Home>Feature>Murphy staffer calls Star-Ledger story, headline ‘misleading’

Gov. Phil Murphy. Photo by Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe.

Murphy staffer calls Star-Ledger story, headline ‘misleading’

Gunaratna: ‘We explained to Matt Arco that the methodology is flawed’

By David Wildstein, January 05 2020 4:44 pm

A top aide to Gov. Phil Murphy took to social media on Saturday to dispute a Star-Ledger story on the governor’s out-of-state travel, arguing that “the story, especially its title, is quite misleading to readers and uses … artificially inflated numbers.”

The story, “Murphy spent all or part of 93 days out of New Jersey in 2019,” ran on the Star-Ledger’s online edition on Saturday but has not appeared in its print edition.  It alleges that Murphy spent “more than one out of every four days out of state last year, citing public records and NJ Advance Media’s own tally.

“We explained to Matt Arco that the methodology is flawed,” said Mahen Gunaratna, Murphy’s communications director.  “If you’re the NJ Governor and drop by in NYC or Philly for a meeting, even after working a full day in Jersey, it shouldn’t tally against you as a day spent out of state. But this count does that.”

According to Gunaratna, there were a few times where Murphy returned from out of state at 6:29 AM., 7:40 AM., 7:46 AM, and 9:00 AM. and then proceeded to work a full day.”

“But those days are still fully tabulated,” Gunaratna said, noting that there where also days where Murphy traveled out of state at 5:30 p.m. or even at 10:05 p.m. on a Friday night — to start the business trip to India.”

“Guess what? Those days are counted too, even though the Gov worked a full day prior to departure,” Gunaratna argued.

Some of Murphy’s travel was family related, since several of his children attend school out of state and to attend funeral services for the First Lady’s sister.

Gunaratna said there were “also legitimate out-of-state travel trips that related directly to state business.”

He pointed to trips to Washington for meetings with the Trump administration, attendance at swearing-in ceremonies for members of the New Jersey congressional delegation, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, and a National Governor’s Association annual meeting that included a partisan get-together with President Donald Trump.

“What do we think the Governor is doing during the week-long economic mission to India or the three-day trip to California to lure movie and film interests to the Garden State?” Gunaratna asked. “The answer is working nonstop to boost NJ’s economy.”

Arco went to India to cover the governor’s trade mission, although he skipped the final day.  It’s not immediately clear whether Arco’s decision not to join Murphy on his day-long visit to Gujarat was to stay behind and in Mumbai for sightseeing or shopping.

“But what’s most frustrating is that simple trips to NYC or Philly were included as part of this tally, including (32BJ SEIU president) Hector Figueroa’s funeral in Manhattan, Mass at a Catholic Church with the Sri Lankan community in Staten Island after the Easter bombings, the Gateway Tunnel congressional field hearing in NYC, the Delaware Watershed Summit with Governors (Tom) Wolf and (John) Carney, the Bio International keynote in Philly, the climate panel with other governors in Manhattan, and Governor Cuomo’s vaping summit in NYC, among others,” Gunaratna said.

Gunaratna’s Twitter posting went up starting at 10:13 AM on Saturday, more than two hours after the Star-Ledger story was posted online.

The Star-Ledger changed their story at 5:39 PM to include a correction: “This story was updated to reflect the governor spent all or part of 93 days out of the state in 2019 — not all or part of 95 days as previously reported.”

None of the public objections raised by Gunaratna on Twitter were included in the updated Star-Ledger story.

“Look, we had an honest disagreement here with Matt Arco about the soundness of the tally and the lack of nuance,” Gunaratna wrote.  “But it’s important to get the full context out there so constituents understand what the reality is.”

Arco did not immediately respond to a 12:27 PM e-mail seeking comment.

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