01/19/2014 07:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

BOTH SIDES NOW : Since Fish Rot From the Head Down, NJ and Fox Have a Problem

By: Mark Green

As Bridgegate worsens with 20 subpoenas and a quid-pro-Christie in Hoboken, Alter and Frum discuss whether the Governor lied or merely led a corrupt organization. And has Ailes/Fox helped grow or shrink the GOP?


On Christie's Crisis, Week Two. After expressing shock that his underlings would gamble with lives in Ft. Lee, is Christie a credible victim or Kipling's "shut-eyed sentry" willfully looking the other way?

Neither panelist thinks Christie is explicitly lying. Instead, David assumes that he may have expressed anger privately about some local officials and then yes-men went overboard to please him. Jonathan too guesses that he said a version of Henry VIII's "who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?" But they then fundamentally disagree how Christie will react to his political trauma.

Frum assumes he will change, the way Bill Clinton rose beyond Arkansas politics when he went national. Alter's doubts that people really change and thinks that his home-state governor is a fundamentally govern-by-enemies-list kinda guy. "After the Nixon of the '50s, remember the New Nixon of '68? Well there never was a New Nixon, as we saw in 1973."

The two then scrutinize several defenses that Christie's allies are deploying. Both mock the Giuliani-Podhoretz-Wall Street efforts to say that, while Bridgegate wasn't great, it was no worse than an IRS or Benghazi. Alter regards such comparisons as pathetic misdirection. "This is typical GOP method of ignoring criticism and simply launching counter-attacks."

"The argument that something isn't as bad as the Holocaust never impresses me," scoffs Frum. He goes on, however, to chide Obama as a weak user of presidential powers, concluding that a strong executive like Christie "may have to better use carrots and sticks, ideally carrots, to get things done." Alter dismisses this analysis "as posing a false choice of a president being either a bully or a milquetoast."

Host: Can we retire the IRS and Benghazi shibboleths? Did I miss that episode of House of Cards when Obama put his high school pal Lois Lerner in the IRS to shaft his enemies and also let American diplomats intentionally die for some machiavellian reason...and then cover up both? The use of the IRS and Benghazi as Munich has been debunked, respectively, by the FBI and the NYTimes.

That is: the IRS scandal is like Bridgegate except that Obama's top aides weren't involved, a probe found that liberal as well as conservative groups were scrutinized over their c4 applications, and Obama didn't laugh it off for two months (Christie: "yeah, I was working the cones.")

But why let the facts get in the way of a good talking point? Since Watergate, Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby et. al., the GOP tries to affix the suffix "-gate" to any Democratic problem in an effort to smear by analogy, a tactic pioneered by Bill Safire. But given the Christie contretemps and the horror of a scandal-free Obama administration (not an error-free one), they have to recite the words IRS/Benghazi to pretend that "they all do it" [see Peggy Noonan, our own Mary Matalin, and Rudy Giuliani on today's Sunday shows). Or go back to making stuff up. Is #ObamaHillarygate taken?

On the Ailes Biography It appears to be Bullying Week given the timing of the new 600-page biography of Roger Ailes by journalist Gabriel Sherman. Based on three years of research and 600 interviews, Sherman paints a detailed portrait of a retaliating, control freak who is, in the author's phrase, "Citizen Kane meets P.T. Barnum."

Alter has read the book and thinks it "tour de force of reporting about someone who inspires real fear by those who work for him or used to...and who used real goons to intimidate a [critical] upstate newspaper." After writing a chapter on Ailes and Fox in his recent book, The Center Holds, Alter recounts how Ailes just flatly denied facts in the book and called Alter 'paranoid'; "can you imagine being called paranoid by Roger Ailes?"

Frum recounts how he got in trouble with the Fox chief by saying on TV a few years back "that Republicans thought Fox worked for us but really we worked for Fox." He famously coined the phrase "conservative entertainment complex" to describe the channel's MO of hyperbolic right-wing TV which generates more ratings than votes. "Fox radicalizes, intensifies and therefore shrinks the Republican electorate."

