Phoebus lies: The Juice Bar Johnny Episode
New Jersey Herald reporter Eric Obernauer has a very close relationship with Sussex County politician Gail Phoebus. Instead of behaving like a proper journalist, Obernauer advocates for Phoebus to the extreme. In fact, Phoebus has used Obernauer on several occasions to spread rumors about politicians, officials, and even county employees.
For example, there was the appointment of Sussex County Attorney John Williams in June of 2015. Williams was being appointed to fill the vacancy left after the retirement of longtime County Attorney Dennis McConnell. Phoebus, then a county Freeholder, just days before had won the Republican primary for Assembly over Marie Bilik and Nathan Orr.
Phoebus wanted to oppose Williams, but a friend of Phoebus had been dating Williams, so Phoebus used Obernauer to put out a rumor about Williams and who some of his clients had been. They even came up with a nasty name to mock Williams by: "Juice Bar Johnny."
At the June 10, 2015, Freeholder Board meeting, Phoebus broke with Freeholder colleague George Graham to vote for Williams. But she was content that the rumors against Williams, spread by Obernauer, would do their work and eventually undermine the County Attorney and force him out.
Subsequently, the inside joke she shared with Herald reporter Obernauer became such that they became reckless and Obernauer included someone on an email to Phoebus that he shouldn't have. The "Juice Bar Johnny" reference was questioned and brought to the attention of the Herald's management, resulting in a reprimand of some sort for reporter Obernauer but no ramifications for politician Phoebus.
This is the power of rumors and "whisper" campaigns. It is how politics is sometimes conducted in close-knit communities -- when smiles are lies and honesty is at a premium. It almost destroyed the career of County Attorney John Williams.