Zernike changes her basic account again!


On Morning Joe, total confusion: Normally, we don’t watch Morning Joe. We’re elsewhere, drinking coffee.

This morning, we happened to watch during the program’s first half hour. Nicolle Wallace was trying to nail down some basic facts about the Christie fandango.

As she did, she made some basic presumptions which seem to be widespread among the pundit class. In the exchange shown below, she explains what Team Christie should have said in response to David Wildstein this weekend.

In the highlighted statement, Wallace makes a common pair of presumptions. As far as we know, each presumption is false:
WALLACE (2/3/14): I actually think that the way they [the Christie team] responded brought more eyeballs to this story…If they had simply said, “We stand by the governor’s statement in his press conference. He had no knowledge that there were political shenanigans going on with the lane closures. But of course he was he was aware that two lanes on a major bridge in his state were closed for three days.”

SCARBOROUGH: That’s no news, period. And that’s it!
Wallace takes it as obvious that Christie knew about the lane closings while they were happening. Other pundits on Morning Joe were making this same presumption.

The lane closings were all over the news, pundits like this routinely say. Of course Governor Christie would have to have known about them!

As far as we know, the lane closings were not all over the news. According to Nexis, the first mention of the situation in a New Jersey or New York newspaper occurred on Friday, September 13—the day the lane closings ended.

When N. R. Kleinfield summarized these events in the New York Times, he gave the same account of when news coverage started.

Wallace makes a second mistake—a mistake many other Morning Joe pundits seemed to be making today. The lane closings did not occur “on a major bridge in his state.”

The lane closings didn’t occur on the bridge at all! They occurred on access lanes leading to the bridge. Scarborough and a barrelful of uninformed pundits seemed to say, as the program wore on, that anyone driving from New Jersey to New York, as Christie did that week, would of course have seen that lanes were closed as they crossed the bridge.

No lanes were closed on the bridge! Morning Joe had assembled a boatload of pundits who didn’t seem to understand the simplest facts about this high-profile event.

Then too, there was Kate Zernike, who appeared on Morning Joe in a second segment today—one of the most confused and confusing pundit segments we have ever seen.

(To watch the two David Wildstein segments, just click here. Then continue clicking.)

The bulk of this morning’s confusion was created by Scarborough and his clueless team of pundits. That said, Zernike gave her third account in as many days about what Christie has said in the past about the way he first learned about the lane closings.

Have we ever seen a major reporter with such a weak command of such basic facts? Let’s review the three accounts Zernike has given in the past three days.

On Friday, David Wildstein challenged something Christie is taken to have said. According to Wildstein’s lawyer, “evidence exists...tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference.”

The two-hour press conference occurred on January 9.

What has Christie actually said about this matter? In the last three days, Zernike has answered that question three different ways.

What has Christie said about this topic? On the front page of Saturday’s New York Times, Zernike reported this:
ZERNIKE (2/1/14): 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.
That made it sound like Christie has said, “repeatedly,” that he learned about the lane closings on September 13, apparently from the Bergen Record.

We were puzzled by that account. By the next day, it had changed:
ZERNIKE (2/2/14): Mr. Christie had said in his January news conference that he was unaware of the lane closings until they were first reported in The Record, a North Jersey newspaper, on September 13, when the lanes were reopened, and that he had not learned until January that they had any political motive.
The claim of those “repeated” statements had now been dropped. We were only told what Christie said on January 9.

It still sounded like he said at that time that he learned of the closings on September 13, from the Bergen Record. Here’s our problem with that:

We still can’t find Christie making that statement in the transcript of his January 9 press conference. If you want to try, just click here.

This morning, Zernike’s account changed again. Here’s what she said on Morning Joe, in her patented herky-jerky style:
ZERNIKE (2/3/14): Christie had said earlier, I didn’t—

Christie said two things.

One, he said, I didn’t know— At one point, he said, I didn’t know until, until Pat—So the executive director of the Port Authority’s memo was leaked, which was October 1, OK? The lane closings end September 12.

So first he said, I didn’t know until Pat Foye’s email was leaked, that was October 1.

Then he said, in the two-hour press conference he said, I didn’t know about these lane closures till they were over—on September 13. What Wildstein is saying, he knew about it while they were happening.
Those “repeated” statements by Christie are gone. As of today, they’ve been replaced by two contradictory statements.

