Part 3—Rachel’s piddle and pap: For better or worse, investigations tend to take a long time.
Along the way, news may sometimes occur. On February 19, a tiny bit of news occurred in the case of the Fort Lee lane closings.
Everybody knew what it was. On that day, the chairman and vice chairman of the Port Authority offered that agency’s first apologies for the lane closings.
The New York Times led with the formal statement by David Samson, the chairman of the agency. (Headline: “Port Authority's Chairman Is 'Deeply Sorry' for Lane Closings at Bridge.”)
His statement was made at the first board meeting since the release of subpoenaed documents on January 9.
The paper also quoted the statement by Scott Rechler, the agency’s New York-appointed vice chairman. Like other newspapers, the Times quoted Rechler saying it was “abundantly clear that some members of the Port Authority shut down lanes and put public safety at risk.”
(Rechler’s full statement was a bit longer. But one word was garbled on the tape, and had perhaps been indistinguishable in person.)
This was fairly minor news, but it was news all the same. On the Rachel Maddow Show, it became the occasion for some of the host’s famous clowning—the hilarious performance art through which Maddow makes a joke of the news and trains us to love her more fully.
Maddow started her program that night with some remarks by Patrick Foye, an official “white hat” in the novelized story she has been telling.
Foye had made a snide remark about the nature of David Wildstein’s job at the Port Authority. Maddow presented the snarky statement as if Foye has brought it down from the mountain direct from God him- or herself.
(To watch this full segment, click here.)
Please understand! Through use of her entertainment skills, Maddow has been giving viewers a highly novelized version of this slowly unfolding story. Her story comes with black and white hats. Rarely do the twain meet.
Foye is the executive director of the Port Authority. It seems clear that he did the right thing on September 13 when he angrily ordered the lane closings stopped.
That stamped Foye as an official “good guy” in this tale. From that point forward, it can never be imagined that he too might be “political” or partisan in some way or another, or even that his judgments might be fallible.
Foye’s snarky remark about Wildstein’s role was treated as fact this night. Meanwhile, Maddow has made virtually no attempt to explain what Wildstein actually did at the Post Authority, good, bad or indifferent.
We viewers don’t need to know shit like that. Rachel is telling a story! Instead of presenting some real reporting about what Wildstein actually did, viewers are constantly told that his job carried no formal job description. This pointless fact, repeated ad nauseam, drives the tale along.
Foye’s snarky remark was treated as fact this night, even though it was so vague as to serve as nothing but a putdown. Then too, we had the statement by the hapless Rechler.
As noted, Rechler is an appointee of New York’s Governor Cuomo. There is no reason to think he had anything to do with the absurd lane closings.
Except for one garbled word, Rechler had made a clear-cut statement of apology. Unless you were watching the Maddow show, where the host saw a chance to clown.
You will have to watch the tape to appreciate Maddow’s wonderful clowning. But after reporting Foye’s statement-from-God, this was the ridiculous way Maddow described Rechler’s statement:
MADDOW (2/19/14): Just fascinating stuff today!Before she played tape of Rechler’s statement, Maddow clowned, saying it wasn’t exactly clear what he’d apologized for.
Also, for the first time today, the Port Authority, where David Wildstein worked when he did shut down those bridge lanes, the Port Authority as an organization finally apologized [pausing]—for something. They apol— [pausing] What exactly they apologized for is not exactly clear, but there was an apology or two.
RECHLER (videotape): We’re apologizing for the fact that it became at least, you know, abundantly clear that some of the members of the Port Authority shut down lanes and put public safety at risk and put public convenience in, at [garbled word]. So you know, we’re apologizing for the action that everyone has been reporting on. It’s inappropriate, and we’ve noted that, and now we’re taking forward action.
MADDOW: “We’re apologizing for the action that everyone’s been reporting on.” (Waving her hands) “You guys know what we mean.” A little vague! But still a good first shot at it from the Port Authority today. That’s the first time anybody there has apologized for what happened on that bridge and to that town last September.
She then played the tape, in which the apology was perfectly clear. After that, she told her viewers to ignore what they had just seen and heard.
