Fuzzy claims, disappeared facts: We thought Rachel Maddow’s Monday night program was pretty much a disgrace.
It wasn’t just the fuzzy claims, a staple of her extended performance in the Fort Lee theater. It was the way she staged the latest summary trial of her latest defendant.
The new defendant was Philip Kwon, a Port Authority lawyer, part of the Christie team.
Has Kwon done something wrong in the Fort Lee mess? So far, there’s absolutely no way to know that—unless you’re watching Maddow’s program, which turned on some fuzzy assertions this night, and on some disappeared facts.
Maddow wants Kwon to get dunked in the village lake. Here’s the basic background:
On November 25, Bill Baroni testified to the New Jersey legislature about the Fort Lee lane closings. Baroni, who’s part of the Christie team, was David Wildstein’s superior at the Port Authority.
Baroni testified that the Fort Lee closings were part of a traffic study. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kwon helped prepare Baroni for that appearance.
What did Baroni know and believe about the lane closings? What did Kwon know and believe?
At present, we’d say those facts remain unknown. But Maddow was ready to string Kwon up or perhaps dunk him down. Her exciting report aired live and direct from the outskirts of Salem Village:
MADDOW (2/3/14): Citing unnamed officials, the Wall Street Journal reports that Phil Kwon, who’s also a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, Phil Kwon spent parts of four to five days helping prepare the testimony Bill Baroni gave to the legislature, which we know was a false cover story.As you can see, she already had Baroni tried and convicted. He had “helped cook up a false cover story...Who else was involved in the cover-up?”
The Port Authority for their part tonight, they are denying it was five whole days. They’re saying that kind of preparation before testimony is a routine matter and people shouldn’t read anything into it.
But you know what? Given that that testimony turned out to be made up, doesn’t that raise real questions about anybody being involved in the preparation of that testimony? Who else helped cook up the cover story besides David Wildstein and Bill Baroni?
Who else was involved in the cover-up? We’ll be right back.
Based on that text, you won’t be surprised to learn that Maddow was to convict Kwon too.
After all, Kwon was involved in the preparation of Baroni’s testimony! And that testimony “turned out to be made up!”
When Maddow returned from commercial break, she undertook the hanging of Kwon. Showing disappointing bad judgment, Assemblyman John Wisniewski seemed to sign on for the mob.
That said, this whole thing turns on some rather fuzzy claims, and on some basic facts which Maddow has never reported. The basic background is this:
All week long, Maddow has said, again and again, that Baroni’s testimony was “a false cover story.”
On Monday night, the term “cover story” was used again and again. By last night, Maddow had added more filigree to her assertion about the false cover story. She was describing the claim about the traffic study as an “untrue smoke-screen cover story that isn’t what actually happened.”
This colorful claim makes viewers feel good. It’s also extremely fuzzy.
What does it mean to say that the traffic study was “a false cover story?” It could mean various things, including this:
It could mean that talk about the traffic study was just a hoax all along—that Wildstein never had any interest in conducting any such study or test, in gathering or analyzing data about traffic on I-95.
By this theory, the traffic study was a cover story in this sense—it was a way of hiding Wildstein’s real intentions and motives.
That theory may well turn out to be the truth. It may turn out that the traffic study was a total sham all along, a way to wreak havoc on Fort Lee, that being Wildstein’s real objective.
That doesn’t mean that Baroni or Kwon knew it was a sham. And here we reach the problem with the way Maddow husbands her facts.
Despite the many hours Maddow has burned on Fort Lee, she has never told her viewers some basic facts about the events of the week of September 9. Watching Maddow, you would almost surely get the impression that the traffic study was “a cover story” dreamed up after the fact—after the week of September 9, after the lane closings happened.
Plainly, that isn’t the case. The traffic study may well have been a cover story in the way we’ve described. But as two bridge officials described in sworn testimony on December 9, Wildstein went through the motions of seeming to conduct some sort of traffic study, or test, both during the week of the closings and dating back to August.
Bridge director Cedrick Fulton and bridge general manager Robert Durando testified at length, under oath, about what Wildstein did. Unless Maddow plans to hang them too, it was their impression that Wildstein actually was conducting some sort of traffic study, or test.
