The first installment with my own mission statement is here. Zurcher’s next topic was inevitable, so here goes. Again, I’m doing this without having read any of it other than the title and the first sentence.
Somebody has leaked or stolen some emails by the popular and prominent New Jersey Governor detailing and gloating about deliberately blocking traffic on a vital commuter conduit in order to retaliate against a local politician who didn’t endorse Christie in the last election. The deputy chief of staff – whom Christie has now fired – seems to have made no bones about what they were doing, and even expressed pleasure in doing so in emails between her and the the Port Authority official in charge of running the George Washington Bridge, who’s a high school friend of the Governor and was appointed by him. It does have all the appearances of being very cozy.
It’s ugly business, not because it’s a national incident but because it’s a clear case of using government power to harm a political opponent, which is a major issue on its own thanks to the IRS scandal, never mind the negative affect it had on ordinary citizens, apparently simply because most of them voted the wrong way. As this editorial from Investor’s Business Daily says, “What’s infuriating is how this kind of politics is becoming the norm.”
This is a major national story also because Christie has a national profile not only because of his public image as a straight talker and a caring, competent administrator after the devastation of parts of his State from Hurricane Sandy, but because he’s been considered by many in the media and political wonk class to be the front runner for the Republican candidacy for President in 2016. Anything that calls his integrity into question is going to be big. It’s especially going to gain legs regardless of the facts because at the moment he’s the number one obstacle to President-in-waiting Hillary Clinton. So Christie now has the biggest target on his back of anyone in the country.
He’s going to get the vetting that the media never did for the Junior Senator from Illinois in 2008, or even during Obama’s first term as President. It’s no secret that the mainstream media knows they didn’t do their job properly, and that they really did use the power of the press to support him and attack enemies. There’s been a little pushback in the last couple of months, and it was probably always going to be inevitable that they were going to overreact in order to reestablish public trust and prove that they really do want to hold politicians accountable and speak truth to power.
As Paul Bedard points out in the Washington Times:
The Big Three networks, in a frenzy over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s traffic headache dubbed “Bridgegate,” have devoted a whopping 34 minutes and 28 seconds of coverage to the affair in just the last 24 hours.
By comparison, that’s 17 times the two minutes, eight seconds devoted to President Obama’s IRS scandal in the last six months, according to an analysis by the Media Research Center.
“While routinely burying new stories on the IRS scandal, the media practically fell over themselves to start taking shots at the potential 2016 Republican presidential nominee,” said the conservative media watchdog.
It’s important to keep this background in mind when considering the media coverage now, regardless of the facts as they come out. Opinion on the validity of the IRS scandal can be viewed as a metric. So, naturally there’s noise in both the Left and Right echo chambers. Christie says he didn’t know the truth and was misled by his staff about the whole thing. Naturally, some won’t trust him and are asking “What did he know and when did he know it?”, while others are taking him at his word. While it’s impossible to prove a negative, many are pointing to his known brusk, tough-talking, and at times aggressive behavior as evidence that this attitude was endemic in his administration, and thus he shares blame.
A good example of this comes from the Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart. Just his blog title says it all:
During his 107-minute me-me-mea culpa over the traffic fiasco that plunged his national political fortunes into chaos, Gov. Chris Christie said something that was LOL funny. It came in response to a question from NBC News’s Kelly O’Donnell: “Your critics say this reveals that you are a political bully, that your style is payback,” she asked the New Jersey Republican known for his love of rhetorical fisticuffs and penchant for retribution. “Are you? And does this compromise your ability to serve?
Capehart then cites a couple of instances of Christie making snarky retorts at people asking him challenging questions. Those responses are part of what made independents and people on the Right like him, while it tended to anger those on the Left. To Capehart and those in his echo chamber, it’s proof that Christie is a bully, and proof that he either knew or his style encouraged the corrupt behavior.
At the top of that echo chamber is this editorial from the New York Times:
There are plenty of questions that Mr. Christie and his aides, current and former, need to answer.
First, is it plausible that officials as high up as Ms. Kelly and Mr. Christie’s top appointees at the Port Authority, which controls the bridge, would decide to seek revenge and create this traffic chaos on their own?
Did Mr. Christie know in December, when Mr. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein resigned, that these two members of his inner circle had taken part in the scheme? Did he ever ask them what happened?
Piers Morgan says it’s as big a scandal as Watergate.
The echo chamber from the other side is obviously more willing to give Christie the benefit of the doubt. But they’re certainly not just accepting his side of the story and drawing a line under the incident. Charles Krauthammer is taking a wait-and-see attitude. He even suggests that if Christie’s toughness image comes across after this as “a petty toughness”, he’s “toast”. That and the IBD sentiment I mentioned above are echoed by Red State’s Eric Erickson (writing for Fox News here):
I’m ambivalent on his run for the presidency . But I don’t see him getting that far for the very reasons underlying this issue — he and his staff operate as divas.I have had congressmen, governors, and the staffers of congressmen and governors tell me horror stories about dealing with Christie’s people.
All of them seem to dread it.
It seems that even if Christie comes out of this with clean(ish) hands, the bully label is going to stick. Of course, nobody in either echo chamber is comparing that to Hillary Clinton’s own horror stories about how she treats people, but it’s only a matter of time if Christie does eventually declare.
So is it going to doom Christie’s presidential hopes? It’s too soon to tell, of course, but there are plenty of guesses out there. Lisa Schiffren in the National Review Online’s “The Corner”, thinks this too shall pass and Christie the (eventual) candidate might even come out of this the better for it. The other echo chamber, here in the form of Jason Linkins of the HuffingtonPost, thinks there’s always the possibility of a “Comeback Kid” story, as the media likes to create these Narratives.
There’s one other facet to this story – particularly the coverage and the opinion-mongering – which goes back to what I said about how opinion of the IRS scandal can be a kind of metric. The same people on the Left who defended the President on that saying he couldn’t possibly have known, and his behavior had no influence on the IRS going after his political enemies, are now certain that Christie’s behavior influenced and led to everything, and of course he probably knew.
Before closing, we must also consider the other, other echo chamber: Twitter.
Christie has taken responsibility within a day of learning of the scandal. That’s more times than Obama has in 5 years of scandals.
— Matt (@Matthops82) January 9, 2014
“I am responsible for what happened.”
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 9, 2014
Wow, an actual leader.
— Charles C. W. Cooke (@charlescwcooke) January 9, 2014
It’s too early to know how this will turn out, but the various opinions have been far more revealing of the attitudes and politics of the people making them than about anything in the story itself.