Maddow and the false cover story!


Fuzzy claims, disappeared facts: We thought Rachel Maddow’s Monday night program was pretty much a disgrace.

It wasn’t just the fuzzy claims, a staple of her extended performance in the Fort Lee theater. It was the way she staged the latest summary trial of her latest defendant.

The new defendant was Philip Kwon, a Port Authority lawyer, part of the Christie team.

Has Kwon done something wrong in the Fort Lee mess? So far, there’s absolutely no way to know that—unless you’re watching Maddow’s program, which turned on some fuzzy assertions this night, and on some disappeared facts.

Maddow wants Kwon to get dunked in the village lake. Here’s the basic background:

On November 25, Bill Baroni testified to the New Jersey legislature about the Fort Lee lane closings. Baroni, who’s part of the Christie team, was David Wildstein’s superior at the Port Authority.

Baroni testified that the Fort Lee closings were part of a traffic study. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Kwon helped prepare Baroni for that appearance.

What did Baroni know and believe about the lane closings? What did Kwon know and believe?

At present, we’d say those facts remain unknown. But Maddow was ready to string Kwon up or perhaps dunk him down. Her exciting report aired live and direct from the outskirts of Salem Village:
MADDOW (2/3/14): Citing unnamed officials, the Wall Street Journal reports that Phil Kwon, who’s also a Christie appointee to the Port Authority, Phil Kwon spent parts of four to five days helping prepare the testimony Bill Baroni gave to the legislature, which we know was a false cover story.

The Port Authority for their part tonight, they are denying it was five whole days. They’re saying that kind of preparation before testimony is a routine matter and people shouldn’t read anything into it.

But you know what? Given that that testimony turned out to be made up, doesn’t that raise real questions about anybody being involved in the preparation of that testimony? Who else helped cook up the cover story besides David Wildstein and Bill Baroni?


Who else was involved in the cover-up? We’ll be right back.
As you can see, she already had Baroni tried and convicted. He had “helped cook up a false cover story...Who else was involved in the cover-up?”

Based on that text, you won’t be surprised to learn that Maddow was to convict Kwon too.

After all, Kwon was involved in the preparation of Baroni’s testimony! And that testimony “turned out to be made up!”

When Maddow returned from commercial break, she undertook the hanging of Kwon. Showing disappointing bad judgment, Assemblyman John Wisniewski seemed to sign on for the mob.

That said, this whole thing turns on some rather fuzzy claims, and on some basic facts which Maddow has never reported. The basic background is this:

All week long, Maddow has said, again and again, that Baroni’s testimony was “a false cover story.”

On Monday night, the term “cover story” was used again and again. By last night, Maddow had added more filigree to her assertion about the false cover story. She was describing the claim about the traffic study as an “untrue smoke-screen cover story that isn’t what actually happened.”

This colorful claim makes viewers feel good. It’s also extremely fuzzy.

What does it mean to say that the traffic study was “a false cover story?” It could mean various things, including this:

It could mean that talk about the traffic study was just a hoax all along—that Wildstein never had any interest in conducting any such study or test, in gathering or analyzing data about traffic on I-95.

By this theory, the traffic study was a cover story in this sense—it was a way of hiding Wildstein’s real intentions and motives.

That theory may well turn out to be the truth. It may turn out that the traffic study was a total sham all along, a way to wreak havoc on Fort Lee, that being Wildstein’s real objective.

That doesn’t mean that Baroni or Kwon knew it was a sham. And here we reach the problem with the way Maddow husbands her facts.

Despite the many hours Maddow has burned on Fort Lee, she has never told her viewers some basic facts about the events of the week of September 9. Watching Maddow, you would almost surely get the impression that the traffic study was “a cover story” dreamed up after the fact—after the week of September 9, after the lane closings happened.

Plainly, that isn’t the case. The traffic study may well have been a cover story in the way we’ve described. But as two bridge officials described in sworn testimony on December 9, Wildstein went through the motions of seeming to conduct some sort of traffic study, or test, both during the week of the closings and dating back to August.

Bridge director Cedrick Fulton and bridge general manager Robert Durando testified at length, under oath, about what Wildstein did. Unless Maddow plans to hang them too, it was their impression that Wildstein actually was conducting some sort of traffic study, or test.

(Fulton said he wasn’t sure which term Wildstein had used.)

They though it was a bad idea, carried out in irregular ways. But Wildstein was going through the motions, and continued to do so all week.

According to Fulton and Durando, data were collected and analyzed that week. Preliminary, underwhelming results were observed. This whole thing may have been a hoax, but Durando and Fulton didn’t know that. At present, there’s no obvious basis for saying that Baroni or Kwon knew that either.

