Part 4—An excellent lesson ignored: As late as last evening’s 10 o’clock hour, Lawrence was taking it seriously. He was treating the email exchange as if it was serious, straight.
We refer to the newly released email comments concerning that New Jersey rabbi. Concerning those now-famous remarks, Lawrence played it amazingly straight.
This is the way he opened last evening’s program. His monotone reading, and some errors that followed, suggest that he may not have been fully prepared:
O’DONNELL (2/27/14): The New Jersey legislature’s special committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal released previously redacted messages from David Wildstein today.Please. By now, the entire world had recognized that no one ever contemplated delaying flights to Tel Aviv.
The messages include exchanges between Wildstein and Bridget Anne Kelly six days after Kelly sent the famous message, quote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”
In the newly unredacted exchange, David Wildstein sends a picture of a New Jersey rabbi with John Boehner to Kelly and Wildstein says, "He has officially pissed me off.” Kelly replies, “Clearly. We cannot cause traffic problems in front of his house, can we?” Wildstein: “Flights to Tel Aviv all mysteriously delayed.” Kelly: “Perfect.”
The Port Authority, of course, where Wildstein worked, controls all the New York area airports.
But Lawrence seemed to be playing it straight. Gravely, he told his viewers that the Port Authority does control all New York area airports.
A few minutes later, Lawrence returned to this problem. By now, he had the rabbi confused with somebody else. But he still seemed to be treating this as a disturbing business:
O’DONNELL: The rabbi who finds himself—to his surprise, apparently—in these e-mails has said today that he had no idea, he has no idea what that’s about. Somewhere, I have a quote from him. [Fumbling for material] No idea what it’s about and he says, I’ve never—he said, “David Wildstein made reference to me in newly released e-mails. He is a psychopath, I’ve never met him.”Is David Wildstein a psychopath? Everything’s possible! On occasion, a few of the analysts have even inquired about Lawrence!
That said, it fell to Steve Kornacki to inform Lawrence that the “psychopath” diagnosis had actually come from a man named Cid Wilson, whose name had also turned up in the unredacted emails. Without directly correcting Lawrence, which isn't done, Kornacki performed another function—he moved the discussion toward the idea that Wildstein had simply been “rolling his eyes,” jesting a bit, concerning the rabbi.
“I didn’t take that exchange as being—I don’t think it reveals anything about the bridge operation,” Kornacki said of the comments concerning the rabbi, helping steer Lawrence, who seemed unprepared, back in a saner direction.
Lawrence may have been under-prepared. On Politics Nation, meanwhile, Michael Isikoff gave voice to a possibility we have pondered for weeks.
Everything is possible! Until the ongoing investigations develop real information about the lane closings, prepare for a new candidate:
ISIKOFF (2/27/14): At the end of the day, this seems to be more juvenile banter than anything else. There was not any effort to create problems, traffic jams in front of the rabbi’s house or delay flights from going to or from Israel. This was just sort of jocular talk. One can raise legitimately questions about whether people in authority, in the government ought to be talking this way in texts or emails.It seems to us that Isikoff is slightly off base. As Al Sharpton quickly noted, there really were major traffic problems created in Fort Lee. So it wouldn’t seem that Kelly and Wildstein were simply joking about Fort Lee in the way they did about the airport.
But, you know, I think the significance is the mind-set. Look, it can even be in some bizarre way exculpatory for Bridget Kelly because she can say, “Look, we were clearly joking here, as we were in the earlier e-mail exchange about the traffic problem.”
But how about the following possibility, one of millions which will exist until an investigatory body develops some real information? How about the possibility that Kelly says something like this:
I always thought the plan for the “traffic study” sounded ridiculous. (I didn’t know there were any political motives involved, it that’s really the case.) I had told David several times that it would create ridiculous traffic problems if he proceeded with the plan. When I got the green light from my boss, Kevin O’Dowd, and was told to pass the word to David, I was simply snarking to him about the plan, in a way I had done many times.Is that what happened? Probably not! But until investigators develop real information, all sorts of things could be true.
While we’re at it, we can also explain the joking about the rabbi. In a sometimes hysterical news report by the Bergen Record’s Shawn Boburg, the rabbi says that he is puzzled by the exchange:
BOBURG (2/28/14): Carlebach, a Middlesex County rabbi, said he was surprised and baffled when told about the passages. He said he has never spoken to Wildstein and had only exchanged pleasantries with Kelly at the State House in Trenton. He is a member of the state’s Homeland Security Interfaith Advisory Council and was a chaplain at the Republican National Convention in 2004 and 2008.The rabbi says he’s puzzled; we know of no reason to doubt him. But based on that passage from Boburg’s report, why can’t this be what happened?
“I have totally no idea,” he said when asked why he might be the subject of the text messages between Wildstein and Kelly. “I don’t understand it....None of it makes any sense.”
He knows Kelly “from the State House” but said the extent of their conversations was “hello” and “good morning” greetings as they passed one another in the hallways. He saw Wildstein at Port Authority meetings but “never engaged him,” he said.
The day before the emails, Wildstein had been conversing with Kelly at the State House (or was perhaps lurking nearby, unobserved). The rabbi passed Kelly and exchanged pleasant greetings with her.Is that what happened? Probably not! But when Kelly jokingly said, “I think this qualifies as some sort of stalking,” could that have been what she meant?
