Republican Governor Chris Christie is embroiled in a serious scandal involving corruption and petty political retribution. How Fox News handles the story should provide a benchmark for the network's relationship with Christie and its commitment to continuing to bolster his career.
For months, allegations have been simmering that the Christie administration was involved in the closure of several lanes of the George Washington Bridge in order to create gridlock in Fort Lee, NJ. As The New York Times explains, officials in Fort Lee have alleged that the closures, which “turned the town into a parking lot on the first day of school,” were retribution against Fort Lee's Democratic mayor for refusing to endorse Christie's gubernatorial re-election bid.
New Jersey paper The Record reports today that despite public denials by Christie that the closure may have been politically-motivated, documents obtained by the paper suggest that “one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision”:
The messages are replete with references and insults to Fort Lee's mayor, who had failed to endorse Christie for re-election and they chronicle how they tried to reach Port Authority officials in a vain effort to eliminate the paralyzing gridlock that overwhelmed his town of 35,000 which sits in the shadow of the bridge, the world's busiest.
The documents obtained by The Record raise serious doubts about months of claims by the Christie administration that the September closures of local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge were part of a traffic study initiated solely by the Port Authority. Instead, they show that one of the governor's top aides was deeply involved in the decision to choke off the borough's access to the bridge, and they provide the strongest indication yet that it was part of a politically-motivated vendetta--a notion that Christie has publicly denied.
Among the email exchanges highlighted by The Record is one in which senior Christie staffer Bridget Anne Kelly contacted David Wildstein, a high school friend of Christie's whom the governor appointed to an executive position at the Port Authority. In an email sent on August 13, 2013, roughly three weeks before Wildstein ordered the lane closures, Kelly wrote, “Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.” Wildstein replied, “Got it.” (Wildstein resigned in December.)
In a separate exchange, Wildstein responded to a text message from an unidentified person saying that they “feel badly about the kids, I guess,” by saying, “They are the children of Buono voters.” (Barbara Buono was Christie's opponent in the November 2013 New Jersey gubernatorial election.)
With Christie widely considered a leading contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, Fox News' treatment of the scandal could provide a glimpse into the state of the network's relationship with the New Jersey governor, which has seemingly cooled off recently.
For years, Fox News personalities showered Christie with praise, declaring their “love” for the “national sensation.” According to New York magazine, Fox News CEO Roger Ailes “fell hard” for Christie and personally lobbied unsuccessfully for the governor to throw his hat in the ring for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
But Christie's relationship with right-wing media -- and Fox News in particular -- has taken a major hit over the past 15 months after Christie praised Obama's response to Hurricane Sandy before the 2012 election.
Following Christie's praise of Obama, Rupert Murdoch warned on Twitter, “while thanking O, must re-declare for Romney or take blame for next four dire years.” The Murdoch-owned New York Post was even more explicit, urging Christie to make amends, or else “the Republican Party will never forgive” him. According to The New York Times, Murdoch's warning led Christie to personally call Murdoch to defend himself.
While Christie did eventually reiterate his support for Romney, in the eyes of many conservative media figures, the damage had already been done. Since then, Fox figures like Sean Hannity, Eric Bolling, and Laura Ingraham have all spoken out against Christie.
Though Fox has yet to mention the Christie scandal on-air, it is currently the top story on FoxNews.com:
Nearly six hours after the story first broke -- and well after both CNN and MSNBC first covered it in detail -- Fox News finally devoted a short segment to the bridge scandal during Shepard Smith Reporting.
While declining to delve into the details of the damning emails -- Shep Smith informed viewers that “they're an easy Google away if you want to take a look” -- Smith nonetheless concluded that, “the emails will be trouble for Governor Christie at least in local politics for quite some time. And if he decides to run for president, rest assured they'll end up in campaign ads. There's no question about it.”