You (don’t) have a friend: How does scandal journalism work? Simple:
Once a good story gets going, the facts may get invented or stretched to make the tale work better. Some of these facts may be trivial, but they help drive the tale.
One such widely-cited “fact” seemed to get debunked yesterday. During his lengthy press event, Chris Christie denied the claim that David Wildstein was his high school buddy or pal.
On cable, you’ve endlessly heard the claim. In response to a question on that score, this is what Christie said:
CHRISTIE (1/9/14): Well, let me just clear something up, OK, about my “childhood friend” David Wildstein.In the world of scandal journalism, no. That's not OK!
It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He’s a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I mean, I had a high school in Livingston, a three-year high school, that 1,800 students in a three-year high school in the late '70s, early 1980.
I knew who David Wildstein was. I met David on the Tom Kean for governor campaign in 1977. He was a youth volunteer, and so was I.
Really, after that time, I completely lost touch with David. We didn't travel in the same circles in high school. You know, I was the class president and athlete. I don't know what David was doing during that period of time. And then we reacquainted years later in, I think, 2000 when he was helping Bob Franks with his Senate campaign against Jon Corzine.
So we went 23 years without seeing each other. And in the years we did see each other? We passed in the hallways.
So I want to clear that up. It doesn't make a difference, except that I think some of the stories that've been written impute like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn't exist. I know David and, you know, I knew that Bill Baroni wanted to hire David to come to the Port Authority, and I gave my permission for him to do it, but that was Bill's hire. He asked for permission, I gave my permission for him to hire David. But let's be clear about the relationship, OK?
We don’t know if that account is perfectly accurate. But it doesn’t sound like Christie and Wildstein were actually “high school buddies,” the way we’ve all been told.
If you’ve watched cable in recent weeks, you’ve heard a different story. The children have been building their story about these pleasing events. They kept topping each other with references to Wildstein as Christie’s high school buddy and pal.
As students of bogus stories and tales, it seemed to us none of these people seemed to know what they were talking about. That said, they were painting a picture that strengthened the story they preferred.
Based on what Christie said, it seems that their claims weren’t true.
Last night, the cable crowd began moving away from this claim. Chris Hayes left it part-way in:
HAYES (1/9/14): Testifying before the committee today was the guy you see right there, the one and only David Wildstein. You’re hearing his name a lot because he is the guy who probably knows more about what actually happened than anyone.Hayes retained the “went to high school with Christie” part, letting you surf a small wave of insinuation. On the bright side, what he said isn’t false! That said:
Wildstein went to high school with Chris Christie and Christie signed off on Wildstein being hired to a high-ranking job at the Port Authority. The one-time Republican mayor resigned over the scandal last month...
Back in December, Hayes told viewers, on two different shows, that Wildstein was Christie’s “high school buddy.” On one of the shows, viewers were also told this:
HAYES (12/16/13): Wildstein, who is the member of the Port Authority who was the first of the two Christie appointees to resign, give us a little sense of his relationship with Chris Christie, because the plausibility of this being a Chris Christie plot increases if you recognize the fact that there is actually a very tight relationship there.Exactly! The factoid increased the plausibility! That’s why everyone kept repeating the claim!
KATZ: Sure. They went to high school together. They were different years, but they did go to high school together.
This Wednesday night, Hayes bumped the bullshit one more notch, calling the pair “childhood friends.” We’ll guess they took baths together!
As with Nixon, so with Hayes! As of last night, these claims were no longer operative. But for a few brief shining moments, these apparently bogus claims had been used to “increase the plausibility of this being a Chris Christie plot.”
Make no mistake—this is the way these people behave when they gain wealth and power. They start making their stories that much better, helping you see the story their way, tilting the story in the direction their viewers want it to tilt.
Last night, Hayes dropped the claims about Wildstein being a “childhood friend” and “high school buddy” with “a very tight relationship.” He just didn’t bother to tell you that those statements were inoperative now. And he left the high school connection in, just to sweeten the pot.
At present, Hayes is being reinvented in various ways. In our view, he’s going along with these reinventions. We think this is a bad thing.
Al Sharpton was a bit more comical as he dropped the claim about the high school friendship. Previously on The One True Channel, Sharpton had described Wildstein as a “high school friend” of Christie; last night, was ready to walk the claim back.
That said, the skillful combatant will always turn his own apparent mistakes against the other party This is what occurred:
SHARPTON (1/9/14): Here is what Governor Christie said today about reports that he and David Wildstein had been friends since high school. Listen to this.Obviously, it matters what “they did,” if “they” actually did it. But it was Sharpton and his colleagues who had been acting like the alleged high school friendship mattered.
CHRISTIE (videotape): Let me just clear something up, OK, about my “childhood friend” David Wildstein. It is true that I met David in 1977 in high school. He is a year older than me. David and I were not friends in high school. We were not even acquaintances in high school. I think some of the stories were written impute like an emotional relationship and closeness between me and David that doesn’t exist.
SHARPTON: Assemblywoman, does it matter how long he has known Wildstein? Or does it matter what they did?
Rather than cop to an apparent mistake, Sharpton found a way to make it sound like Christie was the one who was introducing irrelevant elements.
We don’t think much of these people. Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen this bullshit again and again from overpaid rube-runners of their type, everything from “the 21-year-old intern” (who was neither 21 nor an intern) to “Al Gore said he invented the Internet.”
Once you let these people start, they’ll just keep improving the facts. This includes the little facts which make a story work better. When the other party corrects their mistakes, they act like he is being petty. This is the way the con works.
That said, last night’s most awful high school moment came from Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. She spoke, and misspoke, with Big Ed:
SCHULTZ (1/9/14): Speaking to the culture of his office, he says he’s not a bully. He’s not a micro manager. And are you curious that he had no conversation with the people at the center of this? He just fired them?Wow! She bumped Wildstein up to Christie’s “best friend.” Big Ed just let it go.
WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: Look, he was trying to say today that he came clean and stepped up to face the music as soon as he knew.
No, he didn’t. This has been going on and there’d been questions swirling around this for 120 days. I mean at one point he actually said that he wasn’t troubled by the—he wasn’t anything more than, I think, mildly troubled by the resignation of Wildstein, who was his best friend from high school.
I mean, I can tell you that the people that I consider my closest friends from high school, if they were working for me in some capacity, if they suddenly resigned, I would be slightly more than troubled. And I might actually ask them why they resigned.
How Chris Christie didn’t inquire as to the purpose of the resignation of his high school best friend, his campaign manager, I mean, the Port Authority appointees that he had is just not credible.
In our view, Hayes has been getting reinvented. So has Wasserman Schultz. You can cheer them on if you like. We think they’re a version of lost.