The Times bears down on the Christie machine!


A look at that recent report: In Wednesday morning’s New York Times, Kate Zernike reported on the way the Christie political team—

In truth, we aren’t entirely sure what she did report. To read her report, click here.

In an earlier post, we chuckled at the way Zernike included detailed floor plans for the New Jersey State House. Beyond that, we’ll have to admit that her piece struck us a mouse that hadn’t roared.

Others saw it differently. Chris Matthews frothed on Hardball that night. In a much more serious vein, Kevin Drum saw more than we did in Zernike’s piece.

We don’t know what will turn out to be true about the lane closings in Fort Lee. We could imagine it flat or imagine it round. In our view, investigations exist to answer such questions.

Drum seemed to think that Zernike moved the ball forward. We pretty much didn’t. Here’s why:

In his headline, Drum contrasts the lack of a smoking gun with the presence of a tightening noose. Colorful imagery to the side, this was his basic nugget:

“The story doesn't contain even a speck of proof that Christie had anything to do with the bridge closure. But it sure paints a suggestive picture.”

We agree with that—but in our view, Drum is describing two problems with the report. Having followed these dopes for the past sixteen years, we’re opposed to “suggestive pictures.”

That said, let’s consider the part of Drum’s post where he states his basic reactions to the piece. This is the passage he quotes from Zernike. We include his deletions and highlights:
ZERNIKE (1/29/14): Staff members in the governor’s office created tabbed and color-coded dossiers on the mayors of each town—who their friends and enemies were, the policies and projects that were dear to them—that were bound in notebooks for the governor to review in his S.U.V. between events.

....Officially known as “intergovernmental affairs,” the operation was a key element of the permanent campaign that allowed Mr. Christie to win twice in a largely Democratic state. It was led by Bill Stepien, his two-time campaign manager and deputy chief of staff, and then by Bridget Anne Kelly, who succeeded him in his role in the governor’s office.

....By many accounts, the person in the front office who handled most of the politics was Mr. Stepien.....He mapped out the list of mini-Ohios and mini-Floridas where Mr. Christie might win what they called “persuadable voters.”....Those 100 or so towns would receive special attention—state aid, help from the Port Authority, a town-hall-style session with Mr. Christie —in hopes that by the time the governor ran for a second term, he would have friends there; even if local officials did not endorse him, they would not be working for his Democratic opponent.
In that passage, Zernike is describing some of the ways the Christie political team tried to win votes around the state in last year’s re-election campaign. These were Drum’s reactions to that passage, which we largely don’t share:
DRUM (continuing directly): The point of this piece is to demonstrate three things. First, winning votes in cities like Fort Lee really was important to the Christie team. Second, they were pretty ruthless about going after those votes. Third, Christie himself met regularly with his team to discuss their tactics in minute detail. The strong inference is that (a) Shutting down lanes on the George Washington Bridge to intimidate a mayor who wasn't playing ball was right up their alley, and (b) if they did this, Christie almost certainly knew about it.
We don’t know what the probes will uncover. But we don’t think those three points were demonstrated. Here’s why:

Ruthlessness: It’s hard to know how we get to “pretty ruthless” from the conduct described in that passage from Zernike’s report. The probes may well uncover behavior that’s worse than ruthless. But we don’t see it there.

Plainly, holding town hall meetings isn’t “ruthless.” In and of themselves, neither is “state aid” or “help from the Port Authority,” unless it’s shown that inappropriate conduct was involved.

Zernike has no such examples in her report. The probes may uncover horrible conduct. Zernike didn’t describe any.

Cities or towns like Fort Lee: As Kevin notes, Zernike describes the way the Christie team pursued support from (her term) “100 or so towns,” towns the campaign called “The Top 100.” According to Zernike, these were “the swing towns [Christie] wanted to win as he prepared for a re-election campaign.”

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with seeking support in 100 “swing towns.” But just for the record, Zernike never actually says that Fort Lee was one of those towns.

That was a striking omission. Perhaps it was just an oversight, but Times reporters are often on the hustle. From years of reading the Post’s Ceci Connolly, we learned that you often have to look for the things that don’t get said.

At one point, Zernike says that Christie aide Matt Mowers “sought the endorsement of” Fort Lee’s Mayor Sokolich. In his second version of what happened, Sokolich seemed to say that he was approached only once. He says he didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no, and the Christie team never checked back.

Is it possible that Fort Lee wasn’t one of the targeted towns? We have no way of knowing. But surely, Zernike must have asked the question in her research. And in a lengthy, detailed-clogged report, she never said that it was.

