We’ll start with Walsh’s reaction: Randy Mastro’s report about Fort Lee has its strong points and its weak points.
(For today, we aren’t considering the part of the report which concerns events in Hoboken.)
On the positive side, the report includes apparent new information about the events which preceded Fort Lee.
On the down side, the report never really confronts the possibility that Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein may have received a go-ahead for the lane closings from some higher source within the Christie administration.
Other criticisms have been aimed at the report. As a general matter, we’d say the report has obvious flaws and shortcomings, though we’d also say it isn’t as bad as some partisans have said.
For today, we aren’t going to focus on Mastro’s report, which isn’t a press corps production. We’re going to look at some journalism about the Mastro report.
As we do, we'll test this assumption:
However bad the report may be, we all want quality journalism about the Mastro report.
Fellow citizens, is that really what we the people want? We’ll consider various forms of that question all next week. For today, let’s start with a post by Salon’s Joan Walsh, a ranking member of the rapidly emerging “liberal/progressive” press corps.
In the text of her actual post, Walsh focused on the alleged “sexism” in the Mastro report. This being Salon, her claim got ratcheted up in a pair of high-decibel headlines:
Christie’s creepy misogyny: Behold his despicable “blame Bridget” strategyWalsh didn’t use the term “misogyny.” Salon’s headline writer did.
If you believe an “emotional” and “stupid” jilted woman caused Bridgegate, I’ve got a bridge to sell you
Several words appear inside quotes in Salon’s high-decibel headlines. As Walsh’s actual text begins, that’s where her journalistic problems start.
If you want to let tribunes invent facts and quotes, you should stop reading now. Remember—we’re trying to evaluate Walsh’s work, not the report itself:
WALSH (3/28/14): Gov. Chris Christie’s million-dollar taxpayer-funded self-exoneration in the Bridgegate scandal certainly found a bad guy—and it’s a gal.As an example of journalism, that passage is ludicrous in several ways. Let’s start with a simple mistake:
Randy Mastro’s report put the blame squarely on two fired staffers, David Wildstein and deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly. But its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her as “emotional,” “erratic” and as a liar; confirming Trenton gossip that she was “personally involved” with chief of staff Bill Stepien, and that Stepien apparently dumped her; alleging that she asked an aide to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began, thus implicating her not only in the plot’s execution but its coverup.
As many people have noted, the Mastro report is more than 300 pages long. For a searchable version of its text and its endless footnotes, you can just click here.
According to Walsh, the Mastro report was “mind-blowingly mean” when it called Kelly “erratic.” But go ahead—search the text!
You won’t find the word “erratic,” a word Walsh placed inside quotes.
Where did Walsh get the idea that the Mastro report called Kelly “erratic?” Possibly from Taylor Marsh, to whose post she links.
Marsh starts with a transcript from Morning Joe in which Mark Halperin says that Mastro’s report describes Kelly as erratic. Marsh put the word “erratic” in quotes, apparently thinking that Halperin was quoting the Mastro report.
Whatever you think of Halperin’s characterization, he wasn’t quoting the report. In this age of the easy electronic search, Marsh apparently didn’t check.
Neither did Walsh. By now, the claim that Mastro’s report calls Kelly “erratic” has gone spanning the globe, with the word “erratic” inside quotes.
The Guardian didn't bother to check. Neither did the Washington Post’s Alexandra Petri. Please stop reading if you don’t care when your journalists do this.
That was an obvious error by Walsh. That said, we all make mistakes. Other parts of the passage we’ve quoted are considerably worse.
Even Walsh doesn’t put the word “liar” inside quotes. She doesn’t claim that Mastro used the word “liar” in describing Kelly.
That said, she says the Mastro report is “mind-blowingly mean” in some related way. According to Walsh, “its treatment of Kelly was mind-blowingly mean, describing her...as a liar.”
Incredibly, here’s what she seems to mean:
The Mastro report asserts that Kelly lied to superiors within the Christie administration when she was asked if she had prior knowledge about the lane closings.
Even Walsh doesn’t claim that Mastro used the word “liar.” But her text says that Mastro was “mind-blowingly mean” when he made this assertion.
Did Kelly lie about this matter? Like Walsh, we have no direct way of knowing.
That said, it’s easy to see where Walsh’s logic leads us. If an investigator finds that Person A told a lie about Topic X, Walsh says it’s “mind-blowingly mean” for him to report that fact!
Welcome to Lower Nutsylvania, the land we all inhabit now.
In that passage, Walsh also says it’s “mind-blowingly mean” when Mastro says that Kelly “asked an aide [Christina Renna] to delete an incriminating email when the investigation began.”
Question: What is Mastro supposed to say if he finds that Kelly did that? According to Walsh, it’s “mind-blowingly mean” when an investigator says someone did something wrong!
How did we ever reach the point when a major “journalist” could even dream of composing a passage like that?
In our view, that’s a long story. In our view, it coincides with the rise of the gong-show, pseudo-liberal journalism which increasingly seems to be trying to match the pre-existing, gong-show journalism of the pseudo-right.
That said, Walsh’s opening passage is absurd on its face—and her piece takes off from there. In her next paragraph, Walsh excitingly says that “Mastro stopped just short of suggesting the state torch Kelly’s office and salt the earth it once stood on.” By paragraph 5, she is saying that “blaming the woman goes back to Eve,” even as she describes a report which blames both Kelly and Wildstein.
Walsh didn’t bother to search on “erratic.” More remarkably, she was too much the modern to retreat from the claim that it’s “mind-blowingly mean” to report apparent facts.
Please note: Walsh doesn’t deny the claim that Kelly lied to superiors. She simply says it’s mean to say that she did.
Walsh doesn’t challenge the claim that Kelly asked an aide to delete an incriminating email. Instead, she name-calls Mastro for reporting that Kelly did that.
How did we ever reach the point where our “journalists” functions this way? Have we always been like this?
We’ll ponder those questions all next week. At some point, we’ll even ponder this report by the New York Times’ Kate Zernike.
This morning, we’re asking you about our journalists, not about our writers of reports. Read that ludicrous passage by Walsh, then consider this obvious question:
Whatever you think of Mastro’s report, how did upper-end corporate journalism ever reach this point?
For the top group only: Did Governor Christie call Kelly “stupid” during his January 9 press conference?
If so, did he call Wildstein “stupid” too, or did he just name-call Kelly?
Zernike and Walsh both say that Christie called Kelly “stupid.” Each scribe puts “stupid” inside quotes. Each scribe seems to say that this alleged conduct was sexist.
Luckily, that transcript is searchable too. Click here, then consider both questions.