By Michael Lordi
This past Friday, The New York Times broke a story that the Port Authority executive who ordered the lane closures at the George Washington Bridge said “evidence exists” that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie knew about the traffic jam while it was happening.
I have a confession. I knew about it too. Me and 10 million other commuters.
I found out that day on the radio from a helicopter traffic reporter who cautioned drivers to reroute to the Lincoln Tunnel. The evidence has yet to surface as to when and how the Governor found out (He said he learned in hindsight); but it would be a greater crime if that morning he listened to Howard Stern on Sirius XM, which hardly ever breaks for traffic reports.
The core of the story is a letter from attorney Alan Zegas who represents disgraced former Port Authority honcho and Christie associate David Wildstein. Zegas’s letter dangles the prospect of smoking gun information in exchange for putting taxpayers on the hook for his legal fees, as well as immunity from prosecution for his client who took the Fifth in state legislative committee hearings on the matter.
But in its ongoing effort to have a bigger dog pile on the Governor than a Michael Vick Cinco de Mayo party, The Times ran the story without fully vetting the accounts, and it doesn’t seem to be at all concerned about inaccuracies laced through the posted copy. The Governor’s office slammed The Times’ story in a statement the next day pointing out the paper so misrepresented the letter’s contents that it changed the lead almost immediately. But by then it was too late as the story went viral and was picked up nationally.
The Governor’s statement also noted the paper was roundly criticized, and its editor was forced to issue this extraordinary statement to the Huffington Post:
“We’ve made probably dozens of changes to the story to make it more precise. That was one of them. I bet there will be dozens more.”
The fact-fudged story spawned a wave of tweets, blogs, columns, editorials and Sunday news bloviators who chimed in on the consistent theme, “Oh boy, Fatso’s in for it now! Stick a fork in his presidential ambitions because he’s done. Save me a seat at the impeachment/hanging.”
I’ve worked in news rooms and I know the pressures of getting a story out before the competition. It’s especially competitive in the always-on news cycle of the internet. But what about getting it right? Or close to accurate on the second rewrite? The laissez-faire approach by The Times’ editor to getting the story right eventually doesn’t quite rise up to the press’s Jeffersonian obligation for an informed public.
Thank goodness America’s paper of record is showing more journalistic prudence by holding back its reporting about Hillary’s Benghazi negligence, the IRS’s assault on Tea Parties’ freedom of speech, on NSA spying on other journalists let alone citizens, on the Obamacare debacle, on the reconstitution of Al Qaeda in Syria, Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan, among others. The editors obviously want to wait until the Administration’s stonewalling on these matters ends and it gets its stories straight. Otherwise, readers would get the wrong impression.