Cooper failed to ask: Through the miracle of On Demand, we watched Anderson Cooper’s Friday night program yesterday afternoon.
Kate Zernike appeared on the show for its first two segments. In a sad demonstration of modern press culture, Cooper failed to ask!
Ostensibly, Cooper and his panel of pundits were trying to determine if David Wildstein has the goods on Chris Christie. This was the exciting way Cooper started the show:
COOPER (1/31/14): We begin with breaking news. A new question: Are Governor Chris Christie's one-time political allies now turning on him?Is “allegedly” the right word there? Has someone actually made that “allegation?”
It seems that this might be the case because tonight, one of those former allies has just issued what seems to be a direct challenge to New Jersey’s governor’s flat-out denials in connection with the bridge closing scandal. This denial:
CHRISTIE (videotape): I had no knowledge of this, the planning, execution or anything about it. And then I first found out about it after it was over.
COOPER: That is Governor Chris Christie, denying any connection to the four-day traffic jam of the George Washington Bridge that some of this top aides created, allegedly as a form of political payback.
Whatever! As he continued, Cooper managed to report what David Wildstein’s lawyer had said.
First, he played a bewildering montage of short statements by Christie, many of which had nothing to do with what had now been alleged. After that display of journalistic incompetence, he reported what Wildstein’s lawyer had said:
COOPER: Today, a development that could, if true, be a very bad sign for the governor. It comes in a letter from the lawyer for that Christie appointee, David Wildstein, this guy here, to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.To his credit, Cooper proceeded to list some of the shortcomings with the lawyer’s claim. Let’s cut to the chase:
He writes, “Evidence exists tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what was said publicly in a two-hour press conference.”
“If true,” the lawyer’s claim “could be a very bad sign” for Christie, Cooper said.
In the process, he stated a very fundamental condition. Might we state a basic point which Cooper largely glossed?
At this point, no one knows if the lawyer’s claim is actually true! This awkward fact got little play from Cooper in these two segments.
That said, there’s something else we still don’t know, thanks to people like Cooper. We still don’t really know what Christie has said about when he first learned about the lane closings.
It’s pretty silly to froth about Wildstein’s claim when the claim is so vague, especially since Wildstein is an unreliable person who has done ridiculous things in the recent past.
But if you’re going to burn two segments on this breaking news, wouldn’t you want to establish what Christie has said about this matter? Cooper made little attempt to do this, even though he was hosting Zernike, the episode’s reporter-of-record.
Zernike’s remarkable streak of bungled facts had continued that afternoon on the Times web site. That said, she actually is the reporter-of-record, which explains why she was on the show.
You’d think Cooper would want to nail down what Christie has actually said on this topic. That pretty much didn’t happen.
On the Times web site that day, Zernike had given a puzzling account of what Christie has said (text below). Cooper never asked about that.
Below, you see the best he could do with a very basic factual question: What has Christie actually said about when he learned about the lane closings?
COOPER: So Kate, let me start off with you. Does what the lawyer for Wildstein is saying, does it directly contradict what the governor of New Jersey has said?“Wildstein is calling Governor Christie on a lie?” Has Zernike heard of the term “alleged?” (Needless to say, that's the headline at the Cooper site.)
ZERNIKE: Well, I think in the governor’s statement, he said this, what it says is that I had no prior knowledge. In fact, as your montage there showed, the governor has said, I didn't know about this while it was going on.
Wildstein is saying that’s wrong. Wildstein is saying, evidence exists to this. He also says, I have evidence that the governor’s statements about me were wrong. I can prove those statements wrong, saying I can prove that.
COOPER: But is the governor saying he didn't know the lanes were closed while it was going on, or he didn't know the allegedly political reasons behind the lane closures while it was going on?
ZERNIKE: Both. He is saying, I didn't know the lanes were clo—I didn't know, I didn’t know about the planning for this prior to— Now, he is saying I didn't know about this prior to this and I didn't know the motivation for them. I think the broader point of Wilds, the letter from Wildstein's lawyer is, Wildstein is calling Governor Christie on a lie. Wildstein who has been, who was really Governor Christie's eyes and ears at the Port Authority, is now saying, “No, no, what he said in that two-hour press conference is wrong and I can contradict that.”
From there, the discussion turned toward pure speculation—speculation about what Zernike called “the interesting personal dynamic” between Christie and Wildstein. Now that the speculation had started, everyone got join in!
Perhaps because of all the excitement, Zernike talks so fast that she’s hard to transcribe. The official transcript is garbled and hard to follow Even using the videotape from Cooper's site, the transcript was hard to correct.
But in the course of his two segments, Cooper failed to define a basic fact—what has Christie actually said about when he learned about the lane closings? In Saturday’s morning’s New York Times, Zernike gives this account:
ZERNIKE (2/1/14): Mr. Christie, a Republican in his second term, made a brief appearance on Friday night at Howard Stern's 60th birthday party in Manhattan and introduced Jon Bon Jovi; the governor did not respond to reporters who shouted questions as he left. He has repeatedly said that he did not know about the lane closings until they were first reported by The Record, a North Jersey newspaper, on Sept. 13, the day a senior Port Authority official ordered the lanes reopened.The same account appeared on the Times web site on Friday.
Does that mean what it seems to mean? In that passage, Zernike seems to say that Christie has “repeatedly said” that he learned about the lane closings on Friday, September 13—the day the lane closings ended.
That may be true. That said, we don’t know of any occasion when Christie has clearly said that.
We don’t know why Zernike produced that account. Inevitably, Cooper failed to ask. Instead, he rushed ahead to those speculations about how the two men must feel about each other. We’ll let Jeff Toobin embarrass himself in our next post.
Can we talk? Until Wildstein defines his claim, this episode is largely piddle. On Friday night, Erin Burnett did a modestly competent job establishing that fact. Predictably, Cooper did not.
That said, has Christie actually said that he learned about the lane closings on September 13? We don’t know of any such statement, and Zernike is relentlessly wrong on her facts.
Has Christie ever said that? It’s a very basic fact; Cooper should have pursued it.
Here’s why it could possibly matter:
If Christie learned on September 13, it could be said that the lane closings were still going on. That would be a very stupid line for Wildstein to take. But have you observed his recent work?
Here’s a second possibility:
To what kind of “evidence” does Wildstein refer? Who knows? But could he possibly be referring to so-called hearsay evidence?
Answer: Of course he could be! Wildstein could end up presenting this sort of “evidence:” Someone told him that Christie knew during that ludicrous week.
Wildstein may have some actual evidence against Christie, of course. But if you think that couldn’t be what he means, you haven’t been observing his recent ridiculous conduct, which has him in serious trouble.
Everyone got excited on Friday. They were reacting to a hazy claim by the world’s least reliable person.
This time, they’re doing it to a Republican. Not long ago, they did it to Susan Rice, and to so many others before her.
(Definition of an impotent tribe: When they do it to us, we just sit there and watch. When they do it to them, we all cheer.)
As the excitement built on Friday, we were seeing scandal journalism at its dumbest and worst. The New York Times had spent the day correcting Zernike’s latest errors.
When she appeared on Cooper’s program, she wasn’t asked about her account of what Chris Christie has said.
Next post: Toobin and Gergen