Rachel [HEART] Mayor Sokolich: Over the weekend, an important new fact emerged, or seemed to emerge, in the Fort Lee story. Here it is:
Mayor Mark Sokolich actually was asked to endorse Governor Christie!
This basic fact is only “new” because Sokolich made a point of saying the opposite as recently as last Wednesday. Over the weekend, he changed his story, as we first noted on Monday.
We’ve noted this fact several times because it’s a very basic fact, given the way the Fort Lee story has been reported. You’d think the fact that Sokolich changed his story would be widely noted and explored.
It hasn’t happened that way. Instead, various journalists have worked rather hard to avoid noting the fact that Sokolich changed this part of his story. We’ll assume the reason is obvious:
In the way this drama has been crafted, Sokolich has been cast as the good guy in a highly fraught morality tale. For that reason, no one wants to say that he went on CNN last Wednesday night and told a bit of a fib to Wolf Blitzer:
BLITZER (1/8/14): So take us into this feud that was going. Did they really expect you, a Democrat, to endorse the Republican candidate's re-election, Chris Christie?Based on what Sokolich said this weekend, that pretty much wasn’t true. Over the weekend, he did seem to describe “a specific request to endorse,” although he told the New York Times he still didn’t want to name the person who made the request.
SOKOLICH: I guess. You know, I've said this many times. I don't recall a specific request to endorse, but, you know, the events that led up to all of this, I guess you can interpret to be somehow attracting me to endorse. I didn't want to endorse for several reasons, not the least of, which is I'm a Democrat. I was supportive of Miss. Buono.
Speaking with Blitzer, Sokolich strongly stressed the idea that he couldn’t recall a specific request to endorse. He strongly underplayed the notion that “the events that led up to all of this” could be “interpreted” as “attracting him” to endorse.
He said he “guessed” you could “somehow” interpret those events that way. Speaking to the New York Times, he said something quite different.
This doesn’t mean that Sokolich is some sort of bad person. That said, if Christie changed a key part of his story to that extent, it would surely be called a lie and bruited all over cable.
That’s the way story-telling works, as opposed to journalism.
As far as we know, no one has asked Sokolich why he said what he said to Blitzer. Instead, journalists have drawn attention away from this change in his story.
No one has worked any harder than Rachel Maddow, who is often journalistically clownish. Last evening, she was wearing her big orange shoes as she handed you this:
MADDOW (1/15/14): In the Sunday New York Times this week, the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Mark Sokolich, did an interview in which he explained how and when he was asked by the Chris Christie reelection campaign if he would please endorse Chris Christie for re-election. He said the request happened last spring. He said it was not a high pressure pitch, but he said he didn`t want to tell the Times exactly who the Chris Christie staffer was who had contacted him and asked for his endorsement.For the record, the reports in question appeared in the Monday hard-copy editions of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. They appeared on-line Sunday night.
That same day, though, the Wall Street Journal named the guy. It turns out, reportedly, it was a guy named Matt Mowers. Matt Mowers, according to the Wall Street Journal, was the Christie campaign official who is responsible for calling Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, and other Democratic mayors across New Jersey in trying to talk them into endorsing Chris Christie.
On last night’s program, Maddow cited Sokolich’s “explanation” of “how and why he was asked to please endorse” in a thoroughly casual way. She acted like she was discussing a thoroughly routine matter.
She wasn’t! She was discussing a basic change in the mayor’s story. But then, Maddow’s refusal to report the fact that Sokolich flipped has been especially clownish.
Last Thursday, Maddow built the entire first half of her program around the fact that Sokolich said he hadn’t been asked to endorse. Because Christie and Sokolich had said similar things, Maddow devised a whole new theory of the motive behind the lane closings.
In our view, Maddow’s new theory was rather half-baked, but it was widely hailed in the liberal world. That’s why it has been especially grating to see this partisan non-journalist discuss the mayor’s new story without ever noting the fact that Sokolich changed his account.
The fact that Sokolich changed his story doesn’t make him a bad guy. It may mean that New Jersey Dems are so intimidated by Christie’s bully-boy tactics that they are reluctant to state even the most basic facts.
That said, Sokolich did change his story. Or at least, you’d think Maddow would see it that way, since she built a whole new theory out of the mayor’s old story.
Here’s the way she framed it last week. Warning! Bad paraphrase coming!
MADDOW (1/9/14) The operating assumption to explain what happened in the Chris Christie bridge scandal is that this whole thing came about because of political retaliation for the Fort Lee mayor refusing to endorse Governor Christie, and so his town of Fort Lee had to pay the price. He didn`t endorse, and so Fort Lee had to be punished.Maddow saves herself with a lousy paraphrase. According to her paraphrase, Sokolich told Blitzer he thinks he was maybe asked to endorse, though it wasn’t a short sharp shock.
The governor refuted that assumption today by saying, “Yes, I wanted endorsements but this one in Fort Lee was not a high-stakes thing for us. We didn’t even try hard for it. I didn’t even meet the guy. Why do you think my side would flip out so outrageously and bring the hammer down for not getting this endorsement? One in a zillion of them!”
We don’t have to take Christie`s word for it. The mayor of Fort Lee himself, Mark Sokolich, has also indicated although he thinks he was maybe asked to endorse, it wasn’t a short sharp shock. It wasn’t any massive pressure campaign to get him onboard. He barely even remembers it. He was asked about it last night on CNN.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did they really expect you, a Democrat, to endorse the Republican candidate’s re-election, Chris Christie?
SOKOLICH: I guess. I’ve said this many times, I don’t recall a specific request to endorse, but, you know, the events that led up to all of this, I guess you can interpret to be somehow attracting me to endorse. I didn’t want to endorse for several reasons. Not the least of which is I`m a Democrat. I was supportive of Ms. Buono. I wasn’t prepared to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, it’s true that the Fort Lee mayor, Mr. Sokolich, did not endorse Chris Christie when some other Democratic officials did and the governor clearly wanted those endorsements. Lots of Democratic local officials in New Jersey did not endorse Chris Christie, either, when they got asked to, and they didn’t get their towns blown up for a week.
Maybe it wasn’t about the endorsement. Maybe it was something else special about Fort Lee.
That is barely written in English—and it isn’t what Sokolich said. Sokolich said he “couldn’t recall a specific request to endorse.” He said he guessed you could interpret events as somehow constituting an attempt to attract him to endorse.
That just isn't what he told the New York Times this weekend.
Over the weekend, Sokolich changed his story; someone should ask him why. Among the many other facts Maddow is keeping from her viewers, she is refusing to state the obvious—Sokolich changed a basic part of his story, for whatever reason.
That doesn’t make Sokolich a bad guy. It doesn’t mean that Christie's team didn’t behave extremely badly, perhaps criminally.
It helps make Maddow what she is—a highly partisan tribal dramatist who often appears in large shoes.