Politics & Policy

The Christie Scandal That Wasn’t

(Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images)
To MSNBC’s dismay, the Palisades have labored and brought forth a mouse.

It is a dark day at MSNBC.

The investigation continues, but on Thursday federal officials told NBC New York that, after nine months, the U.S. Justice Department has been unable to link New Jersey governor Chris Christie to the lane closures on the George Washington Bridge that took place from Monday, September 9, through Thursday, September 12, 2013.

MSNBC executives must have Rachel Maddow on suicide watch.

On January 8 of this year, news broke that Christie aides had ordered lanes on the busiest motor-vehicle bridge in the world, which joins Fort Lee, N.J., to New York City, shut down as political retribution against Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich, who refused to endorse Christie in the Garden State’s 2013 gubernatorial election. Liberal media outlets — CNN and MSNBC particularly — seized on the story, seeing in it the imminent downfall of a 2016 Republican front-runner.

The liberal obsession with “Bridgegate” is now the stuff of legend. Consider the coverage on January 8 alone. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews spent the first 22 minutes of Hardball on the subject. Piers Morgan, still at CNN at the time, gave the story 26 minutes. His colleague Wolf Blitzer devoted 37 minutes of The Situation Room to the trouble in Trenton. Not to be outdone, back at MSNBC Rachel Maddow stayed on the story for her entire hour. By comparison, Lawrence O’Donnell’s 17 minutes looked downright conservative.

In total, MSNBC and CNN each devoted 2 hours, 22 minutes, to the story on the day it broke. Fox News devoted 14 minutes, 30 seconds.

But it did not stop there. On January 13, MSNBC viewers were treated to an All In with Chris Hayes special devoted to the scandal. Days later, O’Donnell wrote and broadcast on his show his own anti-Christie campaign ad, based on statements from Christie’s January 9 press conference: “Don’t let Christie embarrass and humiliate America,” the ad warns. “Nixonian” became the go-to descriptor for Christie’s alleged misconduct.

As an admittedly imprecise metric, consider that between January 8, when the story broke nationally, and January 17, CNN mentioned “Chris Christie” more than 500 times on the air. MSNBC mentioned the governor around 850 times. He merited just 300 mentions on Fox News. None of the networks had mentioned him more than 35 times from December 30 to January 7.

Even the Left grew tired of the coverage. The Daily Kos hit MSNBC for its 24-hour-a-day Christie-mania. Even Bill Maher tweaked the network, writing a Valentine’s Day message to Maddow & Co. on his blog that paid MSNBC the ultimate insult: “Look at yourself. You’re turning into Fox News. Bridgegate has become your Benghazi.”

Opting for wall-to-wall coverage of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, CNN eventually left Bridgegate behind. But MSNBC remained on the story.

Until Thursday, when sources revealed that the Bridgegate scandal was no national scandal at all. Then MSNBC became conspicuously busy covering other, no doubt urgent, news. Al Sharpton, on air when the news broke, gave nine minutes to the story. Maddow gave twelve. Matthews, Hayes, and O’Donnell apparently did not find the story worth mentioning. From 5:00 a.m. to noon on Friday morning, Chris Christie’s exoneration earned 14 total minutes of coverage on MSNBC.

It would, of course, be far too much to expect a mea culpa from the network. Even bolstered by the mental exertions of “America’s foremost public intellectual,” Melissa Harris-Perry, that would require an impossible degree of self-awareness. But is a proportionate mention of important, exculpatory breaking news too much to ask?

At MSNBC, that is apparently a bridge too far.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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