Interlude—Our campus for a transcript: The New York Times can be frustrating, due to its management of its various editions.
On its web site, the Times shows the front-page display for its “New York Edition” and for its “National Edition.”
Here on our sprawling campus, we receive a daily paper which is marked “Washington Edition.”
At Nexis, most Times listings are attributed to something called the “Late Edition.”
Go figure! In the mix of these different editions, a news report may appear in the Times without a subscriber seeing it. That’s what happened this very week with a somewhat shaky news report, “Head of Port Authority Police Union Questioned in Bridge Inquiry.”
According to Nexis and the Times site, this report appeared in Wednesday’s “Late Edition.” It never appeared in the hard-copy papers left on our front steps.
Whatever! Even belatedly, a reader can learn a valuable lesson from this particular news report. Here it is:
Rachel Maddow isn’t the only American “journalist” given to misstatement concerning the Fort Lee mess.
In the news report in question, William Rashbaum discusses the role of Paul Nunziato in the lane closings and their aftermath. In Rashbaum’s description, Nunziato is “a brash police officer with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, a 27-year veteran who heads the union that represents his 1,300 colleagues.”
No, West Deptford Township! Nunziato hasn’t been fired from his job as union head (Rachel Maddow, 2/21). Nor has Nunziato stepped down from that post (Rachel Maddow, 2/27).
That said, Rashbaum reports that federal prosecutors “recently questioned [Nunziato] as part of their inquiry into whether any aspect of the September lane closings amounted to a crime, according to people with knowledge of the session.”
For various reasons, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In this passage, Rashbaum starts explaining why Nunziato was questioned and quickly makes a misstatement:
RASHBAUM (3/5/14): [I]n the weeks and months after the lane closings, the union leader made public statements that seem unlikely to have gone unnoticed by the office of the United States attorney in New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, whose prosecutors are overseeing the inquiry.Did Baroni’s testimony “indicate that Nunziato suggested to Wildstein in July that he close two bridge access lanes as part of a traffic study?”
Bill Baroni, Mr. Wildstein's superior at the Port Authority and another Christie ally, offered testimony to the legislative committee in November that indicated that Mr. Nunziato suggested to Mr. Wildstein in July that he close two bridge access lanes as part of a traffic study.
Given ample opportunity, Mr. Nunziato never disputed that characterization.
Actually, no—it did not. That is a rather plain overstatement of what Baroni said.
You can read the testimony here, if you want to make a comparison (see pages 5-6 and 28-30). But many New York Times reporters have rather weak journalistic skills. One should always keep that in mind at moments like this.
(The Times is the paper whose misreporting invented the Whitewater “scandal.”)
Rashbaum’s report is well worth reading, if you read with caution. According to Rashbaum, Nunziato has now contradicted something Baroni actually did say in his testimony.
If Rashbaum’s account is accurate, you can start trying to imagine whose account of this matter is true. But you have to start by trusting the notion that Rashbaum’s account is accurate.
Investigations take a long time. At some point, we may find out what happened here from a fully reliable source.
If you try to figure this out on your own, there’s one thing we’ll strongly suggest—try to avoid being influenced by Maddow’s representations. Last night, she went on one of her patented tears about Rashbaum’s report.
At some point, we’ll run through last evening’s array of misstatements, overstatements, inventions and omissions. At present, that task would be made too difficult by MSNBC’s latest job action.
The One True Channel has been slacking again in the realm of transcript production. As we type, the last available transcript for Maddow is the transcript from Monday night’s program.
MSNBC does few things well. Try to make sense of this pattern:
Transcripts currently available for programs broadcast this weekCNN is a mess in many ways, but it manages to produce transcripts in a regular fashion. At MSNBC, job actions sometimes occur. In the present instance, this makes it hard to keep track of Maddow’s misrepresentations.
Maddow: Monday night only
Hardball: All three nights
Chris Hayes: Monday and Wednesday nights; Tuesday night missing
Last Word: Monday night only
Overall, Maddow’s reporting of Fort Lee has been an unholy mess. Last night, she may have outdone herself. At some point, we will run through the segment for you, if MSNBC ever gets around to posting the transcript.
Why does Maddow do this? What makes Rachel run?
In our view, Maddow’s scandal reporting has always tended toward misstatement and propaganda. We’ve long been puzzled by this part of her work—have wanted to puzzle it out.
Tomorrow, we will simply assume that something is badly amiss in her scandal reporting. We will offer two different thoughts about why she behaves as she does.
In the meantime, watch the tape of last night’s segment about Nunziato. In our view, Maddow’s performance is full of misstatements, built on a firm foundation of omitted key facts.
We’re not suggesting that no misconduct happened in the lane closings. If the lane closings were done for political reasons, we would assume that they constitute criminal conduct.
We’re not suggesting that no misconduct occurred. We’re suggesting that, as Maddow continues to clown and misstate, the misconduct only spreads.
Tomorrow: Two ways to think about this