NYT public editor: We really mishandled that Christie ‘bombshell’ story, huh?
posted at 2:41 pm on February 4, 2014 by Guy Benson
It turns out that making “dozens” of on-the-fly revisions to politically-charged scoops without alerting readers to the alterations isn’t kosher journalism, even at the New York Times. Public editor Margaret Sullivan:
But what about a case in which an early version of a story says something that proves to be, if not untrue, then at least overstated? That happened at The Times on Friday… Later, within the hour, the story was changed to soften the wording from “had the evidence” to “evidence exists.” Breaking news alerts had gone out immediately after the first version was posted, which meant that many people read the initial article with its stronger wording. I asked the Metro editor, Wendell Jamieson, why there was no correction or note. “We made dozens of changes to this story, and it’s all happening live in front of the reader,” he said. “The story probably went through two dozen versions.” Editors can’t be expected to describe each one of those changes, he said…My take: This change was more than a nuance. Acknowledging that could have taken the form of a straightforward correction. The change also could have been explained in an editor’s note or could even have been acknowledged in a sentence in the body of the article…It would have been the right thing to do. Some sort of notice was due to the reader that the initial story had changed in a substantial way.
The paper’s final headline eventually read, “Christie linked to knowledge of shut lanes ” — an appropriately muddled version of a tortured formulation delivered by a desperate man’s attorney. That man, David Wildstein, is now seeing his credibility questioned by anti-Christie Democrats, including the former state party chairman who’s leading Trenton’s investigation into ‘Bridgegate.’ John Wisniewski told Meet the Press host David Gregory that he’s seen no evidence implicating Christie, or proving that the governor has contradicted himself. And yes, he conceded, Wildstein’s claims are a tad suspicious. Why? Because the evidence the former Port Authority official turned over to the special committee didn’t include any corroboration of his lawyer’s new “bombshell” assertions. Meanwhile, Team Christie’s biggest misstep in their push-back efforts was an over-the-top attack on Wildstein’s character, citing evidence as far back as high school. WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is right about this:
Why, regardless of the reasons, is Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a serious candidate for president in two years, picking on what one of his appointees did in high school? And that question becomes even more perplexing when you consider that Christie is trying to beat back the idea that he is a bully and fostered that sort of bullying mentality in his administration. Look, we get why Christie put this memo out. He wanted to slam the Times for making a big deal out of something he and his team don’t believe is that big a deal. And he wants to make sure his friends and allies as well as the media and the donor community know that Wildstein is desperately looking for a way out of his role in Bridge-gate. But there’s a far better way to do that. How about releasing a statement that says “David Wildstein is making allegations about me and my administration that are simply not true. He is doing so to save himself — simple and plain.” Instead, Christie put out a memo savaging Wildstein for things that happened three decades ago and, to be frank, don’t even seem like all that big of a deal.
In fairness to the Christie camp, it must be mighty frustrating to watch the media at work. They ran breathless front-page coverage of terrible allegations from Hoboken’s Mayor, then largely ignored the rapid unraveling of her story. CNN’s investigative team finally picked up on the glaring contradictions this week, as has Fox, but most of the drive-by crowd is long gone. And now, an uniquely maddening lefty/media mindset is beginning to take hold on the bridge kerfuffle: Facts are becoming irrelevant. Here’s Paul Krugman declaring that regardless of what the evidence shows, Christie’s in a lose-lose scenario:
“I think Christie was the one guy that really scared them for 2016,” he said of Democrats. “I mean, Christie is in a no-win situation, even if there isn’t any smoking gun.”
This frightening sentiment is reminiscent of the “analysis” we heard in the wake of a similar hit job against Mitt Romney. In support of their own lies about Romney’s record at Bain Capital, the Obama campaign loudly accused Romney of being either a liar or a “felon.” Fact-checkers came out of the woodwork to rebuke Stephanie Cutter smears, but Politico wasn’t swayed. A larger narrative had taken root, you see, in which the truth was a mere afterthought:
The problem for the Romney campaign, when it comes to the Bain issue, is that things are reaching the point where the facts don’t really matter. The bigger problem is that the Bain cloud now hanging over the former Massachusetts governor is growing daily, and the Romney campaign still hasn’t found a compelling way to respond to what’s becoming the driving narrative…
Democrats invented a story line, the details of which were sufficiently complicated and opaque as to confuse most people. A controversy festered. And boom, they had themselves a “driving narrative” about a “growing cloud,” or whatever. It didn’t matter that it was pure BS; Politico even allowed for that possibility while asserting that the details were no longer important. Allow me to close by reiterating a point MKH hinted at a few weeks back, aimed specifically at Christie’s conservative critics. Even if you’re vehemently opposed to Christie as a possible presidential nominee, if Democrats and the press can destroy him with the “evidence” they’ve presented so far, they can and will do the same to your guy or gal. Remember, setting his politics aside, Christie is undeniably one of the shrewdest Republican communicators on the scene today. If our new reality is that demolishing a popular Republican is as simple as latching onto an existing flaw or dispute, then heaping on unsupported accusations and innuendo until his polls crash, every single member of the GOP field is screwed. The truth must matter.
UPDATE – Almost forgot. Guess who would like to inform America that Christie is done? This guy:
[John] Podesta also said allegations that Governor Chris Christie knew about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge may be “a killer” to the New Jersey Republican’s presidential ambitions. “I don’t think there’s any coming back.”
That’s just your friendly neighborhood former (and future?) Clinton aide, and a current Obama adviser, folks.