Facing potential lawsuit, NJAM corrects story about Melham, lawsuit

After calling for an immediate retraction from NJ.com for an inaccurate and misleading headline on Sept. 12, Mayor Michael Melham says the publication has finally made the correction after he threatened legal action for defamation.

NJ.com, and its print publication, The Star-Ledger, waited until Oct. 12 to change the headline on a Sept. 12 story that inaccurately portrayed a lawsuit filed by the township’s zoning officer. The original headline of the story read: “NJ mayor lied to lied to investigators about illegal billing to get back at zoning officer, lawsuit says.”

Melham attempted to point out the lawsuit does not allege he lied to investigators, but no one at NJ.com was responding.

“I assumed it would be a really quick fix once the media outlet was informed about the error,” the mayor said. “But the editors didn’t take any action.”

Frustrated, the mayor brought in his attorney, Marlo J. Hittman of Livingston, to demand a retraction of the original story. In his letter, the attorney wrote, in part, “Your headline falsely makes it appear that Mr. Melham lied to the attorney general, which would be a potential crime. The headline is adjacent to a photograph of Mr. Melham pictured directly under the title sitting at the dais at a council meeting in front of the Township of Belleville seal, making the impact of the false headline all that more egregious.”

In response, NJ.com finally changed the headline to read: “N.J. mayor retaliated against zoning officer by filing AG’s office complaint, lawsuit says.”

In addition, the news site updated the original lede, which stated “Belleville’s construction official and zoning officer has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Mayor Michael Melham lied to the state Attorney General’s office, sparking an unnecessary investigation.”

The new lede also deletes any reference to a lie: “Belleville’s construction official and zoning officer has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Mayor Michael Melham filed a complaint with the state Attorney General’s office in an act of retaliation.”

NJ.com also included an editor’s note at the end of the story. It reads: “This story has been updated to correct that the lawsuit alleges the mayor filed a complaint against the zoning officer with the state Office of the Attorney General as an act of retaliation, and delete incorrect statements regarding the content of the lawsuit allegations.”

Melham said he is pleased that NJ.com finally made the correction on Oct. 12, but questioned why it took a month and required lawyers to get involved.

“We all know that media makes mistakes from time to time, but news reporting is an extremely important part of our democracy and must be protected,” the mayor said. “The press also has a role of ensuring its facts are straight. And when there is a clear and obvious mistake, such as in this case, the matter should have immediately been rectified.”


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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.