Alter agrees, citing the now famous way that Fox created an alternate reality over the past four years in which Obama was always losing and the Tea Party was always winning. Hence, the election night meltdown when Karl Rove on air refused to believe that Romney had lost and the way the nominee had no concession speech because of the bubble he and Fox were living in.

"And it's false equivalence to say that MSNBC, which has a point of view and makes mistakes, is the mirror image of Fox. While Fox gave air-time to Birthers and helped start the Tea Party, MS would never put on Bush- Derangement-Syndrome people who said he knew about 9/11 before it happened and let it happen."

Watching both Christie and Ailes operate, it's well to remember a comment attributed to Lincoln, that revenge is a poison you swallow to hurt your enemies.

On Obama and NSA The Host: "I'm a civil libertarian who saw the first plane slam into the World Trade Center and would like the dots connected next time to avoid another calamity. So how did the President split the baby?"

Very carefully our panelists agree. There's a consensus that any President will, and should, tilt toward keeping the country safe. David believes "in the vigorous use of the NSA and that privacy concerns has been wildly exaggerated." Jonathan notes that "Obama won't satisfy activists on either side. But his most important proposal is to reform the FISA court with a public advocate because now it's an unsupervised rogue elephant. And tossing some big issues like how to handle meta-data programs to the Congress is not a bad idea since it's more democratic [than FISA courts) and fights between the Feinstein and Paul wings can produce good policy."

Can anyone doubt that, were he still a senator, constitutional law professor Barack Obama would sound more like Ron Wyden than POTUS 44. But any Commander-in-Chief, certainly a Democrat, would likely do everything plausible to both deter future attacks and avoid being blamed for them. My guess: Obama's 1000x more concerned about avoiding both terrorist attacks and political blame for them way more than he frets the ACLU's Anthony Romero saying he didn't reform the NSA enough.

On Clinton-Schweitzer. This weekend's Time magazine cover asks, "Can Anyone Stop Hillary?" The answer is "no" if there's no "anyone" willing to run... and this week there appears to be one. Brian Schweitzer -- a blue governor in the red western state of Montana -- hinted strongly that he'd toss his cowboy hat into the ring. Showing amazing brass, Schweitzer has been arguing that Obama hasn't accomplished much and is a poor manager...this in a party that currently adores him.

Is this a credible challenge?

Jonathan strongly believes that such a "pro-gun, pro-coal, antiwar Democrat" can't succeed against Clinton. If Obama had been a real war president, then maybe Schweitzer could run as a peace candidate. Otherwise, he'll likely just give Hillary someone to debate with."

David, however, thinks that "while Hillary is respected, she doesn't excite Democrats. She's like a Republican front-runner because 'it's her turn.' She risks boring people. If someone came along like Bill in '92 or Barack in '08, she'd be vulnerable."

Host: He lacks an issue and money and would face the most formidable favorite since Eisenhower...but, as Gretsky famously said, you skate where the puck will be. Perhaps the charismatic governor is betting that no one can be sure where the President, Clinton or country might be in two years.

On Hollande's private life. Is "mistress" a French word meaning "President?"

He's not married but still, dropping your current mistress for a new one is, well, unusual, especially when Mistress #1 then enters a hospital due to "shock."

Alter can't get by the president of France 'motorcycling off to an assignation wearing a helmet when it turned out he needed a different kind of protection."

There's a consensus that such activities, in France or America, don't seriously affect voters unless there's unusual weirdness involved. It becomes a bigger deal if the economy is weak. Concludes Frum: "Clinton survived in part because the economy of 1998 was going great guns" and Hollande will not endure because he's residing over about the worst French economy in decades...whoever wins his ongoing mistress face-off.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

You can follow him on Twitter @markjgreen

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