Chris Christie has a fondness for private jets and five-star hotels when others pick up the tab.
Is that a big story? Is it worthy of a New York Times expose?
The paper has some juicy examples, no question about it. But this paragraph practically leaped off the page:
“Mr. Christie is hardly the first politician, in either party, whose embrace of luxury travel has prompted criticism. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for example, a potential Democratic candidate for president, is known for her dependence on private planes often paid for by others.”
So if lots of pols are living the good life, why single out the governor of New Jersey?
Obviously, Christie is gearing up to run for president—but so is Hillary. Yet she is dismissed in a single “to be sure” paragraph.
The Times covers New Jersey, so Christie is a local figure, but if he wasn’t a 2016 contender the piece wouldn’t be on the front page and at the top of the home page.
The paper never shows that Christie did anything wrong. The real subtext of the story is that he’s not what he seems. To wit:
“The governor, a Republican now preparing a run for president, shot to national prominence as a cheese-steak-on-the-boardwalk Everyman who bluntly preached transparency and austerity as the antidote to bloated state budgets. But throughout his career in public service, Mr. Christie has indulged a taste that runs more toward Champagne at the Four Seasons.”
In other words, forget Springsteen; he hangs out with Bono! (So, by the way, does Bill Clinton.)
I suppose some blue-collar voters might think that Christie’s gone uptown; more likely, many would think with a touch of envy that he has a cool lifestyle.
(By the way, Christie canceled two press availabilities in London yesterday, undoubtedly because of this story and his controversial comments that parents should have “a measure of choice” in whether to vaccinate their kids.)
Let’s unpack the details. On a 2012 trade mission to Israel, Christie flew on a private plane provided by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The governor had his own bedroom and brought his wife, three of his four children, his mother-in-law, his father and stepmother, and others. The appearance isn’t great because Adelson was then “opposing legislation then before the governor to legalize online gambling in New Jersey.”
But Christie eventually signed the bill, and a spokeswoman said Adelson hadn’t personally lobbied him on the issue—kind of taking the air out of the story.
Then, “King Abdullah of Jordan picked up the tab for a Christie family weekend at the end of the trip. The governor and two staff members who accompanied him came back to New Jersey bubbling that they had celebrated with Bono, the lead singer of U2, at three parties, two at the king’s residence, the other a Champagne reception in the desert. But a small knot of aides fretted: The rooms in luxurious Kempinski hotels had cost about $30,000; what would happen if that became public?”
Not exactly a weekend in Asbury Park. Embarrassing stuff, but as the story later points out, not illegal. Turns out Christie signed an executive order allowing officials (such as himself) to accept such foreign hospitality.
There is more about Christie’s travels as head of the Republican Governors Association, and his taking his wife and two aides at taxpayer expense to the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans, a year before New Jersey was hosting the big game. But the more than $11,000 in expenses for the football trip had already been revealed by the Bergen Record.
Now all this is fair game. Anyone who runs for president can expect a full-scale media audit of their professional and personal lives.
But given the way the media bashed Christie over Bridgegate—where no evidence emerged to tie him to the scandal—you wonder whether there is some extra enthusiasm for embarrassing him.
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.