Christie would have known what they did: According to Kevin, Zernike wants you to think that, if they shut down the lanes to intimidate Sokolich, “Christie almost certainly knew about it.”

There’s nothing in the passage quoted by Kevin which would create that impression. Elsewhere, this is some of the piddle with which Zernike tries to do so:
ZERNIKE: By many accounts, the person in the front office who handled most of the politics was Mr. Stepien. He cut an intimidating figure, occasionally raising his voice. He had met Mr. DuHaime at a hockey rink in Bridgewater where he played in high school. Both worked on Mr. Giuliani's presidential campaign, along with Ms. Comella, and ran campaigns for Bill Baroni, a former state senator whom Mr. Christie installed as deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2010.

One Republican campaign ally said of Mr. Stepien: ''Bill was the enforcer, both politically and legislatively.''

Mr. Stepien had come up with the strategy of holding the frequent town-hall-style meetings—more than 100 in four years—that helped to burnish Mr. Christie's reputation as a straight-talker.

He ran the political operation much the way he had run the campaign. He mapped out the list of mini-Ohios and mini-Floridas where Mr. Christie might win what they called ''persuadable voters.'' He obsessed over data on the towns, and outreach to local officials, typically Democrats. He shared with Mr. Christie the binders with information on the individual local officials' donors and projects.
In the course of many interviews, someone apparently used the term “enforcer,” so Zernike tossed it in. The word “intimidating” helps, although that word is hers.

Ditto for the claim that Stepien “obsessed over data.” That too is Zernike’s language.

Are we supposed to react to the fact that Stepien “occasionally rais[ed] his voice?” What follows, meanwhile, is pure unfettered bull:
ZERNIKE: ''With any governor, but especially with Chris Christie, it's impossible to separate politics from policy, but clearly Stepien was politics first, policy second,'' said David Pringle, the campaign director for New Jersey Environmental Federation, who served on the transition team after the organization endorsed Mr. Christie in 2009 but backed his Democratic opponent last year. The group has since accused Mr. Christie of abandoning his principles on the environment.

''There wasn't anything of significance that Stepien did without the governor being aware of it,'' Mr. Pringle said.
The “suggestive picture” painted there is obvious. But given the way Pringle is described, how could he possibly know that Stepien never did anything significant without Christie being aware?

As his role is described, Pringle couldn’t know that. Why include such an assertion, except for “suggestive” purposes?

The investigation of Fort Lee may yield heinous results. But Zernike had nothing new when she wrote her lengthy report.

She didn’t even say that Fort Lee was one of the 100 swing towns. Surely, she must have asked.

Citizens ought to be very wary of politicians like Christie. They should also be wary of the slippery conduct which often occurs at the Times.

The probes have only just begun. Especially on cable, some of us liberals seem to want our pleasing results right now.


  1. Sorry Bob. But the evidence was there at the time that Christie wasn't some innocent schnook with a staff running amok doing things behind his back from the moment he offered that preposterous explanation.

    And now with the body of evidence growing at a remarkable rate, it turns out that the reporters who knew it was preposterous and kept on digging had more on the ball than someone who claimed there is still an innocent explanation. For example, a legitimate traffic study that simply went wrong.

    1. Somerby isn't saying there is an innocent explanation. He is saying the dirty one hasn't been nailed down yet and you don't get to gloat over it until it has been.

    2. You tell 'em 8:25. It reminds me of the sage advice he gave to antiwar types gloating about the lack of discovery of WMD in Iraq back in ought three. He warned them they would take a fall when those weapons were discovered, as he expected they would be.


    3. Are you blaming Somerby for being imperfect in telling the future? That doesn't seem fair.

    4. Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.

    5. No, Somerby isn't saying the dirty ones haven't been proven. He has said, quite repeatedly, that the innocent explanation hasn't been "disproved" "on a journalistic basis." Whatever that means. So all these damned kids need to get off his lawn.

  2. New:

    January 31, 2014

    Christie Knew About Lane Closings at the Time, Ex-Ally Says

    A Port Authority official says he has evidence to prove the New Jersey governor knew about the lane closings on the George Washington Bridge, which Mr. Christie has denied.

    1. Those dumb swells at the NYT, the nation's dumbest paper...


    2. @520: Lose your fainting couch?

    3. The new article in the NYTimes still leaves much of the puzzle undone, but if Governor Christie knew of the lane closings that would seem damning since he denied knowing.

