After nearly forty years of covering the state’s most powerful politicians, the dean of the Statehouse press corps is stepping back.
NJTV News has announced that Michael Aron would step back from his responsibilities as the public television station’s chief political correspondent after nearly four decades of reporting on New Jersey politics.
“I’m going to miss the daily flow. I’m going to miss listening to the politicians’ words and trying to parse out what they really are saying and aiming for, but it’s time,” Aron told the New Jersey Globe. “Just like an athlete knows when to call it a day, it’s time.”
Aron will still appear on the network to interview the state’s top news makers on a roughly weekly basis. He’ll also still partake in NJTV’s weekly Reporters Roundtable, though he will no longer moderate the program.
That responsibility will go to NJTV reporter David Cruz.
“David Cruz has been my partner for, I guess, seven of eight years, and we tend to cover similar ground, and I think he will host roundtable, which is now on YouTube rather than on broadcast television,” Aron said. “David Cruz will take up some of the slack. Whether they have plans to hire somebody else, I don’t know.”
The shift is the latest step in a storied career that saw Aron cover every New Jersey governor since Brendan Byrne and every Supreme Court chief justice and legislative leader since 1982.
In that time, the state’s capitol has changed, growing more professional as staffing increased and aides gain power within both chambers.
“There’s a seriousness in the building that I wasn’t fully aware of when I started,” he said. “But it’s still New Jersey politics. It’s not any kind of dramatic change. It’s a subtle change.”
The arc of the distinguished newsman’s career sometimes bent into national news, and not every politician came out of a talk with Aron better than they came in.
In June of 1995, President Bill Clinton came to New Jersey to kick off fundraising for his re-election campaign, and Aron was there.
Clinton’s press office had ignored daily requests to interview the president for nearly a month by then, but Aron, through luck or sheer force of will — he didn’t say — found Clinton alone in a room with attorney Al DeCotiis, who organized the fundraiser.
“I wasn’t supposed to get this interview,” Aron said. “It was unauthorized. I had requested it for a month. I got turned down the day of the event and then happened to stumble upon him in an empty room with my cameraman as the event was breaking up, and his host, the lawyer Al DeCotiis, who had just raised a million dollars for him, saw me and invited me over
The reporter was allowed a single question but pushed in a second as Clinton went to leave the room, asking the president for about criticism he’d faced for his willingness to switch positions.
The president was less than pleased.
“He said ‘I disagree with that. I disagree with that. I disagree with that,’ and then he wagged his finger in my face and got all red and said ‘that is pure press propaganda from people like you. Name me a president who’s raised taxes while in office. Name me a president who’s taken on the NRA. You can’t. You can’t. That is just pure press propaganda,’” Aron recalled.
DeCotiis, who had recently been appointed as honorary ambassador to the United Nations, urged Aron to hold the tape.
“He said ‘if you use that second question, I’m dead. They’re assholes. They’re assholes, these Clinton people. I’m fucked if you run that,’” Aron said.
But Clinton made news, and Aron ran the story.
“Half an hour later, I was introducing that piece of tape in the dark from the Garden State Convention Center in Somerset,” he said.
That night, Aron got an angry call from Clinton’s deputy press secretary.
The next day, the Secret Service swept the building to find how a reporter managed to stumble into the most powerful man in America.
Aron had little in the way of a departing message to the politicians he’s covered for close to half a century.
“I don’t know that it’s my role to have a message,” he said.
But he offered the state’s more junior reporters one last word of parting advice.
“My message is to the press corps. My message is to keep doing what you’re doing,” he said.