You have to feel for Christie, who as a Republican moderate can literally find no news media organization that isn’t determined to destroy him, facts or fairness be damned. As a Republican, he is assured of being treated like the Devil incarnate by MSNBC no matter what he does or says. As a proven leader of talent and charisma who poses a threat to the media’s relentless anointment of Hillary Clinton (a WOMAN!!!)—who has displayed neither— as the next President,Christie has a giant target on his back that the mainstream media cannot resist. As non-hateful Republican who is capable of bi-partisan conduct, will shake the President’s hand and has social positions to the left of Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum, Christie is also persona non grata at Fox News.
Thus it was that a completely self-serving, borderline unethical letter seeking financial benefits for his client sent by the lawyer of the former Port Authority official who personally oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge was turned into a “bombshell” yesterday and this morning, with headlines and breathless talking head claims that are completely, utterly, irresponsible, dishonest, misleading, unfair and wrong. Here’s a sample:
- “Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes” (NY Times) Untrue. He has not been linked. A lawyer hinted that some evidence suggesting he might be linked exists, or is said to exist, somewhere. That is not being “linked.”
- “Chris Christie should resign if bombshell proves true” (Star-Ledger) And if it’s proven that I am a cucumber, I should jump in a salad.
- “Chris Christie just got thrown under the bus in that traffic jam scandal that has jeopardized his presidential ambitions.” CBS’s Scott Pelley. By the press, perhaps.
- “Explosive new allegations about Chris Christie. Tonight, the man at the center of the bridge shutdown scandal says the governor isn’t telling the whole truth. He says there’s evidence to prove it.” NBC’s Brian Williams. “Lawyer of accused official facing charges says it’s someone else’s fault!” This is headline news?
- “This is a hugely significant development in the investigation! It’s a direct challenge to the credibility of Governor Christie.” NBC reporter Michael Isakoff Wrong. It’s significant if it’s true. There is no more reason to believe it is true than to believe it isn’t.
No, Michael, what this is is a journalistic disgrace and an example of intentionally misleading, partisan and biased reporting. The context of the statement being pumped up into a crisis for Governor Christie was omitted in every one of the hysterical “We got him now! media reports until deep into the published or broadcast account, if it was mentioned at all….in other words, well after the point where the average member of the public stops reading or listening. This is unconscionable. It’s disgusting. It is gutter reporting, and rotten journalism. What if each report, as it should have, framed the story this way:
“In today’s new, the lawyer for David Wildstein, the ex-Port Authority official facing indictment in the bridge-closing scandal that has rocked the administration of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, is using the threat of his client revealing undisclosed evidence indicating knowledge and involvement by the Governor as leverage to have Wildstein’s criminal defense, including the lawyer’s own fee, paid for by the state.”
Because that’s what the story really is.
Take the time to read the entire letter in question, not just the sections I have bolded. Naturally, most of the news reports referenced the letter without actually allowing us to read the letter. The New York Times made it damned difficult to read the letter online, but at least it was there. Here is the whole thing. I’m sorry, but the issue can’t be understood without reading all of it. The letter is from Wildstein’s lawyer, Alen Zegas, to Darrell Butchbinder, who is the General Counsel for the Port Authority:
Dear Mr. Butchbinder:
I am writing in response to your email of January 24, 2014, in which you deny the December 13, 2013, request of Mr. Wildstein for the Port Authority to pay for his legal representation in connection with legislative proceedings where Mr. Wildstein was subpoenaed to appear and provide documents and testimony.
You state that “[Bjased on the current facts and circumstances, it is apparent that the Port Authority’s provision of legal representation …. would not be warranted under the Port Authority’s By-Laws.” Copied on your email were Scott Rechler, Patrick Foye, and Deborah Gramaccioni. You had previously written to Mr. Wildstein on December 27, 2013, and, in addition to the foregoing persons who had been copied, was David Samson, whose name does not appear on your January 21, 2011, correspondence. I would request that you kindly reconsider the Port Authority’s decision to deny Mr. Wildstein payment of his legal fees and indemnification. I would also request that the Port Authority pay for the legal fees of Mr. Wildstein and indemnify him for any civil lawsuits that are instituted against the Port Authority where Mr. Wildstein is named or any proceedings in which Mr. Wildstein is a party or a person under investigation, as a result of conduct occurring while he was employed by the Port Authority.
