Jack Shafer

All lanes close in on Christie

Jack Shafer
Jan 14, 2014 21:56 UTC

This much we know for sure about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bridge scandal: In early September mid-August, one of his staffers sent an email instructing an official, appointed by the governor, that it was “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” The official at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey responded, “Got it.” Fort Lee access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, which connects the New Jersey city to Manhattan, were closed and days of vehicular mayhem ensued. When confronted about the closures, Christie’s people lied and lied about the reason for the closure, citing a non-existent “traffic study.”

What Christie knew and when he knew it, and the precise reason his office ordered disorder for the bridge remain unknown, although the affair reeks of perfidy on Christie’s part: Three Christie people connected to the closures have been sacked or have resigned as facts have emerged.

As the many tick-tocks written about the affair have noted, traffic jams are a way of life in the New York City metro area, making low the likelihood that one would rise to the level of a national news story. So what has lent this story such strong legs, which continue their march across the front pages of America’s newspapers?

Bergen County Record transportation columnist John Cichowski wrote an obligatory piece about the backup on Sept. 13, the end of the week it happened, but the story remained fallow until the Oct. 2 Wall Street Journal published the email speculations of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D-N.Y.) top appointee to the Port Authority about the brouhaha. Executive Director Patrick Foye pointed his finger at Christie’s people, which was enough to encourage a member of the New Jersey general assembly — a Democrat and chair of the relevant transportation committee — to announce the same day investigatory hearings into the lane closures.

Politicians and political staffs indulge in scurvy behavior so frequently that uncovering their naughtiness usually proves as easy as picking up the phone and placing a call. What has made the George Washington Bridge Traffic Massacre so notable, propelling it from its regional news habitat, has been its proximity to Chris Christie, an aspirant for the next Republican presidential nomination. For this obvious reason, anything Christie does or doesn’t do — his weight-loss surgery, his vetoes, acting out his crush on Bruce Springsteen — has the potential to make news. So it was predetermined by the Laws of Journalism that if even the slightest whiff of Christie aerated from the bridge story, it would be vaulted into continuing coverage. Once an appointed official gestured in Christie’s direction, the news was likely to produce more news.

Parity panic in the political press corps

Jack Shafer
Oct 4, 2011 20:16 UTC

The political press corps, like their sportswriter brethren, prefers to cover contests where the winner is announced before the game is played. Until somebody anoints the overdog, no underdog can be proclaimed, profiled, and scrutinized to give the competition its needed dramatic tension. And when the candidates—or teams—are so piddling that a pre-winner can’t be identified, political correspondents and sportswriters panic.

Sportswriters actually have it worse, and National Football League writers worst of all, because the NFL deliberately pushes its 32 teams toward “parity” with spending caps, free agency, revenue sharing, shared TV rights, the college draft–which gives last year’s worst teams the best picks–and the so-called “balanced schedule,” which rewards last year’s bad teams with softer match-ups this year. The end product of NFL parity is the Jacksonville Jaguars, for whom .500 is a winning percentage.

The end product of Republican Party parity is the gang of gibbering right-wingers, token libertarians, and one or two centrists currently fumbling their way through the party’s presidential nomination process.