Mayor Sokolich seems to change his story!


Watching story change: This morning, the New York Times presents a 2847-word background report on the lane closings in Fort Lee.

It’s a familiar type of report. Once a particular story attains a certain critical mass, the Times assembles a coffle of scribes to offer voluminous background.

In theory, this is a good idea. In practice, sometimes not.

Today’s report was assembled by the traditional cast of thousands. N. R. Kleinfeld is the reporter of record.

Beyond that, “reporting was contributed by Michael Barbaro, David W. Chen, Jim Dwyer, Matt Flegenheimer, Patrick McGeehan, William K. Rashbaum, Nate Schweber and Kate Zernike.”

In our hard-copy Times, the report is accompanied by eight photos. We were struck by several parts of the report which are relatively minor, though they all tilt one way.

On a larger scale, we’re struck by an apparent change in one major player’s story.

Relatively minor points? Kleinfeld continues to say that David Wildstein “was a high school friend of the governor’s.”

Last Thursday, Christie disputed that claim at considerable length. We’ve seen no one dispute anything Christie said.

Instead, “reporters” have just kept telling the story they like. Just in case you haven’t noticed, this is the way the guild works.

(Remember that famous “21-year-old intern?” In fact, she wasn’t 21—and she wasn’t an intern! But so what? The story was better—much, much better—when it was told that way.)

The high school friend has been restored, as we’ll record in our next post. So has the claim that Christie “called [Governor] Cuomo to complain that Mr. Foye was pushing too hard to get to the bottom of the closings.” Back in December, this claim was apparently contradicted, on the record, by a spokesman for Cuomo.

Kleinfeld runs with the crowd-pleasing claim that Christie called Bridget Kelly “stupid.” That claim is extremely pleasing, but we’d say it’s hard to support from the transcript of Christie’s press conference, unless you’re a fan of tortured paraphrase and quotation.

Is it possible that these bungled closings were actually part of some sort of actual traffic study? Kleinfeld includes all sorts of material from the emails and texts, but fails to cite the emails and texts in which David Wildstein and others recorded the times at which traffic jams stopped on northbound I-95 as a result of the closings.

We’re just saying! For ourselves, we have no way of knowing if there was any legitimate attempt at conducting some sort of real study.

Those relatively minor points all tilt in one direction. But whenever the New York Times constructs a walloping good standard story, its agents tend to be selective in precisely these ways.

Remember Whitewater, which got its start in bungled reports on the Times’ front page? Remember all that bogus BS about the things Gore supposedly said?

That said, the most striking part of this report is an apparent change in Mayor Sokolich’s account of one fundamental matter.

Warning! When a good story starts taking shape, principals are allowed to change the things they’ve previously said! More precisely, they are allowed to change their story if the process brings them in line with the Official Approved Standard Story.

They won’t be criticized for changing their story as long as they are changing their story to fit the emerging line.

Has Mayor Sokolich changed his story? Right at the start of this morning’s report, he’s quoted saying that he was approached for an endorsement of Christie.

Unless the mayor is being misquoted, it sounds like he’s changing his story:
KLEINFELD (9/13/14): By his own account, Mark Sokolich rarely asks people for anything. “When you ask,” he said, “you usually have to give.”

And that is how he likes to govern as the mayor of Fort Lee, N.J., a dot of a borough perched atop the Palisades in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge.

One day last spring, though, he was the person asked to give. A member of Gov. Chris Christie's re-election campaign staff came calling to see if Mr. Sokolich, a Democrat, would endorse the governor, a Republican. There was scant doubt that Mr. Christie would win. But his ambition was to win big. He joked that he wanted to eclipse the landslide record held by his mentor, former Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who prevailed by 40 points in 1985. His advisers hoped to demonstrate such broad support that Mr. Christie would become his party's logical presidential candidate in 2016. The campaign vigorously courted Democratic officials and notified reporters of fresh conquests.

Mr. Sokolich, however, was noncommittal. ''I said, 'Yes, I'll consider it, because I'll consider anything,' '' he recalled.

