Part 2—Nuzzi cribs from Zernike: When Bridget Kelly sent that email, did she do so at the direction of her superiors within the Christie camp?
We can’t answer that question. To all intents and purposes, the Mastro report doesn’t ask.
Kelly’s famous email to David Wildstein said this: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein proceeded to plan, then execute, the now-famous access lane closings.
What did Kelly think she was doing when she sent that email to Wildstein? And did she check with her superiors before she sent it?
The Mastro report sheds little light on these basic questions. In one brief section (see page 120), the report says this:
“We interviewed dozens of witnesses inside and outside the Governor’s Office, and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents...After thorough investigation, we have not found any evidence that anyone in the Governor’s Office, besides Kelly, approved of or had any other advance knowledge of the lane realignment before it was implemented on the morning of September 9, 2013.”
In interviews and in old emails, the investigators “found no evidence” that anyone other than Kelly had advance knowledge of Wildstein’s plan.
Kelly’s direct superior was Christie chief of staff Kevin O’Dowd. Did Kelly discuss the plan with O’Dowd? It’s a blindingly obvious question.
O’Dowd was interviewed for the Mastro report. What did he say when he was asked that question?
Presumably, O’Dowd said he didn’t discuss the plan with Kelly, and that may well be the truth. But the Mastro report pays almost no direct attention to O’Dowd.
Meanwhile, the report suggests that Kelly wouldn’t have run the Wildstein plan by Christie political chief Bill Stepien, who does receive direct attention in the report. She and Stepien had recently broken off a romance, the report says. For that reason, the report says, they weren’t communicating with each other.
Did someone above Bridget Kelly know about the lane closing plan? Did some such person approve the plan? These obvious questions are largely glossed within the Mastro report.
Reasoning extremely poorly, the Mastro report seems to conclude that the lack of evidence of approval means that no such approval took place. Needless to say, the lack of evidence can’t begin to settle this basic question. But near the end of its section about Fort Lee, the report directly adopts this unqualified, bold-faced conclusion:
No One In The Office Of The Governor Other Than Kelly Had Any Advance Knowledge Of The Lane Realignment Or Was Otherwise Involved In Approving ItIt may be true that no one else knew. But it’s monumentally dumb to offer that as a proven conclusion.
At many points, the Mastro report reasons like a distracted second-grader. But uh-oh! If anything, the journalism about the report has been even worse.
Reporters and pundits have struggled and strained, trying to define the shortcomings with the report. Last night’s segments on Hardball and the Maddow Show were especially pathetic.
But, as always, the boys and girls who pose as our “press corps” came up with an instant reaction to the Mastro report. In the early going, their assessment was driven by ludicrous logic and by several false facts.
In a series of bungled reports, journalists announced that the problem with the report was its sexist treatment of Kelly. The term got ratcheted up to “misogynist” in a headline at Salon. Yesterday, Alex Pareene took this Standard Group Assessment to a silly but predictable new level.
Please remember the lesson of the fourth button, the “journalistic” practice we have reported for the past sixteen years:
When pundits adopt a Standard Group Story—when they agree They’ll All Say The Same Thing—a pundit can only distinguish himself by making that Standard Group Statement in a more extreme or more colorful manner. As he linked to a piece at The Daily Beast, Salon's Pareene ratcheted thusly:
PAREENE (3/31/14): Perhaps the single dumbest aspect of the report and its unveiling is how it invites a backlash from the people the report blames for the scandal, especially the already pissed-off David Wildstein and former top Christie aide Bridget Kelly, who is subject to shockingly sexist treatment in the review. Painting your once fiercely loyal aide as an unhinged emotional wreck is probably a good way to get her to start opening up to the press and the less friendly investigators at the U.S. attorney’s office.Walsh said the report was “sexist;” the headline ratcheted that up to “misogynist.” Three days later, Pareene was even more overwrought.
The Mastro report is “shockingly sexist,” the overwrought script-reader said.
Question: Is Kelly subjected to sexist treatment in the Mastro report? We’ll review that question tomorrow. For today, we’ll say we think the claim has been strongly overstated, in part through the use of a set of false claims.
(For examples, see yesterday's post.)
Next question: Does the Mastro report paint Bridget Kelly “as an unhinged emotional wreck?” As a courtesy to Pareene, we’ll assume he hadn’t read the report when he offered that characterization. Only an unhinged intellectual wreck would describe the report that way, absent the need to advance an established Standard Group Narrative.
As a courtesy, we’ll assume that Pareene hasn’t read the report. But then, it isn’t clear that Olivia Nuzzi, Pareene’s muse at The Daily Beast, had read the report when she wrote the piece which has Pareene so upset.
To help define the journalistic geography of the current age, Nuzzi is the Weiner college student intern who rose to prominence on page one of the New York Daily News last July. From there, she was profanely trashed by a Weiner aide, then quickly advanced to the Beast.
We have no opinion of Nuzzi’s overall work at the Beast. In last Friday’s Beast, her piece ratcheted the emerging group fury with a headline which charged the Mastro report with “slut-shaming.”
Nuzzi seemed to concede one point—there may have been a reason to report the romance between Kelly and Stepien. Her complaint concerned the fact that the Mastro report said that it was Stepien who ended the romance.
This inspired Pareene to declare the report “shockingly sexist.”
Had Nuzzi spent much time with the Mastro report when The Beast rushed her piece into print? Everything is possible! That said, we were struck by the way her complaints tracked the work which had appeared in the New York Times that morning.
Below, you see the opening paragraph of Kate Zernike’s largely hapless report in the Times. Then, you see the way Nuzzi was struck by the Mastro report:
ZERNIKE (3/28/14): She “seemed emotional.” She was “habitually concerned about how she was perceived by the governor.” A boyfriend had ended a relationship.Great minds were plainly thinking alike in this, the first day of the chase! Is western literature a footnote to Homer? If so, Nuzzi’s account of the Mastro report looks like a footnote to Zernike.
NUZZI (3/28/14): In addition to informing us that Kelly had been dumped by Stepien, Christie’s internal Bridgegate report says that Kelly “seemed emotional,” and that she was “habitually concerned with how she was perceived by the governor.”
As we’ve shown you for sixteen years, this is the way the “press corps” works when they agree on a Standard Group Story. They copy off each other’s papers. As they do, they look for ways to ratchet the story-line up—to top what the others have said.
In fairness, some of the press corps' Standard Group Stories may be fair and accurate. Was that the case with Zernike’s assessment of the alleged sexism in the Mastro report?
Tomorrow, we’ll return to Zernike’s piece and examine her various claims. The Mastro report is very weak in several major respects.
As always, the “journalism” in the New York Times may have been even worse.
Tomorrow: Zernike’s claims and assessment