Maddow was channeling Tailgunner Joe in Monday night’s performance. Disappointingly, Wisniewski clambered on board to help.

Here you see one part of their exchange. In the highlighted passages, we’ll ask you to note the way this particular tail-gunner toys with her basic facts:
MADDOW: Joining us now is the co-chair of the New Jersey Assembly Select Committee’s investigation into this matter, Assemblyman John Wisniewski. Mr. Chairman, thanks for being here.

WISNIEWSKI: Rachel, good to be back.

MADDOW: Bill Baroni gave you two hours of testimony on the closure of those bridge lanes. I reread all of that testimony today and looked back at some of that tape. He said it was all to do with a traffic study. Is it clear to you that we now know that was inaccurate testimony?

WISNIEWSKI: It was inaccurate testimony. There was no traffic study. Pat Foye in his testimony denied the existence of a traffic study. The documents we’ve received from the people we’ve previously submitted show there was no photographic study. It seems to be some type of cover story.

MADDOW: If the Wall Street Journal’s reporting is accurate, that Phillip Kwon, a lawyer at the Port Authority, a close ally and appointee of the governor’s, was involved in four to five days of preparation of Mr. Baroni for that testimony, which you just said is inaccurate, are—does that open up a new line of questions for the Port Authority, for the governor, or for Mr. Kwon?

WISNIEWSKI: One of the fundamental problems we have with this entire inquiry, every time we learn something we get a whole bunch of new questions that we don`t have answers to...

But the point is, it just seems an unusual amount of time to have somebody spend and prep you for talking about something that is supposed to be factual. I mean, if it’s something that happened, somebody understood and knew and was planning for, I’m really mystified at the length of time it was necessary to prepare Bill Baroni for the testimony.
For various reasons, that strikes us as very bad conduct on Wisniewski’s part.

In our view, that’s very bad conduct on the part of both players. For the record, Wisniewski is slightly misstating what Pat Foye said in his testimony, during which he repeatedly spoke favorably of Baroni.

Having said that, note the way Maddow routinely spins up her facts:

The Wall Street Journal did not report that Kwon “was involved in four to five days of preparation of Mr. Baroni for that testimony.” The paper reported that Kwon spent parts of four to five days helping prepare Baroni.

That could be thirty minutes on each of four days; Maddow has no way of knowing. But as the segment went along, she increasingly turned the prep session into four to five days, with Wisniewski saying that he can’t see why it would take that long.

Dis Wisniewski know how long the prep sessions took? If he knew more than the Journal reported, he didn’t burden Maddow’s viewers with his knowledge.

In that session, a histrionic cable host was conducting her latest trial. Here’s the key point:

There is no way of knowing at this point what Baroni and Kwon may have known or believed about that “traffic study.” Even if we assume the whole thing was a hoax on Wildstein’s part, there’s no obvious way Kwon would have known that.

Maddow’s viewers aren’t likely to realize that, of course. Through endless hours of snark and screech about Fort Lee, she has never told them what Wildstein actually did during the week of the closings and in the weeks before.

Kevin Drum keeps insisting that there was no legitimate traffic study. In this context, that isn’t the point. There was at least the pretense that a study, or test, was occurring. It helps Maddow hang people she hates if viewers aren't given such facts.

All along, we’ve made a basic point about the reporting of these events. On a simple journalistic basis, you can’t throw away basic facts. The things that Wildstein did that week are a basic part of this story. The New York Times has never reported what he did, and neither has Maddow.

On Monday night, Maddow played on her viewers’ ignorance. Did Kwon believe that a study or test took place?

Not in Maddow’s Salem Village, where misused citizens haven’t been told some basic facts of the case.

Next: Wildstein was paid too much!


  1. Great post.

    Once Bob said that "Wisniewski is slightly misstating what Pat Foye said," I knew that Maddow was trying to hoodwink her foolish fans into hating the presumably innocent Christie political appointees.

    Game, set, match.

    Poor, poor Gov. Christie, he's living in Maddow's Salem Village where young girls make unfounded allegations against honest, upright citizens.

    1. Here is the problem with an analogy. The point of reference to Salem is that the evidence used to convict people of being witches was similarly lacking, that reason didn't figure into the convictions, that due process was laughable in convicting the accused. THAT is the similarly, not that girls started the whole thing and Maddow is presumably a "girl," although most women dislike being referred to as children. I don't believe anyone felt that all the accused in Salem were honest, upright citizens. Some were not, although none were witches.

    2. And how do you know Bob's mind so well, o anonymous one?

      Anyhow, I didn't pick the problematic analogy, Bob did. Address your complaints to him.