He chewed it over with local council members and two objections arose: It would be rude to State Senator Barbara Buono, the Democratic candidate for governor, and they were miffed at Mr. Christie for his decision to spend millions of dollars to hold a special election to fill New Jersey's vacant United States Senate seat three weeks before Election Day.

And so the mayor let the request go. ''I never called and said no, I never called and said yes,'' said Mr. Sokolich, who would not name the official who had reached out to him. ''I think they interpreted my response to that conversation to be a no.''
This story may be completely accurate. But here’s what Sokolich said last Wednesday to Wolf Blitzer, right there on CNN:
BLITZER (1/8/14): So take us into this feud that was going. Did they really expect you, a Democrat, to endorse the Republican candidate's re-election, Chris Christie?

SOKOLICH: I guess. You know, I've said this many times. I don’t recall a specific request to endorse, but, you know, the events that led up to all of this, I guess you can interpret to be somehow attracting me to endorse.

I didn't want to endorse for several reasons, not the least of, which is I'm a Democrat. I was supportive of Miss Buono. I wasn't prepared to do that.

But I'm grateful to my instincts, because they certainly have proven me to be correct, because nobody should have to do anything like that or provide any support under threat of retribution.
To us, it sounds like the mayor has changed his basic story. See if you agree:
Mayor Sokolich last week: “I’ve said this many times. I don’t recall a specific request to endorse.”

Mayor Sokolich this week: “I said, ‘Yes, I'll consider it, because I'll consider anything.’...I never called and said no, I never called and said yes.''
To us, it sounds like the mayor is changing his story. That said, Kleinfeld seems to understand the process by which story grows.

Kleinfeld opens this morning’s front-page report with this apparent new claim. But he never suggests, in any way, that Sokolich’s story has changed.

We’ve explained this process for years. When the “press corps” agrees on a Standard Story, principals will often scramble to get in line with the story. They’re allowed to completely reverse prior claims, as long as their new account supports the Official Approved Story Line.

Did Barbaro, Chen, Dwyer, Flegenheimer, McGeehan, Rashbaum, Schweber or Zernike fail to notice this apparent change in the mayor’s story? How about Kleinfeld himself? How about his editor?

As a courtesy, we’ll assume they all noticed! But this sort of scam is quite routine when we watch story grow.


  1. Warning -- troll infestation. Rachel Maddow has tasked her interns with disrupting traffic in the comments of this blog.

    1. Are you texting this on your way to work?

  2. How is it possible that the mayor "changed his story?" Why, the man's a veritable saint - Dr. King, Malala Yousafzai , and Mahatma Ghandi rolled into one person.

    1. You need about 20 additional IQ points to be able to contain a Malala reference and a changed story in the same brain. That would bring you all the way up to 70.

    2. It certainly takes a different intellect than I possess to invoke Malala, MLK, and Ghandi in reference to a politician just because he gave a politically prudent response on a talk show.

    3. If Al Gore had been as prudent responding to Wolf Blitzer
      as the little Serbian, perhaps we would not have TDH to fill our trolling days with today.

  3. 11:15

    "How is it possible that the mayor "changed his story?" Why, the man's a veritable saint - Dr. King, Malala Yousafzai , and Mahatma Ghandi rolled into one person."

    Blogger tells you how - he fell in with librul false narrative.

    Them librulz - they corrupt everything - even the Malala-certified mayor of Fort Lee.

  4. We don't know anything about why this "study" was conducted. All she did was say it was time to slow down traffic in Ft. Lee. It takes a bit more context than that to decide she was stupid, especially given she isn't a traffic engineer. But hey, let's blame the blonde. Women don't know what they're doing ever and they make swell fallguys. Look at Susan Rice.

  5. Blogger says

    Mayor Sokolich last week: “I’ve said this many times. I don’t recall a specific request to endorse.”

    Mayor Sokolich this week: “I said, ‘Yes, I'll consider it, because I'll consider anything.’...I never called and said no, I never called and said yes.''

    end quote

    Our own KZ says

    start quote

    Losers, guess what? The volume of traffic on the bridge has nothing to do with this story. Traffic across the bridge was not affected, only access to the bridge from the town of Fort Lee.

    BOB Dec. 16

    "Presumably, that means that the northbound traffic jam ended 45 minutes early on I-95, due to the reduced interference from cars cutting in from Fort Lee."

