Bridgegate… you couldn’t make it up. A story that has a premise so daft it sounds like a bad conspiracy theory: A local politician fails to support a powerful governor and so, the latter’s staff closes down a busy bridge to extract political retribution. Too far-fetched, eh?
Just as I returned from a freezing trip to the NE USA and finished reading the masterful ‘Double Down: Game Change 2012′ book by Mark Halperin and John Heileman about the 2012 Presidential Race the scandal involving NJ Governor Chris ‘Big Boy’ Christie breaks. The book itself is simply brilliant and a worthy follow-up to their superb ‘Game Change’ tome on the 2008 election that also became an HBO movie. Lots of the material deals with Christie’s ‘in/out/shake-it-all-about’ shenanigans as he tried to make his mind up about running for the Oval Office – one minute a larger-than-life GOP poster boy and the next lavishing praise on President Obama so effusive it almost gave Romney a heart-attack. He comes across as a calculating and bull-headed New Jersey ‘player’ fully aware of his status and impact whilst presenting himself as an ordinary man in the street.
The blow-up of the Birdgegate scandal and its fall-out in the past few days is fascinating, especially set against the character portrait the authors reveal in ‘Double Down. I am intrigued because I love covering the non-stop rough-and-tumble spectacle of US politics and I also enjoy the journalism that emerges from it. It’s not always great but it’s always compelling. This is a classic example of both. Anyone in the UK who thinks none of this has anything to do with us should remember that any one of these characters might end up in the White House.
I suspect Christie’s career is damaged badly in the short and medium-term as more federal investigations begin delving into the whole mess and as lawsuits start piling up too. Whether is means he’s fatally wounded for a future Oval Office bid – especially given the US’ political world’s ability to forgive and forget – is anyone’s guess.
Final point on how the story of Bridgegate broke is worth noting: It came the old fashioned way, through whistleblowers and hard-work from print-press journalists locally and nationally. The main publication that did the early heavy-lifting was The Record – based in Bergen New Jersey – who got the story through word of mouth, hard-digging and obtaining records before anyone else. In recent days there’s been a race – well, a scramble really – by the other outlets in the press, broadcast and online – to catch up. Too late. The little guys grabbed the big story first and did it through sheer hard-work and traditional journalism grit.
Lots has been written about the shift in journalism investigations because of technological changes (e.g. Wikileaks; Snowden etc). That’s all well and good. But it’s always nice to see a solid and important story emerge because of classic and tough reporting too. It might be a brave new world, but sometimes the right questions, contacts and a bit of shoe-leather does the trick just as well, if not better, than peering into the screen.
I hope – and predict – The Record’s team will win a Pulitzer this year.