NJ Advance Media reporter Susan Livio was part of the reporting team that worked on a controversial story about the 20-year-old son of Gov. Phil Murphy, according to three sources with knowledge of the coverage who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The story, which ran on the front-page of the Star-Ledger and on the NJ.com website last Monday, reported that Murphy’s son had been charged with underage drinking and disorderly conduct while attending college in Massachusetts last fall. The charges were ultimately dismissed.
Erin Banco and Claude Brodesser-Akner had the byline for the story, which included credit for a contribution by Ted Sherman. But a source at NJ Advance Media, who asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation, confirmed that Livio had worked on the story.
Murphy, in a statement that was included in the Star-Ledger/NJ.com story, said that his son, his classmates, school administrators and others had been “repeatedly harassed by a group of at least four reporters at NJ Advance Media.”
Many newspapers, including the New York Times, now have a policy of crediting all individuals who contribute to a story. The Washington Post publishes their Policies and Standards, which says that “significant reporting by a stringer, staff member, or other Post employee should be credited in a byline or a tagline at the end of a story.”
“A newspaper has an obligation to be honest with its readers, to tell where a story originated and who is responsible. Readers deserve to know this information,” wrote Bob Steele, an ethics group leader at The Poynter Institute, in a 2003 article after the Jason Blair scandal. “The news story byline personalizes the report so readers know someone is responsible for what’s reported and written. It allows readers to hold someone accountable for the story.”
Livio did not deny her role in the reporting when contacted by the New Jersey Globe on Friday.
“I’m not going to help you write a story about our story,” an irritated Livio said.
Livio grew angrier when asked whether her newspaper has sought answers from employees of other privately-held companies that were the subject of their reporting.
“Dude, I’m not a felon,” she said, losing her cool before hanging up the phone.
Kevin Whitmer, the vice president of content at New Jersey Advance Media, has not responded to an e-mail seeking comment at 4:41 PM on Sunday and did not immediately return a 4:42 PM message on Sunday seeking comment.
The New Jersey Globe did not receive a response to a list of eight questions submitted to New Jersey Advance Media about their reporting of the Murphy story.
At one time, the Star-Ledger had a public editor to explore reader complaints of accuracy and fairness, but that position was eliminated during a round of budget cuts. A copy of the newspaper’s policies was not found on their website.
Among the questions Whitmer did not respond to was whether NJ Advance Media deliberately decided not to credit Livio’s role in the story in order to insulate her from criticism since she is assigned to cover state government.
At a press conference on Monday, Murphy sharply criticized the Star-Ledger for turning his son, who is not a public figure, into “clickbait.”
Other state political leaders, including former Gov. Richard Codey, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, joined Murphy in bashing the story.
Murphy accused the newspaper of obtaining and divulging his son’s medical reports. Whitmer told the Star-Ledger and NJ.com that the records were not divulged but did not address whether they were obtained.
One of the questions Whitmer did not respond to was if the records were obtained, as Murphy claims.
Editor’s Note: Livio’s remark to David Wildstein was an apparent reference to his role in the lane realignments at the George Washington Bridge in 2013.