A Tale of Two Scandals
The media overreact on Christie, but underreact on the IRS.


John Fund

Yes, liberal bias does play a role in explaining why — as reports — the major networks have had 44 times more coverage of Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate” scandal than they have had on anything related to the IRS political-targeting scandal that began last May.

Jonathan Alter, speaking on MSNBC, has dismissed the comparison by saying that “there are not ongoing revelations [in the IRS story]. If there were ongoing revelations in the IRS matter, that would still be a story.” He made his claim only four days after news broke that the Justice Department had chosen a significant Obama donor to head its investigation of the IRS, creating the obvious perception of a conflict of interest.

But it’s also true that a large part of the difference in coverage is owing simply to the laziness of journalists, for whom anything connected to a future presidential election trumps delving deeply into more complicated topics.

That laziness has extended to the “bullying” issue, i.e., whether Governor Christie is part of the long New Jersey tradition of overbearing political bosses. New Jersey voters are split, with the latest Quinnipiac Poll finding that 40 percent of those surveyed think he is more of a bully, while 54 percent think he is more of a leader (his overall approval rating is 55 percent). 

But being a bully is often in the eye of the beholder, and a strong case can be made that some New Jersey legislators are themselves verging on bullying in their Bridgegate probe. Compare how a top suspect in Bridgegate, and one in the IRS scandal, were treated by both investigators and the media.

David Wildstein, a top Port Authority executive involved in the September lane closings near the George Washington Bridge, took the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination when he appeared under oath before a New Jersey Assembly committee last week. Committee members kept badgering him for answers, despite knowing he would continue to take the Fifth. He then departed the hearing room with members of the audience yelling “Shame!” The committee, chaired by Assemblyman John Wisniewski, who is also chairman of New Jersey’s Democratic State Committee, then instantly voted him in contempt.

I have no legal or ethical problem with what was done, but why were the normally high-minded liberal supporters of due process and civil liberties so silent as to Wildstein’s treatment?

Consider the tender manner with which liberals insisted that Lois Lerner, the director of the IRS Exempt Organizations Division, be treated during last May’s House Government Oversight Committee hearings chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (R., Calif.). Representative Elijah Cummings (Md.), the ranking Democrat, said that because Lerner had invoked her Fifth Amendment rights, further questioning of her was inappropriate: “The chairman issued a subpoena forcing her to appear; made her stand and swear an oath; and challenged her Fifth Amendment assertion by posing questions to her anyway.” In the end, Lerner had to assert or reference her Fifth Amendment right only three times at the congressional hearing. In New Jersey, Wildstein was forced to repeat his Fifth Amendment mantra before state legislators a total of 15 times.