We talked in our panel of Salem All-Stars today at CPAC about Bridgegate and how the intense coverage of its various off-shoots and ancillary dust-ups was the epitome of “drive-by” media behavior. Hear about an allegation of abuse from a Jersey mayor, cover said accusation aggressively without ever determining if it’s credible, and move on from the story once it’s been debunked. They do swirling allegations, not swirling exonerations.

So, I will commend Politico for following this thread, determining there’s no there there, and reporting it. Nonsense Level of this allegation? DEFCON 2, with accompanying nonsense rhetoric:

The Environmental Protection Agency has cleared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration of allegations that it suspiciously shut off an air pollution monitor during last fall’s lane closings on the George Washington Bridge.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility made the charges last month, saying the air monitor closest to the bridge had been turned off during the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, when piles of idling cars and trucks were spewing pollution from their tailpipes.

The Environmental Protection Agency has cleared New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration of allegations that it suspiciously shut off an air pollution monitor during last fall’s lane closings on the George Washington Bridge.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility made the charges last month, saying the air monitor closest to the bridge had been turned off during the Sept. 9-13 lane closures, when piles of idling cars and trucks were spewing pollution from their tailpipes.

PEER asked EPA to investigate, writing that federal regulations don’t allow the monitors to be shut down without EPA’s permission except for routine maintenance, and that soot pollution had doubled by the time the monitor returned to service. “Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for marooning thousands in a pollution Twilight Zone but no one in the Christie administration has yet to offer one,” the letter said.

The allegations also appeared in an article in U.S. News & World Report and a post on the liberal website DailyKos. One New Jersey activist tweeted: “We now have the equivalent of the infamous 18 1/2 minute gap in Nixon’s Watergate tapes.”

Oops:

After reviewing data from monitors near the bridge from Sept. 7 to Sept. 14, EPA concluded that no rules violations had occurred, and the air quality met health-based standards, Region 2 administrator Judith Enck said in a Feb. 28 letter to PEER.

And PEER got it wrong in saying that “the federally required air quality monitor closest to the bridge was inoperative,” EPA said.

The closest monitor — at the Fort Lee Library, one mile southwest of the bridge — was working, EPA said. The Jersey City site PEER referenced, to the contrary, is 10 miles away from the bridge.

I’ve heard accusations before that in following this story closely and presenting exculpatory evidence, one is Christie boosting. But it’s important to keep in mind that there is no Republican candidate who will not have to pass through this crucible. There will always be some misstep or character flaw to flog, and it will be flogged to within an inch of its life until voters are made to care about it. Following it closely, keeping the record straight about each candidate’s actual misdeeds and accountability without succumbing to the “cloud of controversy” is what we must do when much of the media won’t. I hope other 2016 hopefuls are watching this closely, too, and learning. If it were President Obama, we’d never have heard this accusation in the first place because it would not be treated seriously, even with evidence. Republican candidates will not have that luxury, and should be prepared to mount their own defenses aggressively.