    BOB Jan. 11

    End quote.

    "And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?"

    Surely blogger has lost the right to tax others with self-contradiction?

  6. Anonymous 11:33

    Look at Ripley. Matoko. Maddow. Collins. Dowd.

  7. OMB ( The MGUC Continues on the One True BOB Channel)

    "As a courtesy, we’ll assume they all noticed! But this sort of scam is quite routine when we watch story grow."

    BOB This post.

    We should, as BOB reminds us, be wary of press narratives that ignore changing stories.

    That is why we are curious why BOB has focused only on the lesser pol at play in this soap opera. His is not the only story which has changed.

    In his press conference Governor Chrisite went to great lengths to recount just learning of the perfidy of his staff a mere 26 hours prior to his marathon press conference in which he announced the termination of two lying uncaring members of family-like staff. He then went on to say he had 48 sleepless hours and 36 hours of soul searching.

    Has BOB clued you in to which reporters (and perhaps bloggers) we can generously assume noticed that contradiction but may not have reported it?

    Why doesn't BOB care about _______________ (fill in the blank)?


    1. Christie has also given two versions of when he first learned about the issue of the traffic jam in Ft. Lee. Is it fair to assume all people covering this story, including Mr. Somerby, know about this but have let it pass?

  8. Nobody does word counting or comment counting better tham TDH.

  9. Bob never considers that the mayor or his staff may have reviewed their records and discovered that he was asked for the endorsement. Unless you can recall every conversation you've ever had with anyone you can't discount this possibility. Unless you're Bob, in which case you just say he's changing his story as if there has to be something nefarious about that.

    1. But Bob still thinks it might be "possible" that this was all over a legit, good faith traffic study gone wrong.

    2. Bob never said that was impossible. He's saying that the guy contradicted himself, and no one bothers to ask about it.

    3. Did he say this was a study done in good faith. No he did not.

      Is this what he "still thinks?" We don’t know how to answer that. In the absence of clairvoyance, let’s explain what... Somerby... means:

      Everything’s possible! That said, we don’t know.... It may not have been.

      We do know this:... That’s a good question too!

      At any rate,... They have often turned out to be wrong.

    4. Do you think the mayor writes down what he said in his "records" and that his spoken response was refreshed when he consulted them, to the point of knowing exactly what he said? No, me neither. That's why your suggestion is implausible.

    5. Implausible, maybe. But as Somerby famously asks, "Is it possible?"

      Now please, we learned just two days ago that only a "partisan" would say that anyone said Sokolich or his staff reviewed their records/appointment book/whatever, then remembered who they met with who asked for the endorsement.

      We are only saying it is "possible."

    6. Reviewed his appointment book maybe -- but where did he get that recounting of the exact words of conversation? That has to be manufactured.

  10. Let's see what happens when you close two or three lanes of the world's busiest bridge. I would love to have seen the grant proposal for that one.

    "And what were your findings, Dr. Mouse, upon dropping the bowling ball upon the cat's head?"

    1. They didn't close lanes of the bridge; they re-allocated them.

    2. The negative impact to traffic was on Ft Lee residents trying to enter the bridge, not on traffic over the bridge (their main concern).

  11. This is a possible change of story based on what a reporter said he said the first time. Whether it's an actual contradiction is less than clear.

  12. Were they thrown under the bus because the media decided they were expendable?

  13. Check out Kathleen Parker's op-ed in the Washington Post yesterday.
    I almost heaved my breakfast when I read it. This could have been written by TDH himself.

    One choice excerpt:
    "What is certain is that the only thing the Republican base hates more than a liar and a bully is a bullying media. Once that common enemy is established, the perceived victim often becomes the victor."

    Did you know the Republican base "hates a liar and a bully"? Me neither.

    1. And as KP notes, this isn't as bad as Obama lying about keeping that insurance that doesn't cover hospitalization. And don't forget the "polite South"!

      Let's rewrite KP: "What is certain is that there's nothing the Republican base loves more than a liar and a bully, as long as the lies are about Democrats and those bullied are likely Democratic voters. And as much as they love their kind of lying and bullying, the hate the media."