“A little vague,” the clown princess said, as she continued to perform. To drive home her ludicrous point, she swiveled to review these words, which had been on the screen behind her since the start of the segment:
“WE’RE APOLOGIZING FOR THE ACTION THAT EVERYONE’S BEEN REPORTING ON”
Classic Maddow! She simply ignored the specific part of Rechler’s apology. In capital letters, She clownishly pimped the throw-away comment with which he ended his statement.
Some years ago, Jon Stewart spent a good part of an hour telling Maddow to stop this.
Stewart was too polite to speak directly, which we count as a minor demerit against hid effort that night. But fairly clearly, Stewart told Maddow that her job, reporting the news, was more important than his job. He told her to stop playing the fool, specifically citing the episode in which she directed dick jokes at average Americans for a week and a half, while pretending to be embarrassed by what she kept doing.
Maddow wasn’t buying, then or now. As we watched her clown about Rechler's statement, we were struck by the disrespect she was showing to her viewers. We also wondered about those viewers:
Were viewers unable to see and hear what Rechler had actually said? Did they believe their lying eyes? Or did they believe their clown princess?
We have no way of knowing what Maddow’s viewers think at such piddle-rich moments. Last Thursday, did viewers fail to see that their emotive host was saying one thing, even as a quotation on the screen was saying something different?
The screen shot, with uncorrected punctuation, was sourced to The New Republic:
Thursday evening, February 27:Do viewers really not notice such moments? In fairness, the bullshit can slide by pretty fast as Maddow improves her tales.
What Maddow was emotively saying: Cory Booker was the first mayor of Newark, New Jersey, since 1962 to not be convicted of corruption charges and to go prison. Yeah!
What it said on the screen as she spoke: Cory Booker, is the first mayor of Newark since 1962 not to be indicted.
In large part, Maddow has built an impressive array of good guys and bad guys in her many segments about Fort Lee. She sometimes misstates basic facts to add to her growing roster.
(One night, she misquoted two different people to make Chip Michaels a bad guy!)
Beyond that, a great deal of clowning has transpired. It’s amazing to see how little real information has been developed in the process.
Given the time she devotes to this topic, Maddow doesn’t seem to care too much about information. Examples:
What did Wildstein actually do at the Port Authority?
Snark from Foye is all we need to hear about this. As far as we know, Maddow has brought no one on the air to try to detail Wildstein’s actions, though some reporters seem to have real information about his role at the agency.
What is David Samson all about?
Amazing! In yesterday’s New York Times, some real reporting appeared concerning Samson’s apparent conflicts of interest while serving as chairman of the Port Authority.
Last Thursday, Maddow simply rehearsed the same two examples she had recited before. Once again, she failed to answer an obvious question about this thrice-told tale:
MADDOW (2/27/14): While David Samson has been chairman of the Port Authority, the Port Authority has repeatedly taken actions that have financially benefited Mr. Samson’s clients at his private law firm. So, for example, his law firm had a client that wanted to make more money on its commuter parking lots that it had in New Jersey. A lot of people commute from New Jersey into New York. They park their cars at one of these lots and then they take some sort of transit into the city.Just for the record, the entity whose rent was reduced is a public agency too. Which means theoretically that the money this agency is saving on rent goes to the good of the public!
One of the commuter parking lots owned by this agency, that was run by this agency, was owned by the Port Authority. So the Port Authority owned the lot and this other agency operated it. The Port Authority charged rent on that parking lot. They charged about $900,000 a year rent for that company to operate the parking lot. So yes, the entity could make a lot of money off that lot. You charge people $10 a day to park there. And you got all that as revenue, but they also had to pay rent too. They had to pay to the Port Authority and that reduced their profits, of course.
Well, that entity hired David Samson’s law firm to figure out how they could increase their profits on their parking lots. And then David Samson, at the Port Authority, voted that the rent for that parking lot should no longer be $900,000 a year. It should be $1 a year!
The Port Authority owns that parking lot. That means the rent they were getting was going to a public agency, which means theoretically that money was supposed to go to the good of the public. Instead though, that money will now be going to David Samson’s client. And they in turn will pay his firm to thank them for having come one this great arrangement for them that saved them a million bucks. So it is a win/win, right, from their perspective at least.
