What New Jersey Press Can Teach The NH Union Leader About Endorsing Chris Christie
Blog ››› ››› DANIEL ANGSTER
New Hampshire's largest and most influential newspaper, the Union Leader, endorsed Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) ahead of NH's upcoming primary, giving the governor's presidential campaign a needed boost. In supporting Christie the Union Leader dismissed scandals such as the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- also referred to as "Bridgegate" -- as a "nothing-burger," and ignored the warnings of major New Jersey newspapers who see Christie as unfit to lead their state, let alone the country.
The Union Leader's endorsement applauded Christie's ability to win two terms as governor in "liberal New Jersey," praised his public union opposition, and claimed the governor handled Hurricane Sandy aftermath "admirably." A follow-up piece by editorial page editor Grant Bosse addressed criticism of the endorsement by positively comparing negative reactions to Christie to criticisms of former President George W. Bush. Bosse chalked up negative views of the governor to "Christie Derangement Syndrome," which he said, "should serve Christie well."
Bosse also addressed Bridgegate, which the Union Leader's endorsement ignored. While the U.S. attorney for New Jersey has not ruled out Christie's participation in the George Washington Bridge lane closures -- identified as retaliation against a New Jersey mayor who refused to endorse the governor's re-election campaign -- Bosse dismissed the governor's knowledge of the closures, calling the situation a "nothing-burger":
No political scandal has been more overblown than Bridgegate. A pair of Christie's team supposedly arranged a traffic jam as payback for a mayor not endorsing Christie's re-election. There's no evidence that Christie knew anything about it, and he fired anyone who did. Christie Derangement Syndrome has convinced otherwise normal people that this nothing-burger disqualifies Christie from the presidency.
While the Union Leader fawned over Christie in its endorsements, major newspapers in New Jersey have long warned of the negative impact Christie has had on the state, with one major newspaper going so far as to retract its endorsement after Christie's re-election.
After the Bridgegate scandal came to light, the editorial board of New Jersey's largest newspaper, the Star-Ledger, retracted their endorsement of Christie following his re-election in 2013. Writing on behalf of the Star-Ledger's editorial board, Tom Moran said the paper "blew [it]" by endorsing Christie. Moran continued:
Yes, we knew Christie was a bully. But we didn't know his crew was crazy enough to put people's lives at risk in Fort Lee as a means to pressure the mayor. We didn't know he would use Hurricane Sandy aid as a political slush fund. And we certainly didn't know that Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer was sitting on a credible charge of extortion by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno.
Even before this scandal train got rolling, this endorsement was a close call and a split vote among the editorial board. We regard Christie as the most overrated politician in the country, at least until now, a man who is better at talking than governing. We criticized him for trashing the working poor, for his tea party approach to the environment, for his opposition to gay marriage and a livable minimum wage. And so on.
While the extent of Christie's involvement in Bridgegate is still unclear, PolitiFact has reviewed three investigations into the matter and rated the governor's denial of involvement as "half-true," saying it "leaves out important context." PolitiFact wrote that the only investigation to fully clear the governor of wrongdoing was commissioned by his administration, thereby undermining the investigation's objectivity, while investigations by the state legislature and U.S Attorney's Office could not definitively clear the governor based on the potential for new evidence stemming from the criminal prosecution of Christie's aides.
Both the Union Leader's endorsement and Bosse's follow-up also ignored Christie's economic woes -- yet another area that has garnered New Jersey media criticism. In a September 29 editorial, the Asbury Park Press' editorial board called Christie an "absentee governor" who should follow Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's (R) lead and "either abandon his bid for the presidency or step down as governor," citing public pension mismanagement which has caused New Jersey to be "ranked No. 1 in the nation in public debt."
Regarding Christie's management of Hurricane Sandy recovery effort, which Bosse called "admirable," the Asbury Park Press in October pointed out that, according to a Monmouth University poll, "more than 60 percent of families remain at least somewhat dissatisfied with recovery efforts; 33 percent said they were 'very' dissatisfied" and that "Christie is clearly trying to manufacture an image of competency in his recovery leadership that he hasn't earned." The Star-Ledger echoed this sentiment by criticizing the governor's record on recovery:
[Christie] didn't send his top Sandy staffers to Legislative hearings until well after his re-election, and his staff fired the lead contractor on the largest rebuilding program without a word to the public. It was only thanks to housing advocates that we found out that its decisions were riddled with errors.
To be sure, the delays aren't all the fault of the state. But nor does Christie have "a pretty good batting average" on Sandy recovery, as he recently claimed. "A few thousand" still have to rebuild, he said, out of 365,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
Yet that big number likely includes hundreds of thousands who had only minor damage, and little interaction with the state. The people in the largest rebuilding program were generally the hardest hit and actually needed help putting their lives back together. The vast majority of them are still stuck in limbo, and some have simply dropped out.
Christie said the reason he ran for re-election was to help the state recover from Hurricane Sandy. The storm now stars in his latest 2016 presidential campaign ad. But we don't need a leader who's lived through a storm. We need one who is a straight-shooter with its victims.
While the Union Leader fully bought into Christie's campaign slogan of "telling it like it is" -- even using it in their endorsement -- it is clear that the governor's rhetoric has left the New Jersey press less than impressed. Morris County's Daily Record called the slogan and record on which Christie is campaigning "nonsense" (emphasis added):
"Telling it like it is" -- That's Christie's campaign slogan, and it's pure nonsense. Think we'll hear the truth about New Jersey's lousy economy, its high foreclosure rates, or its continually downgraded credit rating? Of course not. Think we'll get a fair appraisal of the state's miserable performance in assisting Hurricane Sandy victims? Nope. We won't hear a single negative thing from Christie about any of his failures because he'll instead claim great success and blame problems on others.
In that, of course, Christie will be just be playing the same game as everyone else. Running for office is advertising, and candidates aren't going to play up their own weaknesses. But what makes Christie's brand of disingenuousness stand out is that he works so hard at placing himself upon a pedestal claiming to be different than all the rest while bullying naysayers. That relentless hypocrisy is one of his worst traits.
Christie wants the public to interpret his bluntness as honesty. But don't be fooled. His strength is that he'll manage to get noticed in a crowded GOP field, in large part because he'll make some outrageous statements along the way. But he won't be telling it like it is. He just wants you to think that.
After the Union Leader's endorsement, the Star-Ledger's Tom Moran reached out to Bosse. Bosse told Moran that Bridgegate had "nothing to do with the governor," but admitted that the Union Leader editorial board had not looked into Christie's handling of pensions and dismissing Christie's role in the state's sagging economy. Moran gathered that the Union Leader "knows nothing about [Christie's] record as governor" and concluded that "this editorial confirms my worse fears about this presidential race. It's all about performance, not substance."