Cable star may believe her own twaddle: How crazy were the Fort Lee lane closings?
Consider a crazy idea which floated a few weeks ago.
In February, the city of Fort Lee released several thousand pages of documents, including the police chief’s daily log. On the Maddow show, the Wall Street Journal’s Heather Haddon described one particular document:
HADDON (2/19/14): The most interesting document for me in there was the handwritten log from the Fort Lee police chief where he’s recording his observations during the lane closures and his calls and what he knew about it at the time. And the first recording in that log, he says that Chip Michaels, the lieutenant you referred to before, had told him on the first day of the closures, that they were part of a month-long traffic study about traffic to the bridge.Is that even possible? On Day One of the lane closings, did David Wildstein really think his alleged traffic study was going to last a month?
So that’s the first time from our understanding that they’ve ever indicated it was going to be a month-long traffic study which is—that’s really long.
That note by the Fort Lee police chief can’t answer that question. The police chief may have misunderstood something Officer Michaels said. Michaels may have misunderstood something Wildstein said.
Wildstein may have said the “study” was going last a month knowing that was BS.
On the surface, it would have been crazy to think the closings could have lasted a month. Then again, it was crazy to think that the lane closings could have lasted a week, given the results they were producing.
At the start of the fifth day of the project, Wildstein was ordered by Patrick Foye to stop. Crazily, he and several associates railed about this order in emails. They wanted the mess to continue!
The craziness of the closings should be apparent by now. Whatever the motive may have been, the craziness of the closings has cost four major Christie aides their jobs and upended Christie’s drive for national office.
On its face, it’s crazy to think that anyone could have imagined sustaining the lunacy for a month. But then, as a political matter, it seems crazy to have done the lane closings at all.
On February 19, Haddon and Maddow didn’t seem to see how crazy this “month-long” notion was. The next night, Chris Matthews went on at length about the lunacy of the idea. At any rate, it’s the lunacy of the closings that have made this a puzzling story. If we assume there was a bad motive here, what made Wildstein think he could snarl an entire region for even a week without getting in major trouble?
What was the motive for the lane closings? That still hasn’t been shown.
If we assume the closings were done for nefarious reasons, the project represents extremely reckless behavior.
That said, does this bizarre bit of conduct merit the amount of coverage seen on Maddow’s show? We would have to say it does not, especially considering the strange conduct in which Maddow herself has engaged.
On the whole, Maddow has made a mess of this topic. At times, she has behaved quite badly.
At times, she has invented fake facts, trying to suggest that various people engaged in heinous wrongdoing. In the last week, she has approached hysteria as she voices her revulsion about a new part of the case.
On Wednesday, we offered one possible explanation for this strange performance: Maddow may be running a scam, a ratings-grab, along the traditional lines sketched by Fox. Her viewers are treated to repetitious recitations about the very bad deeds of some very bad people. If she has to shade or invent some facts to create a fuller roster of “bad guys,” WWFND?
This may be Maddow’s motive. That said, we’ve been puzzled by Maddow’s scandal reporting for years—by the peculiar fervor she tends to bring to her pursuit of villains.
Here’s a second possible explanation for Maddow’s scandal reporting:
Is it possible that Maddow believes her own twaddle? This isn’t the first time she has seemed to talk herself into a state of peculiar high dudgeon about alleged bad conduct. We recall, for example, the threats she lodged against North Carolina senator Richard Burr, when it was perfectly clear why Burr had done the things which had Maddow so exercised.
Maddow went on for several nights in a state of mighty high dudgeon. She kept refusing to report the facts which underlay Burr’s behavior.
Her behavior made no apparent sense. Did she believe her own twaddle?
Maddow’s reporting on policy matters isn’t like her scandal reporting. She covers a range of important topics—abortion rights and voting rights, to cite two examples—without inventing strings of fake facts, without slipping off the edge of the earth in her overwrought emotionalism.
When it comes to scandal reporting, she follows a different path. In the matter of Fort Lee, she is now engaging in supersized emotionalism. This follows a period in which she sometimes played fast and loose with her facts.