The entity that is running the parking lot saves almost a million dollars on rent. David Samson’s law firm gets paid handsomely for having saved their client almost a million dollars a year on the rent. And the only people that lose is everybody else.
Maddow was telling a horror tale she had told two times before. The Port Authority had been renting a parking lot for $900,000 per year. It then reduced the rent to just one dollar, benefiting a Samson client!
Each time we heard this story, an obvious question arose. Forget about Samson's vote for a minute: Why did anyone on the Port Authority board vote to do such a thing?
Why did anyone vote to reduce the rent to one measly dollar?
When we checked the source provided at Maddow Blog, we found that an explanation exists. The explanation involves increased costs to New Jersey Transit, a public agency, which were created when the Port Authority, another such agency, raised tolls into New York. It also involves the stated desire to keep people riding buses instead of commuting into New York in their cars.
Is the explanation a good explanation? We can’t begin to judge that. But in Maddow’s three tellings of this tale, the explanation has simply been ignored. Instead, we've been handed a pleasing tale, in which one of the official “bad guys” engaged in some clownish misconduct.
Why did the rest of the board follow suit? Viewers weren’t encouraged to ask. And by the way:
If you read that background report (brief as it is), you will see that several facts in Maddow’s recitation seem to be wrong. By and large, this is the way the Fort Lee story is told in Maddow’s endless segments.
We’re not suggesting that David Samson hasn’t had conflicts of interest. We’re applauding the New York Times for real reporting on this topic, while noting the fact that Maddow’s show traffics a different drug.
Maddow’s presentations tend to be childish and self-involved. She offers structures torn from the pages of fairy tales.
Last Thursday, Maddow devoted the bulk of her program to Fort Lee. We’d have to say that every topic discussed that night bore the mark of overstatement and silly-bill novelization.
As we noted yesterday, the leading “bad guy” in Thursday’s program seemed to be the state of New Jersey itself. Weakly supported horror tales drove the first part of the program.
And sure enough! Less than four minutes into the show, we were allowed to learn a bit more about the host herself.
What follows is perfect Maddow piddle. To watch the full segment, click here:
MADDOW (2/27/14): Personal point of privilege here for a moment. Just a personal aside.We were really having fun now, four minutes into a lengthy segment which was basically piddle and pap.
My partner Susan is from New Jersey. She’s from Perth Amboy, born under the Outerbridge.
I was trying to explain to her about the Trenton mayor the other day, trying to explain to her how amazing it was to me that the convicted mayor of Trenton was still the mayor of Trenton even after he had been convicted. And Susan just looked at me. She looked me right in the eye, just dead-eyed, and said, “John Gorka.”
Which in our family is shorthand for the John Gorka song, “I’m from New Jersey,” which explains this whole thing.
GORKA (singing on videotape): I’m from New Jersey
I don’t expect too much.
If the world ended today
I would adjust
Yes, I would adjust
I would adjust.
MADDOW: “I would adjust if the world ended.” God bless you, John Gorka! “I’m from New Jersey. I don’t expect too much.”
At this point, Maddow was advancing the claim that New Jersey’s level of corruption is “astonishing,” “epic.” She made no real attempt to demonstrate the truth of this apparent claim, the claim that the state of New Jersey is epically off the charts.
Nor did she really explain why the claim would be relevant here. The lane closings seem to have been absurd and outrageous on their face. Whatever we end up learning about the motives behind the lane closings will stand or fall on its own.
Beyond that, we’re sorry, but no:
Gorka’s song really doesn’t “explain the whole thing.” Nor is Susan’s dead-eyed reaction in any way relevant here. What might be relevant would be some reporting—reporting about this bizarre event, whose basic elements remain extremely murky.
That said, Rachel Maddow’s scandal coverage doesn’t traffic in reporting. It traffics in silly novelization, mixed with uninformative pseudo-interviews with assemblymen and reporters.
According to Gorka's song, people from Jersey don’t expect much. Neither should Maddow’s viewers.
Tomorrow and Friday: Explaining the beast. And yes, we’ll quote Gabe Sherman!