So too with Maddow’s performance: Kevin Drum says there’s no chance that David Wildstein was conducting a “legitimate” traffic study when he closed two traffic lanes leading out of Fort Lee. Click here for the analysts' favorite.
We don’t completely agree with Drum’s post, for reasons we’ll offer below. It wouldn’t be our first bet that Wildstein was acting in good faith. But on a journalistic basis, we would say that possibility hasn’t yet been disproved.
That, of course, doesn’t speak to the question of the New York Times’ reporting of the Fort Lee affair. We’d say that reporting has been Wildsteinesque from Day One right up to the present.
Consider something Rachel Maddow said last night. We’d have to say the highlighted statement is rather Wildsteinesque too:
MADDOW (1/24/14): David Wildstein, who arranged the shutdown of those lanes and gridlocked Fort Lee, New Jersey back in September, apparently on orders from Chris Christie’s deputy chief of staff, he was a guy who was already and understandably getting lots and lots of lawyering, right? We can see that from his appearance thus far before the assembly committee investigating the matter. He’s already getting lots of lawyering. And lawyering is never cheap.Watching last night, we had no idea what that highlighted statement meant.
But as of today, the Port Authority, his employer when he did all this stuff, says, “We are not helping with any of that. You are paying for all of that yourself.” And the Port Authority also indicated today that that may also be the fate of Bill Baroni, the other Chris Christie ally at the Port Authority, the deputy executive director of the agency who was appointed directly by Chris Christie, and who we now know lied to the state legislature about the fake traffic study cover story for what they did to Fort Lee.
Granted, it was a compound statement. As we watched, we didn’t understand what Maddow meant by any of its basic parts.
Is the first part of that statement true? Do we “now know” that Baroni “lied to the legislature” when he testified in November?
Watching last night, we had no idea what Maddow meant.
Baroni testified on November 25. We’re sorry to say that we’ve read the full transcript, in which Baroni recites endless statistics about traffic flow on I-95 and legislators emit a seemingly endless array of snarky rejoinders.
For the full transcript, click here.
Having read the testimony, we had no idea was Maddow meant last night. For starters, what did Baroni lie about? We had to refresh our recollection, reviewing the presentation Maddow made last Friday.
On that evening, Maddow offered viewers the large pile of piddle which started as shown below. We discussed this obvious crap in real time.
We’d call this Wildsteinesque:
MADDOW (1/17/14): November—so after the shutdown, after the election, right? This is when the press was pushing really hard to figure out what had happened with the [traffic lanes] shutdown. The legislature was starting to sniff around, to try to figure out what happened with the shutdown.Maddow raged against the dying of day that night. Eventually, she described that statement by Baroni as “a lie.”
But at this time in late November, Governor Chris Christie was still mocking this story, telling everybody it was nothing. In late November, Bill Baroni testified to the legislature about what happened on that bridge. And he appears to have not told the truth in that testimony, really, at all, really egregiously.
BARONI (videotape): At all times during the week of the study, the Port Authority Police Department monitored traffic on the George Washington Bridge. They were alert for any emergency vehicles in the area and prepared to further alter traffic patterns—excuse me—in the event of an emergency.
MADDOW: That is not true. Emergency vehicles had a ton of trouble, actually, because of the bridge lane shutdown.
Her analysis didn’t make any sense, and it still doesn’t today. In the clip Maddow played, Baroni didn’t claim that emergency vehicles didn’t experience any delays during the lane closings.
That simply isn’t what he said, as you can see in what we’ve posted. Beyond that, no legislators showed any sign of thinking Baroni had said that.
The assembly members complained throughout Baroni’s testimony. For obvious reasons, no one complained about that.
As of November 25, everyone knew that emergency vehicles had experienced some delays during the lane closings. (The most widely discussed such event was a delay of three minutes.)
If you can read the English language, you can see that Baroni didn’t deny that fact in that statement—and that was Maddow’s only example of the way he had “egregiously” “lied.”
Maddow’s presentation last Friday was Wildsteinesque. Here’s what we mean by that:
Wildstein conducted a “traffic study” which, if it was done in good faith, was clownish in its planning and execution. As Drum notes, he failed to employ the standard good practices of the traffic planning profession.
(Not being a traffic planner, he may not have known that.)
That said, Wildsteinism is widely observed in our modern culture. It prevails at the New York Times, as has been true for decades. It runs through much of Maddow’s work, especially when she surrenders herself to the thrill of scandal reporting.
Did Baroni lie at that hearing? It’s certainly possible that he did, but he certainly didn’t lie in Maddow’s pathetic example. Meanwhile, what did Maddow mean last night when she referred to “the fake traffic study cover story?”