Why has she been doing this? There’s a great deal of wrongdoing in the world, along with a great deal of scandal. The lane closings seem especially strange, but inappropriate conduct can be found all around us.
Why is Maddow urging kids to defect, and adults to retch, about this particular case?
Some time ago, we began to wonder about this. We went back and reread the Maddow profiles from 2008 forward.
We found a lot in Julia Baird’s Newsweek profile which we didn’t quite believe. (See our previous post.) We’re inclined to think that Maddow, like other ambitious people, can sometimes be an over-the-top seller of herself.
Or maybe not. We don’t know.
We also found a report about the cyclical depression which has dogged Maddow since adolescence. As we wondered about the overwrought way she sometimes pursues The Very Bad People, we found her voicing a desire which can sometimes be a bit dangerous:
BAIRD (11/21/08): While she is intensely patriotic, she is not starry-eyed about politicians. The first time she interviewed Obama, she found him "monotone, literally and figuratively," she said, but added that when you're a "policy guy, sometimes you give people more detail than they want." She "misted up" when he won, but claims she would have done the same if McCain had: "I get moved by momentous occasions." But Maddow says she has grown up in a generation that has no idols. When her mother, Elaine, was pregnant with Maddow, she whiled away hours in front of the Watergate hearings on TV. “If you're 35, you don't have heroes,” Maddow says. “Watergate and Vietnam sort of killed heroism. I’m a 30-something idealist. But...ultimately the basic idea is that you have to live a life worth living.”Do you think Maddow believes in ghosts? Do you think she lies awake worried about infrastructure? Is she intensely patriotic? More than everyone else?
So what happens when the outsider is leading the pack? When the disgruntled left becomes the sober, powerful mainstream? How disgruntled is Maddow, anyway? Does her joviality mask a deep partisan fury? Or is she motivated more by a "pure flame of public service," as Olbermann puts it? At a midnight dinner at a bar in downtown Manhattan, over a meal of fish and red wine, she admits, uncomfortably, that she is driven by fear of failure: “It's very boring and sad. I want to convince myself that my existence matters.” She says she is not an angry person—just emotional. “I get teary a lot,” she says cheerfully, pulling one of the handkerchiefs she carries with her at all times out of her pocket and pointing out the bubble pattern on it. She believes in ghosts and is “knock on wood” superstitious. She is also anxious, often lying awake worrying about America's need for improved infrastructure and national security.
As we noted in that first post, we’re inclined to doubt those things. We’re inclined to believe that Maddow is a tireless self-promoter, a hustler of the self, a person who wears the occasional veil to keep you from seeing the truth.
That said, we might advise you to be concerned about a powerful person who wants to convince herself that her existence matters. (It does.) Beyond that, as everyone knows, people driven by fear of failure can sometimes do odd things.
Is Rachel Maddow a bit of a nut? We’d say the evidence has started leaning a bit toward yes. There’s no excuse—none—for making up facts to try to entangle people in criminal conduct. Plainly, Maddow played that game in the case of Officer Michaels. In other instances, she has come rather close.
Maddow has done too much of that. Now, she’s trying to persuade her viewers that they should join “the world” in “collectively retching” about what Bill Baroni did with respect to those 9/11 relics.
To convince you of that, she toyed this week with an extremely fuzzy report by the New York Times’ very shaky Kate Zernike. As the person who was willing to tell you that Keith Olbermann’s behavior was misogynistic, we’re suggesting that Maddow may turn out to have a screw or three loose, as may be true of us all.
Wealth and fame have harmed many people. We think Maddow’s reaction to these scandals has been increasingly strange. At times, her conduct has looked dishonest, reckless—corrupt.
Does Rachel Maddow believe her own bullshit? Many big stars end up doing peculiar things. At least since Judy Garland and Elvis, this has been the brutal down side of our nation’s relentless star system.
Maddow’s scandal reporting has been very bad, leaning toward strange. On a journalistic basis, if she had supervision—she doesn’t—they’d tell her to straighten it out.