The Real Winner of Chris Christie’s Bridgeghazi-Gate: Local Newspapers

National Journal
Brian Resnick
Jan. 13, 2014, 10:09 a.m.

The Ber­gen County Re­cord is a me­di­um-sized pa­per, with a daily print cir­cu­la­tion of around 150,000 and around 200 re­port­ers in the news­room.

The real reas­on The Re­cord de­serves most of the cred­it is be­cause it made it a story in the first place — in Septem­ber.

But it com­pletely dom­in­ated the news last week, break­ing the leaked emails that in­crim­in­ated the Christie ad­min­is­tra­tion in the George Wash­ing­ton Bridge lane clos­ures. It had all the work­ings of a great tale: polit­ic­al cor­rup­tion and re­venge against the uni­ver­sally sa­li­ent back­drop of traffic con­ges­tion. And it hits on the sweetest spot of loc­al cov­er­age: loc­al cor­rup­tion that makes na­tion­al shock­waves.

They took a story which, in Septem­ber, was banal on its face — a traffic jam in New Jer­sey, no way! — and  star­ted pulling strands that could un­ravel the be­gin­ning stitches of a pres­id­en­tial cam­paign. And The Re­cord has been re­ceiv­ing most of the ac­col­ades this week, even though na­tion­al out­lets like The Wall Street Journ­al in­ves­ted heavy re­port­ing time in­to the story (and are ar­gu­ably also worthy of the cred­it of “own­ing” part of the story).

The Re­cord pub­lished its story about the damning emails 20 or so minutes ahead of The New York Times, which had its own in­de­pend­ent re­port. But that’s the su­per­fi­cial reas­on why The Re­cord “won” the day.

The real reas­on The Re­cord de­serves most of the cred­it is be­cause it made it a story in the first place — in Septem­ber. In the very first column on the is­sue, The Re­cord quoted Fort Lee May­or Mark Soko­lich as say­ing, “Now I’m be­gin­ning to won­der if there’s something I did wrong. Am I be­ing sent some sort of mes­sage?”

And the pa­per high­lighted the key sus­pi­cions:

…[I]t doesn’t take much to get the ru­mor mill go­ing. The Road War­ri­or phone was ringing all Thursday af­ter­noon with equal num­bers of calls from road-weary bridge com­muters and con­spir­acy the­or­ists who in­sisted that the Port was pun­ish­ing Soko­lich — either for fail­ing to en­dorse Gov­ernor Christie’s elec­tion bid or for push­ing through a $500 mil­lion, 47-story high-rise hous­ing de­vel­op­ment near the bridge, or for fail­ing to sup­port the Port’s last toll hike.

“Those two toll­booths were pur­posely closed without no­tice to any­one,” said a source close to the situ­ation. “There is ab­so­lutely no le­git­im­ate traffic-safety ra­tionale for this change.”

“I have to give them cred­it,” Wendell Jam­ieson, the ed­it­or on The New York Times‘ story, told Mar­garet Sul­li­van, the pa­per’s pub­lic ed­it­or. “Who would have thought that something as mundane as a traffic jam in New Jer­sey could ex­plode in­to the biggest polit­ic­al story of the new year?”

The email rev­el­a­tions last week were the cul­min­a­tion, not the first step, in the out­ing of this scan­dal. Yes, this is now a na­tion­al story, and na­tion­al out­lets will fur­ther the nar­rat­ive. But The Re­cord set the events in mo­tion.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4655) }}

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
These (Supposed) Iowa and NH Escorts Tell All
30 minutes ago
NATIONAL JOURNAL AFTER DARK

Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:

  • Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
  • Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
  • They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
  • One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
Source:
STATE VS. FEDERAL
Restoring Some Sanity to Encryption
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
What the Current Crop of Candidates Could Learn from JFK
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Hillary Is Running Against the Bill of 1992
30 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Trevor Noah Needs to Find His Voice. And Fast.
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”

Source:
×