We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a more confused reporter than Zernike. As of today, her claim of those “repeated” statements seems to be “no longer operative.” That said, we’re still confused by her account of what Christie said at the famous two-hour presser on January 9.

Go ahead—search the transcript. We find no point at which Christie says he learned of the closings on September 13. We find no place where he cites the Bergen Record as the source of his knowledge.

We have no idea why Zernike wrote what she did on Saturday. By Sunday, she seemed to have scaled back that account. Today, her account on Morning Joe is substantially different.

Zernike’s attempt at reporting this topic has followed this pattern right from its pitiful start.

Why do we often describe the press corps as a social club? Watch today’s Morning Joe tapes—there are two segments on this subject—if you want to find out.

The pundits seem to have no idea about the simplest facts of this case. When Zernike appears in the second tape, she has changed her basic account for the second straight day—and we still can’t verify the account she is giving.

But so what? On Morning Joe, everyone is laughing and chuckling and enjoying their state of complete incoherence. These are highly irresponsible people. They’re also a blight on your nation’s future.

Meanwhile, what has Christie said in the past? Zernike seems completely unable to answer this basic question. TV stars like Scarborough and Anderson Cooper seem completely unable to nail her down on this point.

From her first day reporting this major event, Zernike has endlessly bungled the facts. She may be the most incompetent reporter we have ever seen.


  1. If the job is to report news to people who don't know what happened, then getting the facts straight matters. If the job is to smear Christie for the entertainment of readers, then it doesn't matter what you say. I think a person should be evaluated according to his or her job description. Wish I knew what it was.

  2. This "blog" has been so thoroughly discredited and exposed as a sham, I don't see how it can last even a few more weeks.

  3. Zernike is supposed to recap each of Christie's shifting accounts in each article and appearance? Has Christie had no opportunity to lay out a clear timeline of his involvement and that of his staff?

    Each post is stunningly worst than the last. Look, there's some kind of controversy in Baltimore about "tapping" email and a botched speeding camera program--it's got intrigue and traffic issues all bound up with politics--great! Why not give that some media criticism? Because this thread is a fail.

    1. Are you trying to deflect Somerby's attention from his current interests for some reason? Who are you protecting?

  4. What the "Road Warrior" columnist in NorthJersey.com said on September 13, 2013 ("Closed tollbooths a commuting disaster"):

    "The reason: The Port Authority, which runs the bridge, cut the number of tollbooths from three to one on the big span and narrowed the traffic patterns on its approaches from two Fort Lee streets. Instead of three lanes, the approach from Bruce Reynolds Boulevard and Martha Washington Way funnels down to one lane that leads to a combination cash-and-E-ZPass toll booth."

    1. Written as it was happening or concluding;
    2. Expert on northern New Jersey roads says tollbooth lanes were "on the span."

    1. If you cut out two of the feed lanes, you shouldn't need as many toll booths. This is probably why the throughput didn't increase much.

      Wouldn't it be funny if this was all done at Mayor Sokolich's request because he was tired of having so many cars passing through his neighborhood streets on the way to the bridge?

    2. By Somerby's analysis, you qualify as a guest expert on Morning Joe. Have your agent call.

  5. What Bob seems to ignore is that Christie is largely a *creation* of the "press corps" he loathes --- not least his sycophants on Morning Joe.

    As the liberal world's "MVP," Krugman notes on his blog:

    "What’s remarkable here, actually, is how many pundits were taken in by the Christie persona. How could they not at least have wondered whether this guy’s bullying style reflected deeper flaws?"

  6. http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/03/as-the-latest-christie-story-evolved-the-times-should-have-noted-a-change/

    FEBRUARY 3, 2014

    As the Latest Christie Story Evolved, The Times Should Have Noted a Change

    [ Margaret Sullivan agrees as well, Bob. The reporting was simply shoddy no matter what we subsequently learn as fact. ]

    1. I was startled at how misleading the initial NYTimes account was. This was needless, a story must be accurately and fairly reported.

    2. Shades of Watergate - "You've done worse than let Haldeman slip away: you've got people feeling sorry for him. I didn't think that was possible."

    3. Margaret Sullivan's critique is important and corroborates completely what Bob Somerby has been saying. The reporting by the Times on this matter has been really problematic.