    3. No analogy is a perfect fit. You deliberately chose to emphasize the points that didn't fit, not see the ones that did. This is a rhetorical game that can be played with any analogy. It is a stupid waste of time that distracts from substantive conversation. Please stop it.

    4. Bob says Maddow is in Salem Village, what role do you assign to Maddow if not one of the accusing girls?

      If Maddow doesn't have a role, why did Bob pick Salem Village as a model?

    5. Kangaroo court magistrate.

  2. "John Wisniewski seemed to sign on for the mob."

    That appears to be all we need to say.

    1. Wisniewski supported Maddow's overblown claims. That is obvious from the transcript.

  3. The Douche Troll GangFebruary 6, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    Maddow, with her big platform, goes beyond the facts and avoids some facts.

    Maddow, on her TV show thing, again and again says we "know" things we don't actually know.

    But you, little blogger, keep saying that about her. Which is much much worse.

    1. Bad sock puppetry doesn't help a bad blog post.

    2. The key word here for all trolls is "bad." Bad, bad trolls. Now go away.

  4. A good faith study would have started with the question, "How come Fort Lee gets three lanes?" at which point the answer might have been (and as I recall, apparently was), "I don't know, it's always been that way."

    The rest of the conversation would have gone like this:

    "Well, that doesn't seem fair to me. Maybe we should try closing down a lane to see what happens."
    "Maybe it's not, but it isn't just Fort Lee people who use that entrance."
    "Is there an imbalance at rush hour? Do the people at the Fort Lee entrance just fly through while the main lanes are all backed up?"
    "No, we haven't seen that. And you're right, if the allocation were unfair that's what we should see, and we haven't. The back-ups seem to be about the same."
    "OK, well, thanks, it was just something that's occurred to me from time to time, and I thought I would ask."

    By definition, a "study" means a legitimate study. There was no study.

    1. What if the question were "How bad would the backup be if we changed the number of lanes in Ft Lee?"

      A study doesn't mean "legitimate study" by definition -- just by wishful thinking. A study is a study of whatever kind. The word legitimate makes it a legitimate study. Otherwise there are all kinds of studies. You don't get to assume the most damaging meaning for a word just because you don't like Christie.

    2. And just because you are madly in love with Somerby doesn't mean you can make things up either. Just because Wildstein called it a "study" doesn't make it a "study" in any intelligent understanding of the word.

      Use your brain. Wildstein's direct orders from Christie's deputy chief of staff were to "create traffic problems in Fort Lee."

      He couldn't tell Durando and Fulton to "create traffic problems in Fort Lee." He had to find an excuse -- a harebrained "study," and order them on Friday to do it on Monday, while specifically telling them not to contact Foye, the media or Fort Lee officials.

      And while Fort Lee officials frantically tried to call to find out what the hell was going on, he ordered "Radio silence."

      Now go back and read some Bob. First off, he talked about how this was all "massively ginned-up."

      Then, with the smoking gun Bridget Kelly e-mail to Wildstein and his two-word response out in public, he still insisted it wasn't disproved that this was a traffic study, done in "good faith" -- his words -- that was merely bungled. After all, they did take data from toll boths. Which then take every damned day.

      It wasn't until Kevin Drum slapped him across the face that he finally started backing off ever so slowly, still insisting he was right and the rest of the universe was wrong, while calling in a traffic study ordered by a stupid, insane and/or drug-addled guy.

      But then he got the memo from Trenton about how "unreliable" Wildstein was, dating back to the high school days when Christie didn't know him.

      Ah ha! Says Somerby. It WAS a traffic study ordered by an "unreliable" guy!

      All the while ignoring the documented evidence that it was ordered from the Governor's office in Trenton.

    3. If the choice is between loving you and loving Somerby, there is no contest.

    4. And you don't even know either one of us.

      How un-Malala of you.

  5. Saying "study" doesn't make it one.

    And nobody cares that the media hasn't "disproved" it. It's up to Christie & Co. to produce it. They haven't.

    Maybe you can speculate why Christie would order a legitimate study and then abandon the premise. And demand the media "prove" it.

    1. Behold bias incarnate, and proud of it!

    2. And is it "possible" that your bias is in play here as you decide that everything Somerby writes is the Gospel truth?

      Honestly, I have never seen a blogger be so completely wrong for this amount of time, nor his rubes twist themselves in such knots to defend him.

    3. Anon 5:51pm, it's important that you understand that there's an essential difference between fair treatment of people despite circumstantial evidence, from arguing that it's fine to make certain assumptions based upon that sort of evidence.

      When you side with the latter, you aren't supporting an ethos that good for us in the long run. You're merely selling out to an expediency that will most hurt, in the end, the people you tell yourself you are most concerned over.