We’re not sure what that meant either. It could mean several different things, none of which have been proven.
Did Baroni lie at that hearing? It’s possible, but Maddow was being Wildsteinesque when she made that assertion.
That said, Wildsteinism is everywhere in modern press culture. Wildsteinism is hardly restricted to the works of political henchmen.
If Wildstein was acting in good faith, he ran a ridiculous study. According to testimony, he ignored various warnings about the mess which would inevitably result. As Drum notes, he blew right past professional norms for the conduct of such studies.
That’s pretty much what Maddow did when she made last night’s thrilling assertion.
Wildsteinism is everywhere in the modern world! The New York Times has engaged in the practice since the day it began its Fort Lee reporting. If you want to see Wildsteinism in action, we suggest that you reread the Times reporting on this matter, starting with Kate Zernike’s initial report on December 10.
From that day forward, the Times has blown past normal professional standards, ignoring the safeguards which are lodged in conventional journalistic practice.
Forget the problem Zernike had counting the number of lanes Wildstein closed (two). The Times has misreported basic facts, sometimes in egregious ways.
The Times has invented other facts. (The motive has been revealed!) And it has omitted large blocks of facts about what happened that week.
In these very familiar ways, the Times has created a simplified story about the traffic lane closings. If it’s Wildsteinism you seek, you should just read the New York Times—or watch Maddow’s program.
In closing, let’s discuss the current theories about the reason those lanes were shut down. None of these theories seem to make sense in the world as we know it.
If Wildstein wanted to punish the mayor, or the state senator, why would he do so in a way which would be right out in the open? According to testimony, he was warned that the lane closings would be a highly visible public event—that everyone was going to notice, that “it wouldn't turn out well.”
In the modern political world, that isn’t the way retribution is done. Retribution is normally done in secret, in a way which won’t bring public opprobrium down on the aggressor’s head.
That leaves the billion dollar development as the third possible motive. In that case, it might make a type of sense to stage a public fiasco.
According to that theory, such as it is, Wildstein wanted to undermine the progress of the development. He wanted to queer the deal in some way, perhaps to get a piece of the action.
Perhaps to make the deal collapse, so The Rockefeller Group could step in?
We have no idea if something like that was the motive. But if it was, you might want your conduct to be highly public.
You’d want the developers, and their financiers, to see the developing threat to the project. You might be willing to take the risk involved in the kind of craziness The Wildstein Group unloosed.
Is that what happened in Fort Lee? We have no idea. Even that makes little sense, given the the giant risk involved in the chaos Wildstein created. But good grief! Even when Patrick Foye ordered the lane closings stopped, The Wildstein Group raged against his conduct in their emails.
They wanted to continue the closings! How long did these lunatics think this ridiculous thing could go on?
None of these scenarios seem to make much sense. For that reason, we crack the door for another possibility—the possibility that Wildstein is simply crazy, or deeply stupid, or maybe just on drugs.
Some people are actually mentally ill. We wouldn’t rule that out.
There’s a lot of The Crazy about in the world, and a lot of the semi-crazy. If you doubt that, just watch Maddow conduct her scandal reporting.
Last night, she continued to dream about the ruin and the destruction of the people she opposes. When you see someone employing this language, we suggest you approach them with care:
MADDOW (1/24/14): As David Wildstein gets cut loose, as he gets his lifeline hacked off the mother ship and he drifts into space, to not just be blamed for what happened here but to be potentially bankrupted by this disaster that he had this role in, and as Bill Baroni twists at the end of his line, not knowing whether he’s going to get cut off too but it looks like he might, he`s already been blamed, is he also going to be bankrupted and ruined too?Wow! At times like this, Maddow reliably drifts toward images of ruin and destruction. When she pictures Baroni “twisting at the end of his line,” does she know she’s talking like Nixon’s henchmen, not like the people who brought them down?
As those guys see their lives destroyed, as those guys not only get blamed for this scandal but potentially destroyed by it, Chris Christie’s other top guy at the agency, his top appointee at the agency, he`s apparently still fine. Still has his job. He’s still running the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and its budget that’s bigger than nine U.S. states and its 7,000 employees who get paid apparently an average of well into the six figures.
Is that a reference to Gravity? Is that what she’s longing to see? What makes a person with millions of dollars and barrels of fame speak in public like that?
None of the proffered scenarios seem to make sense at this point. In part for that reason, Wildsteinesque figures in the press corps have invented simpler stories. They pretend that they have discovered lies when they actually haven’t. They pretend, in front-page reports, that the motive has been “revealed.”
They baldly misstate elementary facts. They omit large sets of facts about what happened that week.
Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, Tom Joad said he would be there. Whenever you turn on cable or thumb the Times, there’s a good chance Wildstein is there.