On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was largely exonerated when a report revealed U.S. Justice Department investigation found no link between him and the closure of two lanes of the George Washington Bridge one year ago. No one will be harder hit by the news than the political press.
When the story broke in January, the media was enthralled. CNN spent eight hours and 35 minutes covering the scandal on January 9 alone, the day the Bridgegate rumors were confirmed. MSNBC went wall-to-wall with the story for the rest of the month and well into February. The left-of-center network’s obsession with the Christie story became so intense that even fans like Bill Maher were forced to tell them to knock it off.
“Look at yourself. You’re turning into Fox News,” he comedian said of the network. “Bridgegate has become your Benghazi.” For the left, those are words that cut like a knife.
The fraught and baseless speculation that dominated the winter went nowhere, but it accomplished its desired goal: Christie’s support in the polls in the collapsed. The New Jersey governor who had just cruised to reelection in a state Obama won in 2012 by nearly 18 points consistently demonstrated he was the only prospective Republican nominee who could challenge Hillary Clinton and win. Today, he is just another Republican who, like all the rest, trails Clinton in 2016 polls by healthy margins. Mission accomplished.
Before the Bridgegate imbroglio, conservatives often chafed over Christie’s ability to navigate the center-left media environment. That tense relationship is over. Christie is getting the Republican treatment from the press, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. What’s more, Christie appears to be actually courting their scorn.
During the governor’s regular appearance on his New Jersey 101.5 FM radio show, Christie took the step of defending another of the media’s persona non grata: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Garden State governor called the commissioner “an outstanding man” with “great integrity.”
This affront to The Narrative will not stand. Cable has gone wall to wall with the NFL’s “PR problem,” and the indication that Roger Goodell may have sought to shield Ray Rice from scrutiny to the point of ignoring a video featuring him committing domestic violence – a serious charge – has ignited a firestorm leading some in the press to demand the commissioner’s resignation.
The public is, however, with Christie on this one. An NBC/Marist poll released on Thursday revealed that outrage over the NFL controversy is largely confined to newsrooms. 90 percent of the public said they are not boycotting the league, as are the perpetually aggrieved. In fact, the ratings for NBC’s Sunday Night Football nearly tripled since the scandal involving Rice broke.
Moreover, while 57 percent of self-described football fans, and 53 percent of all Americans, believe the NFL has not covered itself in glory while handling this scandal, only 29 percent of the public believes Goodell should be forced to resign over what remains merely an allegation.
Christie is on the public’s side. The media, rather than engage in some introspection and ask why the public does not share their concerns about the NFL and its commissioner, is more likely to dig in. Childlike, the journalistic establishment will wear their minority status as a badge of honor, and take advantage of yet another opportunity to scold the public for not sharing their high-minded concerns about the National Football League.
Christie is better served by being on the wrong side of the press. For an effete and coastal institution which has lost the American public’s trust, they can indulge in a little bit of self-congratulation over having the “right” opinion on the NFL controversy without further harming their brand.
Christie will earn some reproach in the media for embracing the embattled Goodell, but he has public opinion on his side. Moreover, the media, once burned by going all-in on Bridgegate and busting, will tread carefully. The New Jersey governor has earned new capital and he has ground to make up. Expect the governor to taunt the press like this more in the coming months.