    4. Right. The evidence we have that ties high-ranking officials in Christie's office to "traffic problems in Fort Lee" is merely "circumstantial."

      Nothing to see here. Move along.

  6. OMB ( Fuzzy Wuzzy Was Our BOB) Part 1

    Quick quiz for BOBfans. How many digits are there on your hands?

    If you have not met with an unfortunate accident with a farm implement or other sharp object, you can count the number of times BOB used the word "fuzzy" in this post on one and type "Troll" with the other.

    "Fuzzy" is about to become BOB's favorite adjective alongside his favorite verbs, "appears, implies, suggests." All words to enable BOB to do exactly what he criticizes journalists for doing.

    Five times he calls Maddow's allegation fuzzy; four times before he gets around to telling you what the fuzzy allegation is. (Does that "suggest" he thinks you are dumb rubes, or do you just "appear" to be? The allegation is that the story of a traffic study used to explain lane closures in Ft. Lee was a cover story.

    You cannot be less fuzzy than that. Maddow's charge is a smooth as an apple peel. Not even as fuzzy as a peach. What is fuzzy is BOB's explanation of why the charge is fuzzy.

    As best we can tell, BOB suggests three possible meanings to the term cover up. The first is the one we all understand. You know, the one Maddow meant. The one in English.

    The second somehow involves the possibility people Madddow suggests could have been involved in the cover up, like Baroni and Kwon, might have taken the unreliable Mr. Wildstein at his word and believed what he was doing was a real study. That is good BOB, but it still means the "study" (or test, or experiment, or bungle in the toll booth jungle) was still a cover story.

    Possibility three seems fuzziest of all. It somehow involves Maddow concealing or disappearing facts which might possibly lead us to find there really was a traffic study, albeit done by Mr. Bungles, not Mr. Unrelaible or Mr. Doler of MegaProject Billions ( you pick a Wildstein name other than Childhood Friend).

    BOB, I hate to break it to you. Not only are you, Christie, and a few of each of your loyal fans the only holdouts for this slim possibility,
    but even if there was a traffic study, Maddow's charge is not fuzzy. It is false.


  7. OMB (BOB's Fuzzy Wuzzy Disappearing Facts) Part 2

    Since BOB brought up disappearing facts, let's look at the facts BOB has to disappear in order to write this:

    "Assemblyman John Wisniewski seemed to sign on for the mob." Bob accuses him of "very bad misconduct." We won't call that charge fuzzy. It is clear. It is also false.

    To do this BOB has to disappear part of the transcript he presents in this post of Wisniewski on the Maddow show. BOB has to also disappear the transcript of the hearing in which Baroni appeared before the Transportation Committee in which he dodges Assemlyman Wisniewski's request to see the traffic data Baroni said documented the "study." He did so by hiding behind need for advice of his lawyer, Mr. Kwon. The Chairman asked Mr. Kwon to come forward and explain any legal reason why the data could not be given to the committee. Baroni accused Wisniewski of playing games.

    BOB has to disappear the initial press statement issued by the Port Authority immediately after the closure calling the event a 'traffic safety pattern study" which was personally approved by Baroni and is totally false. He has to disappear the fact that the Bergen Record and the Wall Street Journal requested all documents related to the "traffic safety pattern study", and were stonewalled on Mr. Baroni's orders. He has to disappear the testimony that the data referred to by Baroni, and collected automatically by machine at the George Washinton bridge, was not requested in advance of the event by Mr. Wildstein according to Fulton and Durando, the staffers who supervise the bridge and the data collection. He has to disappear the fact that Wildstein produced no documents in response to the committee subpoena that indicated he ever requested documentation of the traffic impacts of the closure or a report from anyone before he and Baroni put out the false "traffic safety pattern study" press statement. Finally he has to disappear the fact that documents Wildstein did submit show Wildstein requested PA staff to collect data showing the number of EZ pass holders by city over a week after the closure and after the press had filed Freedom of Information Act requests for documentation that there was a study. It was the EZ pass data, presented in a totally misleading manner, that formed the centerpiece of Baroni's testimony. That testimony abandoned the false "traffic safety pattern" cover story given initially to the press and substituted a "fairness" issue study cover story.

    Wizniwewski had access to all of that before he appeared on Maddow's show. So did BOB. So did we. So do you. We read the transcripts. BOB claims he did so, and he cut and pasted much from them in these posts.

    Wisniewski did not engage in misconduct. BOB engaged in the very conduct he accused Maddow of engaging in. He had access to all the information we did. He just disappeared what did not fit his meme.


    1. With apologies, we correct ourselves. The accusation by BOB related to Assembleyman was that he engaged in "very bad conduct" not "very bad misconduct."
      We would not want our mistake to be taken out of condext or mistaken for bad faith.