    4. I, for one, can't wait to see the evidence of Christie's involvement.

      And if there's evidence that Christie has been killing hobos and burying their bodies down by the train tracks, that would seem damning as well, especially as he hasn't even denied killing hobos.

    5. Wouldn't everyone know there were lane closures after the first day of lane closures? Are they saying exactly when he knew what?

    6. I didn't know there were lane closures after the first day of lane closures. Ain't I somebody?

  3. "In a letter released by his lawyer, the former official, David Wildstein, a high school friend of Mr. Christie’s who was appointed with the governor’s blessing at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge, described the order to close the lanes as “the Christie administration’s order” and said “evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference” three weeks ago.

    “Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter added."

    From the NYT.

    Anything is possible, we have no way of knowing.

    Librulz' earth-shattering lie "Wildstein and Christie were high-school buddies"

    Librulz never proved "this was not a botched study" - anything is possible.

    That Maddow is a BAD woman.

    1. Everything is possible in the land of False Dichotomy!

    2. I would be willing to bet Ms, Maddow even wears big orange clown shoes.

  4. I guess we'll be expecting another article attacking Maddow again...

    1. I was disppointed there was nothing on her expose of the NJ SPCA here today.

  5. This troll is really, really crazed. Dangerously crazy.

    1. I don't thinks it's fair for you to call the blogger a troll. If you don't like it here, you should leave.

    2. Methinks it's unfair to call the commenter a troll just because he disagrees with him, but if he likes the blog, why should he leave?

      (Yeah, yeah, I get the hilarious joke.)

  6. It’s still kind of a hilarious story. But it is becoming significantly less hilarious for Governor Chris Christie.

    How long can he go on before he actually explains what happened here?

    There is still is no explanation for what happened here that makes any sense and seems to be borne out by the facts. What happened, and when is the governor going to explain it?

    Just a thought:

    Christie can’t explain what happened if he doesn’t know what happened.

    1. Sure. Christie doesn't know.

      Do you also believe in Santa Claus? The Tooth Fairy? The Easter Bunny

    2. I believe in miracles. Where you from?

    3. I believe in willful ignorance.


    4. deadrat, you sexy thing.

      Circumspice was ok. But Hot Chocolate rocked.

    5. hey deadrat, you still around? I answered you back
      at the Obama/Maddow 77 cent flap.


    6. Yeah, I'm still round, er, around. You're on a streak of two so far, as I acknowledge again on the false facts/elite entry

  7. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the governor made about him, and he can prove the inaccuracy of some,” the letter added."

    Speaking of prescience of mind if not spelling:

    "Anonymous January 13, 2014 at 3:22 PM

    Somebody subpoena Wilding's senior class yearbook before he destroys it. Let the world see what, if anything, Christie wrote in it"

    He;s hurt. He's gonna prove they were buddies.

  8. Whether they were buddies or not is a triviality, but monumental for bone-gnawer, since he used that club to bash inaccurate librulz in many a post.

    The next bout of crazed bone-gnawing is going to be about what evidence Wildstein claims exists - apparently it is only that Christie knew about the lane-closings AS THEY WERE HAPPENING.

    Christie is already claiming a victory of sorts that Wildstein is not alleging that evidence exists for Christie being involved PRIOR to when the "study" actually took place.

    Bone-gnawer is going to turn himself into a human pincushion by the time he is done with this story as new evidence keeps coming out. ("We have no way of knowing", "librulz couldn't have known what is known now when they reported it" ). What a tar baby this "ginned up" story from the sweating, moaning,self-stroking Maddow turned out to be for bone-gnawer.

    1. Look no further than the Friday Zernike article where she says their high school baseball coach recalls them being on the same I recall, the coach didn't say Wildstein was on the team--just around it all the time and well-known to the team.

      And further, Zernike calls the letter from Wildstein's lawyer an aggressive move against Christie, but is it? The guy needs someone to pay his legal bills. All he is seeking is the representation for defense of actions taken in his professional role at the Port Authority. The letter quoted by the NY Times is not so much an effort at whistleblowing, but a rebuttal of the grounds on which the PA is denying Wildstein his legal expenses.

      Christie looks to be in this up to his neck...but this blog is about niggling inaccuracies and clouds of uncertainty, right?
      Oh, oh, I forgot....and also not paraphrasing in the way that Bob prefers.

