Goofus and Gallant debate: Ideally, people should try to avoid premature judgments when scandal culture breaks out.
With that in mind, let’s examine an ongoing question: why were those access lanes in Fort Lee shut down last September?
At present, that question hasn’t been answered. We’ll have to hope that ongoing investigations will be able to nail that point down.
Some journalists don’t want to wait; they want their conclusions right now. Let’s compare two journalistic treatments from the past few days.
On Thursday night’s All In, Chris Hayes and a guest examined a possible motivefor the access lane closing. As they did, they made it clear that they don’t yet know what the motive was.
Hayes introduced a reporter who had examined some documents:
HAYES (2/6/14): Joining me now is the Talking Points Memo reporter who uncovered this new detail, Hunter Walker. Hunter, while you go for this record, what are you trying to find out here?Before he discussed one possible explanation, Walker established the fact that we don’t yet know what the motive was. He then discussed documents he had examined as he explored the possibility of a link to the billion-dollar development in Fort Lee:
WALKER: Well, you know, as you said before, we really don’t know what was at the root of these lanes being shut down. And, you know, Brian Murphy and Steve Kornacki both on this network and our Web site put forth this theory that, you know, if you follow the money, the biggest most expensive thing at the end of this bridge is this billion-dollar development.
WALKER: One thing we definitely saw in these documents is that, you know, the question of bridge access and traffic was absolutely central to whether or not this development would be approved and whether it would be successful for the residents. You know, one of the planning board members referred to as, quote/unquote, "dumping traffic right on to the bridge." And these three lanes that were shut down were the subject of a study conducted by the developers...Several parts of that sounded very familiar. That said, we agree with Hayes on the weirdness of Team Wildstein’s reactions to Foye's order to stop the lane closings.
So, you know, as you said before, we don’t know, you know, who would have been the target of an attempt to sort of hijack this development. You know, was it an attempt to shake down the developers? There’s two developers involved in this 15-acre parcel. There`s multiple financiers. There`s the mayor. So again, we still don’t know—but, you know, this development could have been put at risk by traffic.
HAYES: One of the things I think that’s underappreciated here is that the so-called traffic study that was only shut down because the head of the Port Authority appointed by Andrew Cuomo on the New York side, Patrick Foye, shut it down once he heard about it and sent an angry e-mail. And, in fact, in the e-mail traffic what you get from Wildstein, I believe Baroni, definitely Wildstein, is, “We’re trying to reverse it, trying to keep it shut down.”
Meaning, it is unclear how long they intended this to go. It`s possible they were going put the thumb on the scale and keep it there as long as they could.
WALKER: And the reason Steve Kornacki and Brian Murphy first started pointing at this was the financing for the development. It was actually approved in 2012, the preliminary plan. But the financing was being locked up right as these closures were happening. So, it seems a very sensitive moment in the project.
How long did they intend for this lunacy to continue? We find their roid-rage-like reactions to Foye to be rather strange. (That said, we know nothing about ongoing relations between the New York and New Jersey contingents within the Port Authority. Sometimes, crazy reactions reflect preexisting conflicts.)
That said, Hayes and Walker constantly noted that they don’t know what the motive was—that they were exploring possibilities. That makes them the “Gallants” of this morning’s post.
As always, the New York Times and Kate Zernike cast themselves in the role of Goofus the very next day.
On Friday morning, Zernike published a 1600-word front-page report about Wildstein’s background. Early on, she reinstated a factual assertion—the now-famous lane closings were an act of revenge:
ZERNIKE (2/7/14): Mr. Wildstein, the former director of interstate projects for the Port Authority, is now the wild card in the scandal surrounding Gov. Chris Christie and the revenge-fueled closings of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge in September. Last week, his lawyer released a letter saying that ''evidence exists'' to show that the governor knew about the closings while they happened, contrary to what he had said at a marathon news conference. The lawyer also wrote that Mr. Wildstein himself had evidence to show that the governor spoke inaccurately about Mr. Wildstein, whose hiring he had authorized at the agency that runs the bridge.Were the lane closings really “revenge-fueled?” In our hard-copy New York Times, Zernike’s statement was even more colorful. In that same early part of her front-page report, she referred to “the revenge-closings of” the access lanes, using a colorful phrase she has invented as part of her endlessly bungled reporting. (She has used the phrase before.)
Starting on January 9, Zernike has repeatedly stated, as a matter of fact, that the lane closings were an act of revenge. We don’t know why she keeps making that claim. Plainly, that motive has not been established as a matter of fact. The night before her recent report, Hayes and Walker were discussing a possible motive which would involve a financial shakedown, not an act of revenge.
Like Walker and Hayes, we don’t know what the motive for the lane closings was. We have to hope that ongoing probes will uncover the motive.
That will take time. In the meantime, some journalists will play Goofus. They will claim that the motive has been established. They will generate new, exciting scandal claims on a regular basis, often out of thin air.
On Thursday, Hayes and Walker played the Gallant part. They acknowledged what they didn’t yet know. Having done so, they described some real attempts to further our actual knowledge.
Intellectual standards at the Times are extremely low. It’s hard to believe that the paper’s work is this soft. But be forewarned: