Proud product of township schools, late of CNN holds 90-minute presentation on life in legal, media worlds
Elie Honig might have conquered Rutgers University, Harvard Law School, taken down some nefarious criminals during his time as a prosecutor — and might occupy some coveted slots on CNN as an in-demand legal analyst — but on Feb. 19 at Cherry Hill Public Library, he showed all the nervous energy of a high-schooler speaking in public for the first time.
Such is the case when dozens of family, friends and well-wishers sit in the front rows to hear a presentation you’re giving in your hometown.
Honig held court for 90 minutes. Topics included a healthy dose of personal anecdotes and experience in the legal and media fields plus a spirited question-and-answer session where those in attendance aired grievances about the state of cable news, print media and President Trump.
In addition to his media presence, Honig also serves as the executive director of the Rutgers Institute for Secure Communities and as special counsel to the law firm Lowenstein Sandler, LLC. He had served as deputy director, and then director, of the state Division of Criminal Justice from 2012–18. During his time as director, the division charged and prosecuted sweeping cases against street gangs, drug trafficking organizations, illegal firearms traffickers, corrupt public officials and child predators.
Prior to joining the Division of Criminal Justice, Honig worked for eight years as an assistant United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, prosecuting and trying cases involving organized crime, human trafficking, public corruption and violent crime.
From 2010–12, Honig served as deputy chief, and later co-chief, of the Organized Crime Unit. He successfully prosecuted more than 100 members and associates of La Cosa Nostra, including bosses and other high-ranking members of the Gambino and Genovese organized crime families.
“People often ask me if it really is like what we see on TV with the ‘Godfather’ movies and the ‘Sopranos,’ and I tell them, it really is,” said Honig to a generous belt of laughter from the crowd.
Honig graduated from Rutgers in 1997, and earned his law degree from Harvard three years later. The proud product of township schools, including Woodcrest Elementary and Cherry Hill High School East, admitted he’d have gotten nowhere close to this level of success if it weren’t for teachers who molded him at a young age.
“Mr. Schultz was an … enrichment-class teacher. He was extraordinary. He taught us to think critically, to think logically, to look a things with a critical eye. We would do this exercise where he would read us a piece of propaganda, an advertisement, a TV commercial, a political ad, or an editorial, and we had to identify the logical flaws or techniques,” Honig related.
“We were taught rhetoric as well as media literacy. Years later, when I took the LSATs, I realized that the test was largely what we did in his class. We played logic games, we did rational deduction, that kind of thing. To get this in fourth, fifth, sixth grade was remarkable.”
Honig also cited the English programs at East that proved to be influential on his ascendant career path.
“I was lucky to have teachers like Ms. Rocchino, Mr. Carr, who challenged us to write. I still do one of the techniques I learned from them, which is: when you write, when you’re happy with it, go back, cut 10 percent. And then do it one more time. And it always hurts to cut but it ends up a better product. They pushed us to organize our thoughts, to have a perspective and to backup your points of view. Writing is one of the most valuable, all-purpose skills that I possess now,” he said.
The lesson Honig took most to heart was that writing is hard work, not something that flows out of your pen magically. His teachers in high school taught that one has to work at the craft, that you have the mentality to grind down and edit yourself. The end result was that his first year in college felt like a breeze compared to his senior year of high school.
“It was due to the teachers I had, to the overall educational environment. I focus on the English teachers, because those are the skills I used most of the time, but we have so many good teachers throughout the middle school and elementary school. I had a great teacher at Woodcrest named Mrs. Paul, Ms. Matthews and Ms. Bryan in sixth grade … there were others at East.”
Honig applies those lessons he learned as a student in Cherry Hill to his classes he presides over at Rutgers, and urges those who consume or work in media to do the following: “Apply the critical reasoning skills, apply a critical eye to things that happen, boil down your thoughts into an easily-digestible package or statement. All have served me well as a lawyer and on TV as well,” he added.
CrossExam with Honig can be found online at: https://www.cnn.com/specials/opinions/cross-exam-with-elie-honig.