Oh, I don’t know. What did you expect from the New York Times?
Last Friday, the paper published a huge story. [Heh. Get it?] “Christie Knew About Bridge Lane Closings, Port Authority Official Says,” the headline screamed.
Huge. [We get it already!] New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, during a two-hour press conference weeks ago, had repeatedly insisted that he knew nothing about lane closures on a bridge leading into New York City, after allegations emerged that the lanes were shut down to punish a mayor who failed to endorse the governor’s re-election bid. Now, The Times said, it turned out “Christie Knew.” Huge. [Stop it!]
The article went on to prove — nothing. No proof whatsoever of the “evidence” (which was highlighted by the weird wording “had the evidence” — does that mean he no longer “has” it?) Still, the claim was shocking. And it directly targeted a sitting U.S. governor, who just happens to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.
[O]ne might wonder why the newspaper didn’t ask the very first question nearly anyone else would ask when presented with such a claim: “Uh, OK, you say you have evidence, can we see it?”
But no, The Times ran with the piece, which made the follow-on media follow on the story throughout the day. But few noticed the way the lede was changed — in less than 20 minutes.
In a write-through of the piece, the new lede said: “The former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge, central to the scandal now swirling around Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, said on Friday that ‘evidence exists’ the governor knew about the lane closings when they were happening.”
“Evidence exists”? Where? Does anyone “have” it like, say, the reporter writing the story about its existence?
Meanwhile, the headline, once a killer with the declarative “Christie Knew,” also morphed into a watered-down weakling. “Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes.” “Linked to Knowledge”? A far cry from “Christie Knew.” And what does it even mean for someone to be “linked to knowledge”?
As questions began to emerge about the altered piece and headline, The Times was forced to put out a statement.
“Times metro editor Wendell Jamieson addressed the change in an email to HuffPost’s Michael Calderone: ‘We’ve made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more,’” the Huffington Post wrote.
Dozens more? Maybe, just maybe, The Times should work the story for a while until editors and reporters can draft a strong piece before publishing. Just a thought.
For the record, David Wildstein, the Port Authority official who claimed he “had” the evidence, has been publicly asking for immunity since the scandal hit the press. He has even been held in contempt by the New Jersey Legislature for refusing to testify. And the threat of “evidence” makes up just one sentence in a two-page letter from his lawyer.
“Could we have made this more clear? Yes,” The Times reporter who wrote the piece, Kate Zernike, said Sunday on CNN. “Did we make it more clear? Yes.” And all those changes, softening the lede, the headline? “That’s a typical newspaper process,” she said.
An aside: We happen to remember when Ms. Zernike was a hungry cub reporter for the Boston Gob. She was the attack bitch (if a young feline can be an old canine) on the Glob’s campaign to water down the state laws on special education. Evidently the liberal elite in the Commonwealth did meet a constituency they didn’t like: developmentally disabled children. Ms. Zernike served her masters well—the law was gutted—earning a promotion to the big leagues.
The article doesn’t leave you hanging too long for the answer to the question it poses: Chris Christie is the elephant in the room. (Hey, if the author can, I can.) The president may have sicced the IRS, NSA, and FEC on American citizens, but if Chris Christie can be smeared for a traffic jam he may or may not have known about (“evidence exists”), that’s their story.
This blog is neutral on Christie and his presidential aspirations. He’s far down my list of preferred candidates, but I’d be hard pressed to vote against him if he were the nominee. Media muggings, on the other hand, are our bête noire. Christie and Sarah Palin are nothing alike (you can say that again), but they share this. Both have been taken down by a Democrat-Media complex out to destroy any chance they might have. Maybe Palin-Christie should be the ticket in 2016.