  9. Just for the record, here is how Bob framed this "massively ginned-up controversy" back on Dec. 13, AFTER the public, sworn testimonies of Baroni, Fulton, Durando and Foye were on the record, but before the "smoking gun" e-mail was released and Christie's "sad, humiliated, embarrassed" press conference:

    "Back in September, a minor New Jersey official had closed three lanes of traffic from Fort Lee onto the George Washington Bridge. This created a week-long traffic jam which crippled the town of Fort Lee.

    "The minor official was a high school friend of Christie’s. First, the minor official lied about why he had done this weird, stupid, dangerous thing. Last week, though, he resigned his post with the Port Authority.

    "How weird! It seems he may have done this to punish Fort Lee because its mayor wouldn’t agree to endorse Christie for re-election. But that remains pure speculation—and there is still no sign that Christie was involved in this ridiculous conduct.

    "Was Christie involved in this stupid conduct? Everything is possible! For ourselves, we’d be inclined to call it unlikely. Again, there has never been any evidence that he was involved."

  10. A guy from Harvard who knows more than anyone else and thinks everyone else is dumb --- what a shocker.

    One of the first times Bob posted about this, I said it would "inevitably" be linked back to Christie. I was, of course, chided by the fan club, they of far subtler and more discerning minds. The air was ride with the condescension of the intellectually superior.

    Hey, I didn't go to Harvard. I'm clearer a lesser order with a simple mind. But sometimes we simple, non Ivy folk don't complicate things either. Sometimes we have pretty good hunches. Sometimes, unlike our intellectual superiors, we manage to see things exactly as they are.

    1. Dear Confused,

      And what an appropriate nym you've chosen.

      TDH thinks that many journalists are dumb and that people like you are thereby misled. But perhaps you're dumb as well. I hope I'm not riding the air, here.

      Nowhere does TDH claim that people shouldn't have hunches or that hunches never turn out to be correct. But often simple minds like yours have hunches not because they see things exactly as they are but exactly as they wish things to be. Sometimes these two converge.

      But it's TDH's contention that journalists shouldn't confuse the two. If you understand that, then you're not dumb.

    2. Would that I were blessed with your subtlety of mind, your probing insight, your keen --- and no doubt highly cultivated --- sense of nuance. Your are surely at home here in this rarified Harvard air; in a venue where all manner of insult is issued by the same who hails the gentle, forgiving spirit of Malala and MLK.

      I'll remain cursed with, well, the capacity at times to see rather clearly what's right in front of my nose.

  11. I'd like to note, though, perhaps a bit of nuance of my own. I'm a liberal Democrat who would have voted for Christie in the last election. I thought there was and is much to recommend him. In fact, I'd secretly hoped that he might switch parties.

    I have no inherent problem with him. That said, I thought from the start that he probably knew what went on with the bridge and seemed guilty as sin. I've observed many real scandals in my 50 years ---- and many fake ones too. This one smelled real to me from Day 1, and this seems to be confirmed daily. TDH's purpose of late seems to be to overcomplicate and confuse, in the service of an unclear or incoherent agenda.

    But then its author did go to Harvard. Perhaps he just plays at a higher level than us lower orders.

    1. Confused,

      First, thanks for your kind words. My nuance is indeed keen and highly cultivated, and if you don't believe me you an ask …. Well, never mind whom you can ask.

      Yours is a common theme here -- TDH operates on a different plane, a Harvard plane, if you will, and plain folks, who can trust their gut instincts, can't follow his city-slicker sophistry.

      I'll make it easy for you to understand TDH, and it won't take any of my world-famous nuance to do it: Don't Make Shit Up. That's it. Don't make shit up.

      If Finland really isn't the exemplar of a country raising itself from mediocrity to excellence in educating children, then don't proclaim otherwise. If direct discrimination is not the reason that the median income for women is 77% that of men, don't pretend otherwise. If you don't know why Wildstein ordered the lane closings, don't write that it was done to punish the mayor of Fort Lee.

      What's more this doesn't mean that you or anybody else has to abandon hunches or investigations.

      That's all there is to it. It's not complicated. So why are you confused?

      I know you're proud of your rude and unsophisticated talent for seeing what's in front of your nose. But you're the guy who has no "inherent problem" and would have voted for a petulant blowhard and bully.

    2. Speaking of "making shit up," don't "make shit up" and imagine things about a governor stuffing bribes in his pocket, or a governor's deputy chief of staff in charge of intergovernmental affairs ordering "traffic problems" just to fit your meme that every scandal is "massively ginned-up" and the product of a "scandal culture."

      Yes, there are phony scandals. And yes, there are real ones. The inability to tell the difference doesn't speak highly of one's intellectual abilities or analytical skills.