“Report: Bridge scandal probe finds no tie to Christie, feds say” reads The Hill’s headline. The report says “unnamed federal officials briefed on the criminal investigation told NBC 4 New York they have, so far, uncovered no evidence [New Jersey Gov. Chris] Christie had knowledge of or directed the road closures.”
Now we find out! And yet pretty much everyone who follows the news knows all about Bridgegate, and no matter what the evidence does or does not show, the story is going to color our view of Christie. That’s what saturation media coverage will do. Rightly or wrongly, some scandals get firehose media coverage — while others get barely a sprinkle.
Take, for example, a scandal far more consequential to the well-being of its state than Bridgegate, namely the $125 million implosion of Maryland’s Obamacare health exchange website. As I noted last month, columnist Barry Rascovar calls the failed rollout an “immense fiasco,” a “monumental disaster that should have been foreseen,” even “the costliest debacle in Maryland state history.” Especially since (as I put it then) “Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who is now the Democratic candidate for governor, had been assigned to oversee the rollout as his big project, having few other duties attached to his position.”
Yes, places like the Washington Post did give a smattering of coverage to the scandal and Brown’s involvement in it — enough I suppose that the editors can acquit themselves in their own minds of the charge of not having covered it at all. But if you weren’t paying close attention you might have missed the stories, and within few days outlets like the Post were content to let the matter drop. No steady flow of reportage, investigative pieces, human interest sidebars, columns, and editorials asking tough questions and insisting that the Maryland public deserved answers.
These days, what’s remarkable is the way the Post contrives to avoid noticing the scandal as an election issue even when you’d think circumstances would make it tempting to do so. On Tuesday, for example, the Post’s Jenna Johnson reported on the relaunch of the failed Maryland site, scheduled to take place this coming Nov. 9. Johnson does mention in passing “the deeply troubled Web site that debuted last year and crashed almost immediately.” Isn’t there something that kind of jumps out about the date Nov. 9? That it’s only five days after Election Day — a day in which the Maryland Democratic ballot will be headed by the author of the earlier failure, Anthony Brown? Yet in a fairly lengthy piece, Johnson — whose beat is described as including both the 2014 election and the administration of Martin O’Malley — refrained from mentioning either the election timing or Brown.
All of which helps explain why I constantly meet Post readers from the Maryland Washington D.C. suburbs, otherwise well-informed and civically minded people, who simply have no idea that Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown played a central role in (to quote Rascovar again) this “monumental disaster that should have been foreseen,” this “costliest debacle in Maryland state history.” It’s why I keep meeting Post readers who have no clue that the O’Malley administration, solicitous of Brown’s interests, has put off a what-went-wrong reckoning until well after the election in which he’ll be on the ballot. And because they don’t know about these things, they also don’t think to question how Brown has utterly failed to take responsibility for what happened, instead dodging and diverting blame to departing O’Malley health director Josh Sharfstein. The Baltimore media on the whole has done a better job at covering these questions — and have you noticed how much trouble Brown is having with popularity these days in the Baltimore area?
Had the Post and other D.C.-focused media outlets kept on the health exchange story the way they kept on Christie’s Bridgegate story, I think Anthony Brown would today be behind in the race against Republican Larry Hogan for governor. The good news is there’s still six and a half weeks before Election Day for them to catch up.