not requiring reasonably conservative liability discount rate assumptions for ALL liabilities….. ala what Private Sector Plans must do. Requiring such only for the share of liabilities associated with the current asset “shortfall” was a huge cave-in.

          • Posted by anon on January 19, 2016 at 12:10 pm

            Unit credit would make it really hard to have any sort of stable funding. As the demographics change, you’ll have different patterns of accrual. Were you meaning projected unit credit? Projected unit credit could be alright, but it does make it harder to see what the long-term cost will be since it is so demographic specific.

            For one are you meaning like the GASB single rate?

            And back to number two a bit, you should be seeing a gain/loss for salaries, and if there’s a significant provisions like sick leave pay, it should be split out.

            If you were designing a system in isolation from the history, how would you fund a public DB?

          • I wouldn’t fund a public DB plan. All the abuses that not having any rules allow make DC the only option – in NJ certainly.

            Here we have the examples of McGreevey and Mirabella – a former gov with a high salary established who takes jobs at a controlled city or college to build up pension credits and a 20-year freeholder who takes a high-paying administrator job to have all that past service apply to the higher salary. Of course you won’t have level funding but you will have kind-of fair amounts put in for the accruals and you would encourage cost-cutting since taking one of these real pension pigs off the rolls also cuts their real pension costs.

          • Posted by dentss dunnigan on January 19, 2016 at 3:33 pm

            John , don’t you know by now McGreevey’s pension is just deferred compensaion !.

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 19, 2016 at 4:45 pm


            In Private Sector DB Plans they have at least “some” protection from what McGreevey is doing by defining “pensionable compensation” as the highest (usually consecutive) 3-yr average wages WITHIN the last 10 years.

            Does the 10 year limitation (or something similar) exist in NJ’s State or Local Public Sector Pension Plans?

          • PERS definition of Average Salary below and interesting the way they worded it. It starts off saying final 3 but then goes on to say that if any prior 3 are higher you use those. So that final 3-year part is superfluous

            ‘Final Average Salary’ — for Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 members Final Average Salary means the average salary for the 36 months (30 months for employees with 10 month contracts) immediately preceding your retirement. If your last three years are not your highest years of salary, your allowance will be calculated using your three highest fiscal years (July June) of salary.
            For Tier 4 and Tier 5 members Final Average Salary means the average salary for the 60 months (50 months for employees with 10 month contracts) immediately preceding your retirement. If your last five years are not your highest years of salary, your allowance will be calculated using your five highest fiscal years (July – June) of salary.

          • Posted by Tough Love on January 19, 2016 at 6:00 pm


            ALL of these “richer” provisions of Public (vs Private Sector) Plans are costly. Here we not only have no “recent-year” limitation to the Pensionable Compensation calculation period, but it also appears (from your description) that the 3 (or 5) years do not need to be consecutive.

            There are valid REASON that Private Sector Plan sponsors include such provisions/limitations …. to grant a pension WITHOUT being abusively “gamed”.

            It just more of the same ….. which is why you (and I) are in agreement that with …… “All the abuses that not having any rules allow make DC the only option”. As long as Elected Officials can personally benefit …… via gaining large favorably-voting union members …. by unnecessarily and unjustly giving away Private Sector Taxpayer wealth, there is NO PLACE for DB pensions.

          • Posted by anon on January 19, 2016 at 7:40 pm

            How about a vertically stacked DB+DC (versus the side-by-side such as was implemented in Rhode Island). Make the DB benefit only reflect salaries up to some certain level (set as a minimum safeguard for your lower compensated individuals) where the taxpayer bears the investment risk and then do a DC on salaries above this level. The DB component should help get relationships such to draw the administrative cost of the DC down some relative to what is available for a DC alone. And then could consider moving to all DB at retirement or keeping the split as the objectives of the community dictate.

    • Posted by skip3house on January 18, 2016 at 12:40 pm

      Fareed Zakaria GPS on CNN pointed out two types people. The ‘Prejudiced’ believing/supporting/spreading info only agreeable to them, and then the rest of us.


    • Posted by Tough Love on January 18, 2016 at 1:53 pm

      Quoting ……

      “An example would be the logic of “our return assumption is at the low end of our peers, so we must be reasonable” being a common statement without acknowledging that that is prefaced on everyone not being unreasonable”

      Yes, just as is one town’s comparing of it’s Public Sector wages/pensions/benefits only to other (equally grossly excessive) town’s “PUBLIC” Sector worker wages/pensions/benefits and calling theirs reasonable.

      No, It the PRIVATE Sector where 85% of ALL workers are employed (and where employers freely compete for talent w/o the distortions introduced by Public Sector Union/politician collusion) that determines “market rate” compensation.

      Public Sector worker compensation should be be compared to what reasonable comparable jobs would pay in the “PRIVATE” Sector.


  3. Posted by Anonymous on January 19, 2016 at 6:51 am

    Slugs are ubiquitous. You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting one. In either sector.


  4. Posted by Tough Love on January 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    We may have to change that to “Slug-of-the WEEK” … another candidate:


  5. Posted by MJ on January 19, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    ….and they wonder why the pension scheme has gone bust…geez


  6. Posted by Javagold on January 19, 2016 at 10:06 pm

    Fuck em. Simple as that. Let the parasites die on the host. This pig is dead. 2016 will see to that. Save your breath. That goes for both sides of the pension Ponzi scam argument. It no longer matters what either side thinks. Math and reality will see to that.


  7. Posted by Tough Love on January 19, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Remember the New Jersey Transit police officer who retired on disability after stapling his own hand ?

    Slug or no slug ?


  8. Posted by Tough Love on January 20, 2016 at 12:05 am

    We’re waiting SMD ….. more “smoothing” coming ?


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