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Why the Media Must Look Beyond Petty Political Retribution as the Reason for Bridgegate

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Nature abhors a vacuum. Nowhere is this axiom more apropos than when it comes to the mainstream media chasing a blossoming political scandal with national implications.

But for one cable news network, MSNBC, however, all of the mainstream media reporting on what has quickly became known as #bridgegate continues to refer to petty partisan retribution as the only reason for precipitous "traffic problems in Ft. Lee [New Jersey]." And that is how New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, those in his Administration involved in this scandal (whether fully implicated at this time or not), and his political operatives and supporters would like to keep things.

The most-relevant of the known facts of this sordid little affair are fairly straightforward, although the full extent of the cast of characters, and their specific, respective rolls, is far from being fully revealed. Basically:

Girl e-mails boy;

boy intentionally snarls traffic on the G.W. Bridge, from Ft. Lee, N.J. into New York City, starting on Monday, September 9 (the first full week after the Labor Day weekend);

mayor of Ft. Lee goes apoplectic on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge (and where boy is one of three Christie-appointed commissioners now implicated in the scandal);

Port Authority executive director (an appointee of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo), who actually seems interested in doing that part of his job that involves moving people back-and-forth across the G.W. Bridge, issues scathing, internal memo suggesting that shutting down bridge access lanes for no good reason, and without sufficient advance notice to anyone, may be breaking federal and state laws;

"Road Warior" reporter John Cichowski at the Bergen [County, N.J.] Record starts digging into the cause of the week of traffic Hell in Ft. Lee, reporting on what is eventually uncovered to be an intentional scheme;

The Transportation Committee of the Democrat-controlled New Jersey General Assembly begins hearings to get to the bottom of the Ft. Lee/G.W. Bridge week-long traffic snafu;

Gov. Christie announces he will nominate Chief-of-Staff Kevin O'Dowd (girl's immediate boss) as New Jersey's next State Attorney General and that Regina Egea, Christie's staff person responsible for all of the Governor's dealings with authorities, including the Port Authority, will take O'Dowd's place as his new Chief of Staff;

Gov. Christie (girl's boss's boss) has come-to-Jesus with his senior staff but fails to ask any tough questions, request any key documents like e-mail communications or do any independent, follow-up investigation of his staff about "traffic problems in Ft. Lee," despite the growing controversy and ongoing hearing in the General Assembly;

Gov. Christie glibly answers reporter's questions about the Ft. Lee traffic tie-ups, sarcastically "admitting" to being out on the G.W. Bridge on the days in question, dressed in overalls and moving cones around to block access, and also accusing key N.J. Democratic leaders of being obsessed with him and going on a witch-hunt;

Two of three Christie appointees to the Port Authority resign, each citing the growing scandal over the G.W. Bridge lane closures;

intrepid recovering lawyer, Rachel Maddow, host of "The Rachel Maddow Show," picks up and follows the local reporting of the BridgeGate story, bringing national attention to what would otherwise be a local and regional issue about traffic; and

almost five months after girl's initial e-mail to boy, heads start to roll in the Governor's Office (especially girl's), immediately preceding almost two-hour press conference during which Governor Christie offers what can best be described as the #SargentSchultzDefense.

The MSM would have you believe that this entire wicked web of mystery, intrigue, and behind-the-scenes-string-pulling is about nothing more than Christie underlings and appointees run amok over the mayor of Ft. Lee for not only refusing to endorse Gov. Christie in his 2013 re-election campaign but also for adding insult to injury by endorsing the Governor's opponent, Democratic candidate N.J. Senator Barbara Buono. This may be referred to as the #PettyPoliticalRetribution theory for BridgeGate.