(Fulton said he wasn’t sure which term Wildstein had used.)
They though it was a bad idea, carried out in irregular ways. But Wildstein was going through the motions, and continued to do so all week.
According to Fulton and Durando, data were collected and analyzed that week. Preliminary, underwhelming results were observed. This whole thing may have been a hoax, but Durando and Fulton didn’t know that. At present, there’s no obvious basis for saying that Baroni or Kwon knew that either.
Maddow was channeling Tailgunner Joe in Monday night’s performance. Disappointingly, Wisniewski clambered on board to help.
Here you see one part of their exchange. In the highlighted passages, we’ll ask you to note the way this particular tail-gunner toys with her basic facts:
MADDOW: Joining us now is the co-chair of the New Jersey Assembly Select Committee’s investigation into this matter, Assemblyman John Wisniewski. Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here.For various reasons, that strikes us as very bad conduct on Wisniewski’s part.
WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, good to be back.
MADDOW: Bill Baroni gave you two hours of testimony on the closure of those bridge lanes. I reread all of that testimony today and looked back at some of that tape. He said it was all to do with a traffic study. Is it clear to you that we now know that was inaccurate testimony?
WISNIEWSKI: It was inaccurate testimony. There was no traffic study. Pat Foye in his testimony denied the existence of a traffic study. The documents we’ve received from the people we’ve previously submitted show there was no photographic study. It seems to be some type of cover story.
MADDOW: If the Wall Street Journal’s reporting is accurate, that Phillip Kwon, a lawyer at the Port Authority, a close ally and appointee of the governor’s, was involved in four to five days of preparation of Mr. Baroni for that testimony, which you just said is inaccurate, are—does that open up a new line of questions for the Port Authority, for the governor, or for Mr. Kwon?
WISNIEWSKI: One of the fundamental problems we have with this entire inquiry, every time we learn something we get a whole bunch of new questions that we don`t have answers to...
But the point is, it just seems an unusual amount of time to have somebody spend and prep you for talking about something that is supposed to be factual. I mean, if it’s something that happened, somebody understood and knew and was planning for, I’m really mystified at the length of time it was necessary to prepare Bill Baroni for the testimony.
In our view, that’s very bad conduct on the part of both players. For the record, Wisniewski is slightly misstating what Pat Foye said in his testimony, during which he repeatedly spoke favorably of Baroni.
Having said that, note the way Maddow routinely spins up her facts:
The Wall Street Journal did not report that Kwon “was involved in four to five days of preparation of Mr. Baroni for that testimony.” The paper reported that Kwon spent parts of four to five days helping prepare Baroni.
That could be thirty minutes on each of four days; Maddow has no way of knowing. But as the segment went along, she increasingly turned the prep session into four to five days, with Wisniewski saying that he can’t see why it would take that long.
Dis Wisniewski know how long the prep sessions took? If he knew more than the Journal reported, he didn’t burden Maddow’s viewers with his knowledge.
In that session, a histrionic cable host was conducting her latest trial. Here’s the key point:
There is no way of knowing at this point what Baroni and Kwon may have known or believed about that “traffic study.” Even if we assume the whole thing was a hoax on Wildstein’s part, there’s no obvious way Kwon would have known that.
Maddow’s viewers aren’t likely to realize that, of course. Through endless hours of snark and screech about Fort Lee, she has never told them what Wildstein actually did during the week of the closings and in the weeks before.
Kevin Drum keeps insisting that there was no legitimate traffic study. In this context, that isn’t the point. There was at least the pretense that a study, or test, was occurring. It helps Maddow hang people she hates if viewers aren't given such facts.
All along, we’ve made a basic point about the reporting of these events. On a simple journalistic basis, you can’t throw away basic facts. The things that Wildstein did that week are a basic part of this story. The New York Times has never reported what he did, and neither has Maddow.
On Monday night, Maddow played on her viewers’ ignorance. Did Kwon believe that a study or test took place?
Not in Maddow’s Salem Village, where misused citizens haven’t been told some basic facts of the case.
Next: Wildstein was paid too much!