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Christie’s Self-Exoneration: What will media do if he’s innocent?

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Nate Silver vs. Paul Krugman

Christie’s Self-Exoneration: What Will Media Do If He’s Innocent?

When the moment arrived, Trenton trumped the Vatican.

The internal report exonerating Chris Christie in the George Washington Bridge scandal was big enough news that the cable networks went live to the presser during or after President Obama talking about his meeting with Pope Francis.

It was the first major development on the Bridgegate front in quite some time. And there is an understandable tendency among journalistic types to dismiss the probe because it was commissioned by Christie’s office.

Indeed, the investigators didn’t have access to key witnesses, and the Democratic National Committee wasted no time in labeling the effort an “expensive sham.”

But let’s assume, for just a second, that the report was largely on target. It was headed by Randy Mastro, a former New York City deputy mayor, who knows that he will look like a dishonest hack if the federal and state investigations find that Christie was in fact involved in the lane closures.

But if Mastro’s central finding holds up—that Christie didn’t know of the bridge fiasco and wasn’t involved in any coverup—how does that change the national media clamor over the New Jersey governor?

What if all the speculation and breathless cable segments, especially on MSNBC, was wrong, and Christie’s denials (beginning at that marathon news conference) were truthful? Even on the charges of a Hurricane Sandy aid shakedown by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, whose account was branded “demonstrably false” by the investigators?

Can you be truly “cleared” after being roughed up in this modern media age? And if he was, would Christie be owed an apology?

We’ll ponder that in a second, but first let’s look at the coverage.

Diane Sawyer was pretty tough on Christie in an exclusive “World News” interview, asking him whether he felt clueless, whether his minions were trying to please him, and why the report shouldn’t be considered a whitewash.

Christie said he felt “taken advantage of,” that his ex-aides had been “inexplicably stupid,” that his own son asked whether he was guilty, and that it had been an ordeal: “You don’t sleep. You don’t eat. You struggle.”

Washington Post: “Political motivations were at the heart of a plan by aides to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to close lanes on George Washington Bridge and spark a massive traffic jam in the town of Fort Lee, according to a new internal report conducted by lawyers on behalf of Christie.

“The 360-page internal review, released Thursday, cleared the governor himself of any wrongdoing, however, finding he had no advance knowledge of the lane closures and no role in planning or directing them. It found instead that the plan was hatched by David Wildstein, a top Christie ally working for the Port Authority.”

Bergen Record: “Two former high-level Christie appointees share almost exclusive blame for the George Washington Bridge lane closures, according to a report commissioned by the Christie administration that concludes Christie and current members of his staff were not involved in the closures and other allegations of impropriety that surfaced in the wake of the scandal…

“Bridget Kelly, a Deputy Chief of Staff in the governor’s office who was fired in January, and David Wildstein, a Port Authority official who resigned in December, planned and carried out the September lane closings, the 360 page report said. ‘It was Wildstein’s “idea,”’ the report reads, “like so many other ‘crazy’ ones he’d had before that never got off the ground.”

“The Port Authority official who oversaw the lane closings at the George Washington Bridge said that he had informed Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey about it at a Sept. 11 memorial while the closings were occurring, according to results from an internal investigation released on Thursday by lawyers for the governor.

“The official, David Wildstein, told Mr. Christie’s press secretary, Michael Drewniak, of the Sept. 11 conversation at a dinner in December just before his resignation from the Port Authority, according to the report.”

The New Republic:

“The team of lawyers doing the $1 million job (paid by taxpayers!) includes someone whom Christie awarded a lucrative corporate-monitoring contract to in 2007, who calls him a ‘very dear friend,’ and who accompanied him wild-pig hunting in Texas a few years ago. (Somehow, the report’s biographical background on that lawyer saw fit to mention none of those facts.) It’s hardly a breaking news flash that the report should conclude, in prose that would make even Lanny Davis blush, ‘Governor Christie’s accounts of these events rings true.’…Well then! If the people being paid $650-per-hour by Christie say so, it must be true.”

Now for the impact on Christie, if—underscore if--the investigative findings hold up.

The media went crazy over this story because Christie was rightly deemed a leading presidential contender for 2016. And liberal commentators relished the idea of tarnishing him or taking him out of contention.

But even if Christie was not personally involved in the bridge debacle, he is the one who appointed Bridget Kelly and David Wildstein, which raises serious questions about his judgment.

He is the one who initially belittled the scandal with jokes about putting out the traffic cones himself.

More important, Bridgegate led to legitimate reporting on whether Christie, the Springsteen-loving street brawler, was in fact a bully. And the months of coverage may have robbed Christie of that aura of authenticity, forcing him to tone down the brashness that many found so appealing.

So it may be that Christie was innocent in a legal sense but will still pay a huge political price. That may be unfair, but no one ever said presidential politics was fair.

Nate Silver vs. Paul Krugman (Con’t.)

The battle between two former New York Times colleagues just got a whole lot juicier.

Nate Silver had parked his 538 blog at the Times when he gained national fame for correctly predicting which states Barack Obama would win in his reelection bid. Now that he’s at ESPN, he’s getting pounded by other pundits (who Silver has himself disparaged, saying most major op-ed columnists write crap.)

One of those columnists, the NYT’s Paul Krugman, rips the revamped 538: “So far it looks like something between a disappointment and a disaster.”

He says that “many of the critics are getting the problem wrong. It’s not the reliance on data; numbers can be good, and can even be revelatory. But data never tell a story on their own. They need to be viewed through the lens of some kind of model…

“Unfortunately, Silver seems to have taken the wrong lesson from his election-forecasting success. In that case, he pitted his statistical approach against campaign-narrative pundits, who turned out to know approximately nothing. What he seems to have concluded is that there are no experts anywhere, that a smart data analyst can and should ignore all that.

“But not all fields are like that — in fact, even political analysis isn’t like that, if you talk to political scientists instead of political reporters.”

So having been accused of an excessive and directionless reliance on data, Silver fights back with…more data.

“A New York Times columnist has expressed substantially more negative sentiments about FiveThirtyEight since it left The New York Times, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis…

“FiveThirtyEight was an independent blog prior to joining The New York Times on Aug. 25, 2010. Mr. Krugman referred to FiveThirtyEight or Nate Silver on seven occasions during its independent period. Four of these mentions were favorable, two were neutral, and one was unfavorable.

“During FiveThirtyEight’s tenure with The New York Times, Mr. Krugman referred to FiveThirtyEight or to Nate Silver 21 times. Over all, 15 of these references were favorable, as compared to five neutral references and one unfavorable one.

“But Mr. Krugman’s views of FiveThirtyEight have changed since it re-launched March 17 under the auspices of ESPN. The columnist has mentioned FiveThirtyEight four times in just nine days, all in negative contexts.”

They should sell tickets to a sports arena smackdown, which ESPN could televise. 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.