The Petty Political Retribution theory for BridgeGate has an elegant simplicity about it. First, it nicely fits the growing narrative that Gov. Christie is a political bully, something he actually denied in his press conference a la 2008 Delaware Republican Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell's public campaign ad denial of being a witch (unlike the case with Gov. Christie, however, few believed O'Donnell ever was a witch). Second, it fits a lesser-known but emerging narrative that the Governor's Office, presumably reflecting the modus operandi of its #CluelessLeader, is outwardly vindictive to those who don't fall in line, meting out punishments to anyone who dares defy the Governor. Stories corroborating this second narrative began to surface in the MSM the night after the press conference.

The Petty Political Retribution theory is also extremely attractive to the corporate-owned media. It's sordid and seedy. It casts politics in Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall terms, resonating with the political old guard while serving it up on a platter for those relatively new to politics but weaned on the interpersonal dynamics played out on "Survivor," "Big Brother," and legion other reality T.V. shows. The Petty Political Retribution theory makes for juicy speculation and conjecture. It allows reporters to pursue, and news and political talk program anchors to speculate ad nauseam about, the connections and potential connections among and between the expanding cast of characters. It keeps the story fresh, giving viewers a reason to tune in every day.

Finally, the Petty Political Retribution theory is extremely attractive to the Christie administration, which may be why they've run with it in the first place. It's a straw dog for Gov. Christie and his supporters. It allows the Governor and others to answer every question with another question. "You think I'd get involved in a petty political squabble?" "You think anyone would be so stupid as to nearly shut down the busiest bridge in the country to punish a mayor who's not even on my radar screen?" "Who's the mayor of Ft. Lee, anyway?" You get the idea.

Ms. Maddow, like the diligent, legally trained politico she is, has suggested that if the collective "we" can find the true motive for BridgeGate, then we'll soon come to know where to look for the people involved and get the answers to all the important questions. Along these lines, in her Friday show Ms. Maddow offered an alternate theory for BridgeGate: That it was more than merely petty political retribution but really serious political retribution. It was, she theorizes, a shot-across-the-bow of the Democratic caucus in the New Jersey Legislature, particularly targeting State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, whose electoral District 37 covers part of Bergen County, including Ft. Lee. This makes, perhaps, more sense than the Petty Political Retribution theory but seems to fall somewhat short, still stretching credulity (not nearly as much as the Governor's "I know nothing" defense) considering the sheer audacity of nearly closing New Jersey off from New York City via the G.W. Bridge for an entire work week.

On Friday night on MSNBC it was also revealed for the first time -- in passing, almost as an afterthought -- that there is, "by the way," a proposed, mixed-use real estate development project in Ft. Lee, at the base of the G.W. Bridge, with an estimated value of $1 billion (that is, $1,000,000,000.00). My "Aha" moment over this revelation was turned into my moment of validation Sunday morning on MSNBC's Up with Steve, in a segment where program host Steve Kornacki reviewed the ambitious development plans for #RedevelpomentArea5. For me, suddenly we had finally found the droids we were looking for.

From the perspective of a developer with a $1 billion mixed-use real estate project that depends upon easy access to the westbound side of the G.W. Bridge (and, perhaps, does not yet have any necessary approvals from either the Port Authority or the N.J. Department of Transportation), shutting down two of Ft. Lee's three dedicated entry lanes for an entire work week is tantamount to Don Corleone putting a severed horse's head in Jack Wolz's bed... while he slept. It says "I can get to you whenever I want, wherever I want, and however I want." It is the ultimate shot-across-the-bow for a proposed development project of this magnitude, particularly for one that is completely dependent on access to the G.W. Bridge for its very viability.

Maybe 20 years from now Redevelopment Area 5 will be for political scandal-watchers what Area 51 is for those convinced that Earth's been visited by intelligent alien life. In order to get there sooner rather than later, investigative journalists and at least those in the mainstream media who are covering the BridgeGate story need to start paying much closer attention to, digging deeply into, and asking smarter questions about the proposed Redevelopment Area 5 project, and getting past the Petty Political Retribution story as the underpinning for BridgeGate.