In a Fox News interview yesterday, Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a recently declared presidential candidate, called on the media to apologize for its coverage of the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. Speaking to Fox News Sunday substitute host Shannon Bream, Christie said, “And you know what happens when the media, Shannon, gets crazy over a story, like they got crazy over Bridgegate and were convicting me the day afterwards of heinous acts. Now, when they realize that there’s no truth to what they said, now they say, ‘Oh, he didn’t do anything, but he created an atmosphere,'” said Christie. “Well, you know, that’s what the liberal media does when rather than saying ‘I’m sorry,’ which is what they should say.”
Journalists are not saying anything of the sort.
Steve Kornacki, the MSNBC host who has provided extensive coverage of the scandal says: “From my standpoint, I have nothing to apologize for.”
Here’s Martin Gottlieb, editor of The Record of North Jersey (formerly known as the Bergen Record) says: “We’ve never reported anything without reporting it fairly and exhaustively. I’m very, very proud of the way we’ve done this.”
And Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times writes in an e-mail: “I think our coverage of the governor has been fair. So can’t imagine a reason for an apology, but happy to hear if he has a complaint.”
To summarize the trajectory of this sprawling story, allegations that something fishy was behind the closure of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in September 2013 surfaced in the weeks after the jams, thanks to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, The Record and others. In early January 2014, the thing blew up as e-mail traffic between a Christie aide, Bridget Anne Kelly and David Wildstein, a Port Authority appointee of Christie’s, provided smoking-gun evidence of said fishiness: “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee,” wrote Kelly in an August 2013 e-mail. Reports suggested that the closure scheme amounted to political payback for the Democratic Fort Lee mayor, Mark Sokolich, who’d declined to endorse Christie for re-election. In May, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman indicted Kelly and Bill Baroni, former deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, for conspiracy to commit fraud, among other charges. Wildstein, meanwhile, had already pleaded guilty to offenses related to the closures.
Sure, the proceedings haven’t directly implicated Christie, which is precisely what he’s been saying for months — and said ad nauseam at an interminable January 2014 press conference. Yet Kornacki, who covered New Jersey state politics for other news outlets from 2002-2005, points out something additional. Before this scandal started feeling its oats, Christie alleged that the Wall Street Journal would eventually “owe an apology to [former state] Sen. Baroni and Mr. Wildstein.” That was in December 2013. As far as the Erik Wemple Blog is aware, the Wall Street Journal has issued no such apology to these two officials.
In the weeks leading up to the explosive e-mail revelations, notes Kornacki, Christie was dismissive of reporters who pried into the alleged wrongdoing. He even joked about his role in the matter. “Unbeknownst to everybody, I was actually the guy out there — I was in overalls and a hat — but I actually was the guy working the cones out there,” he riffed. Media organizations, however, stayed on the trail. “There was something to this story and Chris Christie had insisted there wasn’t,” says Kornacki, who calls Christie’s fixation with his own non-involvement a “straw man.”
When asked about the thrust of the Christie reporting, Gottlieb noted that his paper has tracked the allegations into all kinds of fertile tributaries, including this piece from last weekend about how the Port Authority is under siege from investigators: “More than 15 officials — including three in-house attorneys — have lawyered up amid an escalating investigation into the Port Authority’s decision to redirect $1.8 billion in toll money from its Hudson River crossings to fix roads in New Jersey.”
“The story keeps moving,” adds Gottlieb. “What he’s doing now doesn’t seem very exceptional in terms of blaming the press,” he continues, “but I think the facts are what they are.”