The George Washington Bridge scandal started out as a test for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, R. Now it has become a test for the media.
MSNBC, which long ago stopped being a news outlet in the sense of going out to find facts and is largely indistinguishable from Democratic Party talking points, has been going 24-7 with the bridge story since it broke. No surprise there. But on Saturday MSNBC decided to throw even the pretense of journalism overboard.
It ran with a claim from Hoboken, N.J., Mayor Dawn Zimmer, D, - that Christie withheld Hurricane Sandy relief funds to gain approval for a business development. Christie's office quickly denied the allegations, as did the developers. MSNBC says the mayor has a personal diary that corroborates her claim - a diary that has yet to be released, reviewed or verified.
Rather than investigate the story, MSNBC threw it out on the air, hoping that others would follow.
The Hill had the good sense to note that Zimmer had changed her story from earlier claims that the funds were denied because she didn't back Christie for governor.
By Saturday afternoon, Christie's team had enough. It put out a written statement, saying, "MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him, even taking the unprecedented step of producing and airing a nearly three-minute attack ad against him this week. Governor Christie and his entire administration have been helping Hoboken get the help they need after Sandy, with the city already having been approved for nearly $70 million dollars in federal aid and is targeted to get even more when the Obama Administration approves the next rounds of funding. The Governor and Mayor Zimmer have had a productive relationship, with Mayor Zimmer even recently saying she's 'very glad' he's been our Governor. It's very clear partisan politics are at play here as Democratic mayors with a political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."
We're supposed to take as reliable not communication with the governor but rather a personal diary that could have been written at any point in time? A professional news operation must be more than a bulletin board for partisans.
Hoboken asked for more than $100 million in Sandy funds and, as the Christie statement noted, has been approved for $70 million. Last summer, Zimmer praised the Sandy relief. If this is "retribution," every city in New Jersey should be so lucky.
Christie's team also put out data showing MSNBC's obsessive coverage.
The test for the mainstream media is whether they find the actual scandal: the MSNBC hit-squad that does not investigate, makes no pretense of balance or fairness and is nevertheless regarded by other media as legitimate.
In the meantime, Christie, in an odd way, may be lucky here. MSNBC has turned a real news story into a vivid display of media bias.
Rubin wrote this for The Washington Post.