      Thanks for the Sullivan post, and for the analysis Bob.


    4. Sullivan's acknowledgement of an error concerned an online report by Zernike in breaking the story of Wildstein's lawyer's letter. The error was the initial report that the lawyer stated Wilstein had evidence contrdicting Christies public statements about when he knew of the closure. It was corrected in the print edition to say the letter stated such evidence exists, not that Wilstein had it.

      Funny, but I have searched the transcripts of Bob Somerby's postings and I find no record of him finding or mentioning the error which Sullivan acknowldedged.

      What does exist is a post about differences between the online and print edition in which Somerby devotes great detail to the changes in references to the high school relationship between Christie and Wildstein.

      Sullivan corroborates nothing about Somerby other than he was so busy wallowing in details about the high school trees that he missed the forest altogether.

  7. Bob represents the worst humankind has to offer.

    1. No, that distinction belongs to you.

  8. The Washington Post's Erik Wemple highlights Zernike's sloppy journalism today: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2014/02/03/new-york-times-defends-christie-story-governor-was-trying-to-change-the-discussion/?hpid=z3

  9. Thanks for the Wemple post, same as Sullivan in the Times, and showing why Bob's analysis was spot on.

  10. Here is a link to a WSJ article that adds some background to the Christie scandal:

    The fascinating thing to me is the WSJ diligence in covering this story. One would have to guess Christie was very popular with WSJ readers locally and even nationally. The comments on the article are somewhat deranged, but generally seem to be defending Christie.

    So why is the WSJ doing so much on this story? They could run another SuperBowl piece or interview a trader about the stock market dropping 6% in a month. Instead they are building a mosaic of corruption around Christie.

    1. And why has Bob failed to mention the WSJ, who has really done a lot of the heavy lifting, including the infamous Foye e-mail, broken by Ted Mann back on Oct. 1? That's when this story began to get wider attention outside of NJ/NY.

      Or the work done by the Newark Star-Ledger? Or the Bergen County Record, the second largest newspaper in New Jersey, who got the ball rolling with the Sept. 13 "Road Warrior" column that wouldn't take "traffic study" for an answer?

      Surely, in all his "musings" about mainstream media and their baseless speculation, Bob could point to that Sept. 13 column -- way before any evidence came in -- and wonder why the Record columnist simply didn't take the word of the Port Authority's "spokesman" at face value when he said it was a study of traffic-safety patterns, something Bob holds as still "possible" -- even in ordered by "stupid, crazy, insane" and now "unreliable" Wildstein.

      Why doesn't Bob, in the service of truth which he holds so dear, change his tagline to "musings about MSNBC and the New York Times . . ."

  11. "Meanwhile, what has Christie said in the past? Zernike seems completely unable to answer this basic question. TV stars like Scarborough and Anderson Cooper seem completely unable to nail her down on this point." BOB

    Let's see, when Sokolich's account changed a bit, BOB was all over it. He noted the contradictions himself from other media sources, put them together, and attacked his least favorite media pinatas for not covering these "contradictions."

    Somerby could easily report all the different news accounts of Christie statements which contradict themselves about when he first "learned." But somehow we don't see a post about that. We do see a correct critique of Zernike's poor job of reporting the shifty Christie, but no assertive BOB running down the contradiction himself as he did with Soklolich.

    BOB the investigative blogger digging deep into AP archives to find and post a piece in which a professor reports that there was data which could not be definitively ruled out as data from a traffic study? That BOB has been MIA when detailing the many accounts of this important piece of shifting Christie statements of "when he knew."

    Also note that BOB has missed reviewing the reporting of the memo by Camp Christie attacking Wildstein on Saturday last. That memo contained bullet points attacking Wildstein for things said about him or that he did in high school. It's point was that Wildstein is unreliable.

    Guess who, out of the blue, called Wildstein unreliable for the first time on Saturday? Did you guess BOB? You would be right.

    Throughout this series, going back to December, BOB has professed distaste for Christie. But he has backed him on nearly every point, starting with the presumption in December that if it were revealed there never was a traffic study Christie could simply deny knowing that and would be telling the truth.

    BTW BOB. Morning Joe got the lane closures wrong today. You got who was leveling charges against Christie wrong. Then you got it right, only, like Zernike, you got it wrong again. In the same damn post. All without notation or correction. Have you been Dowdied Up, Maddow Cloneclowned, or Zernikified?