Wildstein had been flirting with Kelly in recent months, in ways which sometimes annoyed her. That day, he feigned annoyance about her exchange with the rabbi, a theme he continued in the joking emails.
Of course it could have been what she meant! Everything is possible until real facts are nailed down. And our imagined narrative has the virtue of making internal sense.
Until someone gives you real information, everything is possible! Unfortunately, you will typically hear a preferred subset of possibilities, depending on who you watch on TV.
Hosts will imagine some possibilities, keep you from pondering others.
This brings us to the way Rachel Maddow ended last evening’s first segment. But first, a quick overview of Maddow’s coverage last night.
Maddow did three segments last night on Fort Lee. They totaled 34 minutes of broadcast time, roughly three-fourths of her show.
Maddow spent only four minutes on the contents of the new, unredacted emails. For the most part, she presented impassioned, familiar reruns about the horrors of New Jersey politics, which she called “rotten,” a “sewer,” a “toxic mire,” a case of “perverted governance.”
There were no references to vermin or roaches or to subhuman mongrels. But at times, the peculiar, impassioned cable star seemed to be heading there.
The material was very familiar. Anyone who watches this show has been through these recitations before:
Maddow started with the corruption of former Trenton mayor Tony Mack. She then moved to the conflicts of interest bedeviling Port Authority chairman David Samson.
She had done the material about state senator Kevin O’Toole at some length on February 18. Last night, she did the O’Toole material again, treating it as new material derived from the de-redactions.
In one brief disclaimer concerning O’Toole, she managed to note that we “we had heard [this] before.”
Watching the show, then checking some claims, it occurred to us that virtually nothing Maddow did last night was fully kosher on a journalistic basis. Weird example:
Early on, she made a claim about Newark mayors which was flatly false. As she did, the screen behind her showed the accurate fact, which is still somewhat misleading.
We even got something resembling a “smuggled correction” of her groaner from last Friday’s Real Time with Bill Maher, when she claimed that a police union head had been fired.
Did Maddow perform a smuggled correction last night? It happened during her second segment, an interview with the Wall Street Journal transportation reporter Ted Mann.
Mann referred to “Paul Nunziato, who is the head of the police union.” Here’s where things went from there:
MADDOW (2/27/14): And now, of course, Mr. Nunziato has stepped down from that role with the police department union.Gack! Maddow misstated again!
MANN: Their position is that he has handed some day to day operations to a deputy. He’s not really going to elaborate on that but he hasn’t stepped down and that he’s continuing in that position. We’re not really clear what any of that means.
Truly, Maddow embellishes everything. Slowly, though, the truth began to emerge.
“We’re not clear what any of that means?” We know it means that Nunziato hasn’t been fired! Having said that, let’s review:
Last Friday night, appearing with Maher, Maddow said that Nunziato has been fired. That was of course untrue.
Last night, she softened her inaccurate claim. She said that Nunziato has stepped down from his role as union head.
That was also untrue! But in these ways, Maddow tends to walk back mistakes.
We know—you think we’re misconstruing this progression of groaners. But this really is the way this peculiar program works.
(Prediction: Before long, Maddow will stage one of her “Department of Corrections” dog-and-pony shows. She will beat her breast and praise her own honesty as she correct some minor, trivial error. Ditto-heads will swing into action, gushing about her astonishing honesty, about the way she makes it a point to correct and acknowledge mistakes. This is the peculiar way this peculiar TV program works.)
Last night was devoted to reruns. But after Maddow’s brief discussion of the unredacted emails, she drew a very good lesson from the whole affair.
We only wish that she could see the way this lesson applies to her own work, which has been extremely peculiar and extremely bad:
MADDOW (2/27/14): The big effect here of these redactions is that it may just be a lesson to all of us to never try to guess what might be under the black magic marker in redacted documents. I mean, in some ways that’s got to be the lesson here. You can’t see under the Sharpie. I mean, who would have ever guessed that under the redactions in the bridge scandal was a random picture of a rabbi with John Boehner?Indeed! Even now, there’s very little we actually know about the Fort Lee affair.
You can’t know until you see it. But there’s so much that we don’t know here.
It’s very unclear what happened in this very strange incident, one of the strangest events of its type in the past many years. It’s hard to know how anyone could have thought that he could shut down traffic in a town which serves an entire region—could think that he could do such a thing for weeks without anybody noticing or forcing him to stop.
Maddow, who reasons like a child, has never been able to see the strangeness of the story she’s pretending to cover. And a second problem has dogged her work—she isn’t obsessively honest.
Maddow’s work on this topic has been astoundingly bad. We don’t refer to the amount of the coverage. We refer to the way she keeps trying to look under the Sharpie—the way she keeps trying to predetermine what actually happened here.
Especially when it comes to The Others, Maddow is always ready to pretend that she knows what’s under the Sharpie. She’s ready to leap to unpleasant conclusions about minor figures, based on the flimsiest possible evidence, just so long as her conclusions punish those she has deemed to be bad.
This is terrible conduct. Who the heck is Rachel Maddow and why does she do these things?
We still plan to put our shrinking cap on. But we won’t do so until Monday.
Tomorrow: Back to Stephen Hawking?