OpinionOp-Ed

The media and Chris Christie: Going overboard in Jersey

PoliticsChris ChristieBarack ObamaAir Transportation IndustryRepublican PartyInternal Revenue Service

What a bizarre spectacle. Assuming he did not lie during his marathon news conference last week, the feeding frenzy surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be remembered as one of those incredibly odd moments of elite journalistic hysteria that are difficult to explain to people who weren't there or didn't get it.

I'm not referring to the scandal itself; that's easy enough to understand. What Christie's team did was outrageous and deserves as much foofaraw and brouhaha as the New Jersey media can muster.

What's harder to grok is the hysteria at the national level.

PHOTO ESSAY: What last year’s biggest political blunders mean for 2014

For starters, there have been countless greater outrages at the state level that have received far less national coverage (indeed, there have been national scandals under President Obama that have received less intense national coverage). Since 1961, four Illinois governors have ended up in jail, and with the exception of Rod Blagojevich, few have received comparable media attention.

"Meet the Press" dedicated 33 minutes to the New Jersey scandal, including a grilling of Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, as if Christie were Nixon during Watergate (a comparison ostensibly serious people have made).

Many conservatives see liberal media bias in all this. But that diagnosis misses the fact that this was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, giving producers ample opportunity to advance a liberal agenda. Moreover, Christie is actually quite popular in establishment media circles — the sort of politician Sunday-show liberals insist America needs more of. He's also quite unpopular in many quarters of the right.

If there is a secret left-wing cabal interested solely in advancing the liberal cause through the media, the Christie auto-da-fe was a missed opportunity.

A more plausible partial explanation is partisan bias, which can be hard to distinguish from liberal bias in many outlets since it tends to favor Democrats. The key difference is that partisan bias focuses more on the political interests of specific politicians or a party generally.

Feeding-frenzy defenders insist the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge is special because innocent constituents were deliberately inconvenienced for partisan purposes. That's surely what makes this scandalous, but it hardly makes it unique. The Obama administration employed similar tactics during the sequester and the government shutdown. Closing the open-air World War II Memorial, furloughing air traffic controllers and other efforts were deliberate attempts to maximize the pain of innocents for political benefit. The tactic worked, but that's not a justification for it, is it?

The allegation that the Obama administration used the IRS to target political opponents is far more explosive (similar tactics were at the core of the Nixon impeachment effort). And, unlike Christie's claims of what he knew and when, similar White House claims haven't held up.

And in the same week the media succumbed to St. Vitus' dance over Christie's alleged "cover-up," it was revealed that the Department of Justice had appointed an Obama donor from the civil rights division, instead of the public integrity division, to investigate the IRS scandal. The department now says it would be unlawful to remove her from the assignment because of her political views. That's untrue. No hysteria there.

Christie is widely seen as a threat to whoever the Democratic nominee will be. Unlike some recent GOP nominees, who struggled to be merely lifelike, Christie has an authenticity and charisma most national Republicans lack. As ABC's Jonathan Karl put it on "This Week," Christie is "the most intriguing and colorful person" in American politics.

That probably explains the overkill as much as anything. Christie is new, exciting and interesting in ways Obama once was. The difference is that when Obama was new and exciting, the media were biased in every regard and heroically skeptical of any Obama wrongdoing. "We thought he was going to be … the next messiah," Barbara Walters recently said. The ardor has diminished but the skepticism remains.

Christie, like most Republicans, never benefited from such skepticism, and never will.

jgoldberg@latimescolumnists.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
PoliticsChris ChristieBarack ObamaAir Transportation IndustryRepublican PartyInternal Revenue Service
  • 5 ways the elite media showed its colors last week
    5 ways the elite media showed its colors this week

    Every once in a while, the D.C. to New York elite media bubble ventures into unintentional self-parody. Last week was one of those times. Here are five ways the media's citizens of "This Town" showed their VSP stripes. --Joel Silberman, guest blogger Joel Silberman is a Los...

  • Chris Christie, President Obama and the 'ignorance is bliss' dodge
    Chris Christie, President Obama and the 'ignorance is bliss' dodge

    Call it “Casablanca syndrome” — politicians who are shocked! shocked! to learn of you-name-it-bad-behavior by underlings. The latest example, of course, is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose staffers have been linked to a nasty bit of political payback involving the town of Fort Lee,...

  • Chris Christie, by Shakespeare
    Chris Christie, by Shakespeare

    There's a bit of 'Richard II' in the New Jersey governor's bridge scandal.

  • The Chris Christie bridge scandal: A touch of old-school politics
    The Chris Christie bridge scandal: A touch of old-school politics

    There's something admirably old school about the costly and dangerous prank that members of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's administration allegedly pulled on a political opponent last year -- to the detriment of the entire city of Fort Lee, N.J. And in a strange way, I wish Christie...

  • Which is the bigger scandal, 'Bridgegate' or the NSA?
    Which is the bigger scandal, 'Bridgegate' or the NSA?

    Even if it ends up derailing Chris Christie’s presidential ambitions, the scandal involving a contrived traffic jam in New Jersey is less of a story than the electronic surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden. But “Bridgegate” has something that the more consequential National...

  • Chris Christie has some explaining to do to readers
    Chris Christie has some explaining to do to readers

    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie says he was unaware, but apparently staffers in his administration dished out some old-fashioned political punishment -- by playing with people's lives.

  • Calling all opinionated poets
    Calling all opinionated poets

    Last year, when we asked readers to submit opinion poetry, we were overwhelmed. More than 1,500 poets answered the call, many with multiple entries. The poems we received dealt with every issue of the day, including the war on terror, the economy, the nanny state, student debt and the...

  • California needs to overhaul its protection of groundwater
    California needs to overhaul its protection of groundwater

    There are many environmentally worrisome aspects of oil and gas production, and one is the injection of wastewater back into the ground. This process — a way of disposing of the contaminated water created during the drilling process — is done in conventional oil and gas drilling, and is even...

Comments
Loading