Christie administration, press tangle after budget speech

A few weeks ago Gov. Christie invited the press to his first cabinet meeting. He opened by telling his top officials that he expected cooperation, and transparency with both the front office and the public. He then said the staff had work to do, and had reporters escorted from the room as the cabinet got down to real issues.

Reporters got another mixed does of transparency Thursday after Christie's budget speech to the Legislature. As has been the custom for many years, top administration officials met with the press corps after the speech to answer question and go into the details of the budget.

But unlike the practice under at least the past three governors - McGreevey, Codey and Corzine - none of the officials could be quoted by name, as per rules set by the Christie press staff. At first, the administration did not want voice recorders used to record the briefing. Reporters loudly objected and eventually were allowed to use recorders, but the governor's staff refused to let the officials present go on the record.

In the past, treasurers, chiefs-of-staff and other cabinet officials have given similar briefings, and been quoted. The sessions usually let reporters gather details about big proposals, give the administration a chance to put its spin on its plans and answer criticism or controversies. The briefings often lead to insight about an administration's philosophy (why did they cut program A but decide not to touch program B?), provide quotes, and the occasional gaffe that officials have to live with.

McGreevey tried to keep his staff off the record in 2002, but reporters then staged a mini-revolt and walked out of the briefing. The administration relented.

This was the first real scrape between the press corps and Christie team. There was talk among reporters last Thursday of repeating that protest, but in the end the press corps relented. We got plenty of info - officials spent an hour answering questions and gave out budget documents that contained far more detail than in past administrations. But we can't say who gave us the info.

There's another budget speech coming March 16.

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