The By-Laws specifically provide for the indemnification of Port Authority employees. Although you state that it is •apparent” that Mr. Wildstein is not entitled to indemnification or payment of his legal fees, you do not offer one single reason why your conclusory statement is apparent. Mr. Wildstein submitted his request for indemnification and payment of his legal fees after now-resigned Port Authority Commissioner, William Baront had submitted a similar request According to press reports, Mr. Baroni’s request is still “under consideration.” What about Mr. Wildstein’s circumstances is so “apparent””? He refused to answer substantive questions put to him by the Transportation Committee on Constitutional grounds, yet Mr. Baroni, who responded to questions of the same committee, albeit not under oath, stated that the George Washington Bridge Lanes had been closed because of a traffic study, answers directly at variance with the testimony of Mr. Roye, who, as noted above, was copied on your correspondence to Mr. Wildstein, as well as to others who appeared before the Transportation Committee when Mr. Roye did. The person counseling Mr. Baroni for his appearance before the Transportation Committee was an attorney working under you at the Port Authority. At the time, it was not known whether Mr. Baroni would be sworn on the day of his appearance. The counseling, as I understand it, was conducted over a period of four to five days, and Mr. Wildstein was present for much of it. Indeed, it was his understanding that the same attorney representing Mr. Baroni was representing him. I have to assume you are fully aware of all this.
Subsequent to Mr. Wildstein testifying, there have been reports that certain Commissioners of the Port Authority have been connected directly or indirectly to land deals involving the Port Authority, that Port Authority funds were allocated to projects connected to persons who supported the administration of Governor Chris Christie or whose political support he sought, with some of the projects having no relationship to the business of the Port Authority, and that Port Authority funds were held back from those who refused to support the Governor.
It has also come to light that a person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration’s order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee. Mr. Wildstein contests the accuracy of various statements that the Governor made about him and he can prove the inaccuracy of some.
Deborah Gramiccioi, now the Deputy Director of the Port Authority, who is copied on your january 24, 2014, correspondence, had held a high level position within the Christie Administration. The Governor’s current Counsel comes from the same firm that is now representing Mr. Baroni.
In light of the foregoing. There are palpable conflicts at every level of the Port Authority’s hierarchy, which demand that The Port Authority pay for Mr. Wildstein’s legal representation and indemnify him with respect to all matters that are pending or that may arise, which relate to the period when Mr. Wildstein had been employed by the Port Authority.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
Alan L. Zegas
What’s going on here? (The question that is usually the starting point for any ethical analysis)
- Wildstein’s lawyer is trying to get his legal fees paid and a promise for the state to indemnify his client for any civil suits arising out of the incident.
- The lawyer is carefully tiptoeing around virtual extortion (actual, provable extortion would be unethical, of course) without showing or saying definitively that he has anything to extort with. “Bring us in, and then what damaging information my client has that can sink the governor may never see the light of day” is how I read it.
- This statement, the statement the newsmedia is treating like “J’accuse!!!” —“It has also come to light that a person within the Christie administration communicated the Christie administration’s order that certain lanes on the George Washington Bridge were to be closed, and evidence exists as well tying Mr. Christie to having knowledge of the lane closures, during the period when the lanes were closed, contrary to what the Governor stated publicly in a two-hour press conference he gave immediately before Mr. Wildstein was scheduled to appear before the Transportation Committee”-–is completely, and I would argue, intentionally ambiguous and vague to the point of meaninglessness. “It has come to light” where? In the press? To Zegas? “Evidence exists”—does he mean it exists in whatever has already “come to light”? Real evidence? Admissible evidence in a court of law? Hearsay evidence? Fake evidence? Convincing evidence? Circumstantial evidence? Is he giving an opinion that he thinks such evidence exists, but doesn’t have access to it or know what it is? There is no way to tell. Well played, sir, but a concrete allegation and a news flash it is not. It is a veiled threat from a lawyer, for whom the veiled threat that is really a bluff is a tool of the trade.
And what’s going on with the newsmedia’s trumpeting this lawyer’s letter with nothing more than implied, unspecified, unproven allegations as some kind of a death blow to Christie’s credibility and reputation? It is trying to ruin him, that’s all, because he’s 1) a popular Republican, and reporters don’t, as a group, feel they have to be fair to Republicans 2) he’s a threat to Democrats, or perceived as one, and most reporters see their job as keeping Democrats in power 3) he’s a threat to Hillary and 4) because they can, and can get away with it.
I have no dog in this hunt. If Christie did engineer the bridge closing as a punitive measure to punish the mayor of community for insufficient political toadying, he should resign, be impeached, and maybe jailed. If there is evidence showing he lied, let’s have it, and throw the bum out. But for the news media to keep hammering home the presumption that he is guilty based on nothing but a lawyer zealously representing his client while trying to protect his own fees is mob character assassination with malice aforethought, for naked political motives. The news media knows that its exaggerated and misleading characterization of this minor incident will linger in many voters’ minds long after the original story has faded from memory. Hey, they might have just elected Hillary Clinton President! Wow! Good job, everybody!
The current ethical void in American journalism makes intelligent, responsible, effective democracy impossible.
Graphic: Yellow Press