Monday, October 12, 2009

The Republican Media- No. 23

David Broder was once a good political columnist, and the Beltway insiders blogger Digby refers to as "the Villagers" still respect him, for some reason. As a columnist, he's entitled to his biases. But what's The New York Times' excuse?

Broder wrote yesterday about the gubernatorial race in New Jersey between incumbent Democrat Jon Corzine and Repub challenger Christopher J. Christie. Not about the issues of taxes, education, or health care, but instead

As the Times pointed out, a television ad for Corzine, "about as subtle as a playground taunt," shows Christie "stepping out of an SUV in extreme slow motion, his extra girth moving, just as slowly, in several different directions at once. In case viewers missed the point, a narrator snidely intones" that Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, "threw his weight around" to avoid several traffic tickets.

As if that were not enough, Corzine, who is 62 and conspicuously fit, has been running weekend five- and 10-kilometer races in cities around the state to demonstrate that he has kept himself in much better shape than Christie despite the 15-year difference in their ages.

I have no rooting interest in the New Jersey race, but the ad hoc Committee of Journalistic Ethics Enforcers has authorized me to condemn this advertising tactic. I very much fear that if Corzine pulls out a victory next month after trailing Christie for months in the polls, the precedent will be set for a really distasteful tactic -- the "fat boy" ploy.

If you believe, as I do, that the beautiful people already have enough of an advantage in this age of television politics and cable trivia, then the last thing we need is a wave of ads highlighting the fact that others are really ugly.

There are several things wrong with these claims:

- The ad (video below) does not suggest, infer, or imply that Chris Christie is "really ugly." "Fat," if that is what is insinuated here, is not "ugly." The latter refers to something that generally is considered to be overwhelmingly a matter of heredity, and largely beyond one's ability to correct. "Fat" is, well, something else.

- It's not unusual for a candidate to get himself photographed running or engaging in some active exercise- think Reagan riding a horse, GW Bush cutting brush, Obama playing basketball (golf, once the Democratic primaries ended).

- Broder has "no rooting interest in the New Jersey race?" That's arguable, given the parallel he draws between Corzine's ad and Representative Joe Wilson's shout of "you lie" to the President of the United States during a joint session of Congress- and between Chris Christie and Abe Lincoln.

For its part, The Times, in what remarkably was not labeled an "editorial" or "analysis," said:

But the unflattering depictions of Mr. Christie, a Republican who has long struggled with his size, have been the talk of the political world in New Jersey, with Democrats snickering and Christie supporters privately complaining. The governor’s latest ad, which featured the “threw his weight around” line and was expected to be seen by some viewers as many as 10 times, brought sharp reaction, even from those who like Mr. Corzine.

“There’s no subtlety there,” said Bill Baroni, a Republican state senator from Hamilton who lost 130 pounds starting 15 years ago. “That’s not a randomly chosen phrase. It’s purposeful. And it’s offensive.”

Of course, we're not supposed to note that the quote "from those who like Mr. Corzine" came instead from a GOP state legislator, possessing a keen interest in the election of his fellow Republican to the Statehouse. But neither the "old grey lady" nor Broder (no crack here about "grey" in light of David's age) recalled

In 2005, Christie was pulled over for speeding in Lambertville, New Jersey, and was cited for speeding and for driving in an unregistered, uninsured vehicle. The car belonged to Christie's wife, but the registration had expired about two months before.

Lambertville police director Bruce Coccuzza told the radio station that Christie's position as a U.S. attorney was discussed: "He identified himself." Christie's campaign says the candidate does not recall how it came up.

In the car with Christie, according to his campaign and the local police director, were his wife, children, and Michele Brown -- the friend and then-subordinate of Christie's in the U.S. Attorney's office, who has recently resigned because of an undisclosed $46,000 loan that Christie extended to her in 2007. The group was on its way to a football game that night at Christie's alma mater, the University of Delaware.

Normally, it is a strict policy in New Jersey to tow an unregistered car -- and in fact, a tow truck did arrive at the scene, according to the campaign. However, Christie was ultimately allowed to drive home. Coccuzza told the radio station: "From what I recollect I think she (the officer) even said at the time, 'If wasn't for the fact that you had a car full of children this car would be towed.'"

The tickets were marked "NO DEAL," which is traditionally used by police when they feel a driver behaved badly, and that the judge should not go easy in the case. Christie eventually paid a $250 fine, and the registration ticket was dismissed after he produced proper documentation -- though again, Christie's campaign has conceded that the car's registration was expired at the time.

Phone calls to the Coccuzza for further clarification were not returned, and we were later told he was not taking any more calls for the day.

A lot of people are bad drivers. But Christie, who apparently "identified himself" as a U.S. attorney to police who found himself somewhat uncooperative, is used to "throwing his weight around." As in this incident, posted in a blog written by New Jersey Network News reporter Zachary Fink:

On July 26, 2002 Christie was driving a leased BMW in the city of Elizabeth.

He was on his way to a swearing in ceremony for the Union County Prosecutor. But Christie apparently got a little lost. When he got to the intersection of Murray street and Clinton, he edged out and made a partial right turn the wrong way on a one way street.

Enter Andre Mendonca. The motorcyclist was riding down Clinton street (the right way ) and when he saw Christie in the intersection, the bike fell on its side and slid into Christie’s car, according to the accident report filed by the officer on the scene.

Mendonca was injured and taken by ambulance to the hospital. Not nearby Trinitas, but UMDNJ in Newark which has a trauma center. Reached by telephone this morning, Mendonca said he had no idea his collision was with the man who is now the Republican candidate for Governor. When I started to ask him questions about the accident, he said he “shouldn’t be talking about it.” Mendonca did say that Christie seemed very concerned for his well being and blamed bad signage at the intersection for what happened. Then he hung up on me.

Christie identified himself as the US Attorney to the officer who did not issue Christie a ticket. One Elizabeth official said that the officer then drove Christie to the swearing in ceremony.

News of this accident comes on the heels of an earlier story about Christie being pulled over for speeding in Lambertville ( see earlier posts).

We asked Christie about the accident in Atlantic City Friday and he was very curt with his answers. NJN South Jersey Bureau Chief Kent St. John asked if there was a lawsuit. Christie said “no” then “nope.”

But actually there was. According to the Superior Court Record Center in Trenton, Mendonca filed suit in 2004. The complaint filed in Essex County was later dismissed, indicating ( according to the Clerk ) an out of court settlement.

So Christie "identified himself as the US Attorney to the officer who did not issue Christie a ticket." Sounds a little like "throwing his weight around." (And claiming there was no lawsuit when one was settled out of court- apparently it depends on what the meaning of "lawsuit" is.)

Describing the more recent lying motor vehicle incident, the Philadelphia Inquirer noted

Some of his comments yesterday contradicted earlier accounts. Lambertville Police Director Bruce Cocuzza had reported that Christie got loud during the stop, but Christie described his demeanor only as "affirmative."

He's a former United States Attorney, with little else to qualify him to run one of the largest states in the nation. Not only does he- yes- throw his weight around, Chris Christie challenges the description given by a law enforcement official of a motor vehicle stop, implying that he was far more forthcoming than did the Police Director. That would seem to be cause for concern for New Jersey residents. And perhaps that's why an esteemed columnist, claiming objectivity, and the country's foremost newspaper don't want to look too closely at the incidents the Jon Corzine campaign has highlighted.

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