    No perspirtation dude, your fans still love you. They are even crediting you here for the one New York Times mistake everyone caught but you.


    1. Bob could have written a good post about how, in this Information Age where being first is all-important -- even if by minutes, that stories get rushed to online publication long before they are fully vetted and edited.

      I have quite often seen a story in my local morning newspaper, here in flyover country, and said to myself, "Self? This is different than the story I read online yesterday evening."

      But then, Bob couldn't pretend that this is a problem peculiar to the New York Times, and especially peculiar to the Christie coverage.

      And now that you mentioned it, Bob has carried enough water for the Governor of New Jersey to fill every parched reservoir in California, dutifully reporting all the best-case scenarios favorable to him as well as honing in on all the governor's talking points as if they were true, to the point of "speculating" that if this turned out to be no traffic study but something far more dastardly, Christie would simply deny knowing about it and that would "presumably" be true.

      But instead of "presuming" that Christie told the truth on Jan. 9 that he didn't know any of his staff was involved until Jan. 8 -- nearly four months after the incident in question, "those damned kids" in the media keep asking questions.

      Surely, Bob wasn't taken in by the old media narrative of Chris Christie -- the straight-shooting maverick who gets things done for the good of his people. Say it ain't so.

    2. Anonymouis @3:49A,

      Still don't get it, do you? How much slower can I type so you can follow?

      TDH isn't carrying water for Christie. This isn't a blog about the good and bad points of politicians, but rather one about how journalists cover and fail to cover the news.

      Nowhere does TDH claim or presume that Christie is telling the truth. TDH claims that certain reporters can't get the simplest known facts straight about the story.

      And, ferchrissakes, it's "homing in on." Honing is what you do to knives.

    3. Sorry, but "this blog is about journalists" was a bullshit excuse when Bob first thought it up. It is still a bullshit excuse no matter how many times his few remaining fans regurgitate it.

      And thank you for the English lesson, but I still think "honing" as in sharpening his rather dull knives, is apt.

    4. deadrat. Please. You write:

      "Nowhere does TDH claim or presume that Christie is telling the truth."

      You write English. Read English.

      For you, the short version:

      Maddow:....if the traffic study line is proven to not be true, what happens to Chris Christie then?"

      Somerby....Chris Christie will say that he didn’t know.....Presumably, his claim will be true. That’s what happens to Christie.

      For BOBfans like Cecelia who respond to facts in their face with imagined, assumed or invented context here it is. They are still free to invent what BOB meant to say.

      MADDOW: Whatever did happen still has not been explained. Governor Christie has gone so far as to say mistakes were made. He’s gone so far as to accept the resignations of his top two appointees at the agency, two long-time political allies of his.

      But so far, he’s still trying to stick to the line that it was a traffic study.

      That has never seemed credible and the executive director of the agency says it’s not true. With a federal inquiry now and a new round of subpoenas on the issue, it seems like we are likely to learn definitively whether or not the traffic study line is true. And if the traffic study line is proven to not be true, what happens to Chris Christie then?

      That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow night.

      (BOB writes)
      Rachel engaged in free insinuation, trying to provide us with our nightly Christie hard-ons.

      Luckily, we were able to answer her question. If the traffic study line is proven to not be true, Chris Christie will say that he didn’t know.

      Presumably, his claim will be true. That’s what happens to Christie.



      PS: This will be a two parter. Why? Because this post, this comment thread, and the post from which we just quoted speaks volumes the blog BOB and his legion of BOBfans. But we may read this morning's new post before deciding where Part 2 best belongs.

    5. Anonymous 5:24A,

      You're welcome for the vocabulary lesson. Of course, it did no good, did it? You got the wrong word, but you still insist you're right.

      The blog is about journalists for the most part, with a few asides about sports teams for some reason. It's relentlessly, tirelessly, poundingly about how bad the press is. No matter how many people are fans of his writing; no matter how much longer you think it is until the blog folds. That's what it is.

      If you don't think that a worthwhile topic -- and nobody says you have to -- why don't you move on to a blog that covers topics you're interested in? TDH needs no excuse to write about things that interest him instead of things that interest you.

  12. great blog indeed, ful of information
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