Democracy needs dogged local journalism

By Rachel Maddow, Wednesday, January 15, 7:55 PM

If you type “Shawn Boburg” into your Web browser address bar, a strange thing happens. Boburg is a reporter for The Record newspaper, in Bergen County, N.J. But ShawnBoburg.com sends visitors to The Record’s rival, Newark’s Star-Ledger.

The man who bought the rights to Boburg’s online name — and who presumably engineered the nasty little redirect — is David Wildstein, who last week became the country’s most high-profile political appointee. After his high school classmate Chris Christie was elected governor of New Jersey in 2009, Wildstein was appointed to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for a highly paid position that, conveniently, had no job description.

Wildstein, who has since resigned, was held in contempt last week by a state legislature committee for refusing to answer questions about his role in the four-day traffic disaster that gridlocked the town of Fort Lee, N.J., last September.

According to reporting in The Record, Wildstein has made a habit of buying the Web addresses of people who cross his path in New Jersey politics — including the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in 2012 and a mid-level official at the Federal Aviation Administration who helped forge a firefighting agreement with the Port Authority that Wildstein disliked. While he was at the Port Authority, Wildstein bought the online names of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top appointees to the agency, including Executive Director Pat Foye, who sounded the alarm about the Fort Lee scheme. Wildstein’s redirect on PatFoye.com sends visitors to the Web site of the New York Yankees.

It’s one thing for public officials to subject one another to that kind of low-level, neener-neener harassment, but in New Jersey, reporters have been targeted too. Wildstein snatched up and redirected ShawnBoburg.com after Boburg wrote a (not terribly unflattering) profile of the intensely private Wildstein last year and an article on Christie’s patronage hiring.

The long knives that New Jersey politicians have out for each other was the stuff of legend (and excellent TV drama) well before the bridge scandal. But the documents released thus far show how much the governor’s staff and appointees hated not only rival public officials but also the press.

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