Monday, December 3, 2007

New Jersey Millionaire Invades Blogosphere

Ever been to It’s a new blog site. Looks nice. It’s regularly updated. It carries loads of stories, though some are links to outside sources. Best of all, it has cartoons!

Guess what? It’s owned by a New Jersey millionaire who’s intent on building a state-by-state blogging empire. But shhh… you’re not supposed to know about that. So don’t tell anybody.

How do I know this? Go to the “About Us” link at the bottom. The site states that it is owned by “the Observer Media Group, which operates, a highly successful website that has set the standard as a must-read source of local political news since February 2000, and the New York Observer, a highly respected local newspaper.”

And who owns the Observer Media Group? Meet Jared Kushner, a 26-year old real estate millionaire from New Jersey with a striking resemblance to Britain’s Prince William. Kushner paid a cool $10 million for the money-losing New York Observer, promising to beef up the bottom line but stay out of the newsroom.

Where does he get his money? Kushner’s family has made a fortune in real estate, and they helped finance his deals on nine residential buildings in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kushner has plowed much of his money into political donations. He has given $24,400 to New Jersey state candidates and committees (including $4,700 to Governor McGreevey), $103,350 to federal candidates and committees (including $11,000 to Hillary Clinton) and $4,500 to New York City mayoral candidate Mark Green. On many donations, Kushner listed his occupation as “student.” I have to admit, when I was a student, beer accounted for a much larger part of my budget than did political contributions.

But there’s more. Last year, the New York Times reported, “The Kushner name is well known to readers of The Observer and other media outlets, which have given thorough coverage to federal charges against [Jared’s] father, Charles B. Kushner, who was a major Democratic fund-raiser and contributor to James E. McGreevey, the former governor of New Jersey. Charles Kushner was sentenced last year to two years in prison after pleading guilty to 18 counts of tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign donations. He also admitted to hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law and having a videotape of the encounter sent to his sister, the man’s wife, in an attempt to get back at her for cooperating with a federal investigation into his business activities.” No one has alleged that Jared Kushner was involved in his father’s wrongdoing.

Jared Kushner is clearly a man on the move. He is using Observer Media Group to establish a state-by-state blogging empire. In addition to Maryland and New Jersey, politicker affiliates now operate in Vermont, Oregon, Maine and Nevada. Each of them promises “to have its finger on the pulse of everything that moves” in their respective state’s politics. Each of them has nearly identical graphics and formatting. And each of them has an anonymous editor named “Wally Edge."

Out-of-state ownership. Corporate, for-profit money. Massive political contributions. All that plus anonymity. In the New York Times, Kushner promised, “The headline in everything we do should be integrity.” Do you believe him and all those guys named “Wally Edge?”

Let’s put it another way. Suppose you’re running your own blog and Mr. Kushner approached you with an offer. You transfer the rights to your domain name to him. He hires you for $100,000 a year plus benefits to keep blogging. But there’s a catch. You’d have to agree to outside oversight and you could never disclose your relationship to the main man. Would you do it?

And how do we know that this hasn’t already happened?

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