A note to all those crisis management PR firms lining K Street: The next time you have a client with a big problem, play ‘em New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's “Bridgegate” press conference.
The lumpy lawmaker from Livingston put on a textbook exhibition Thursday of just how to handle a dilemma — and made a fool of President Obama, mired in scandal for at least the last 18 months.
First, the rotund rock star strode into a city hall room packed with reporters right on time (a small thing, but a big thing, too). Then, in the first sentence out of his mouth, he said this word: “Apologize.” In his second, he said the same word — twice. (In all, he would say “apologize” or “apology” 28 times).
“I’ve come out here today to apologize to the people of New Jersey. I apologize to the people of Fort Lee and I apologize to the members of the state Legislature,” he said.
Next, he took full responsibility for what had happened in the so-called Bridgegate, when a N.J. bridge was all but shut down in what some characterized as political payback.
“Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch — the good and the bad. And when mistakes are made, then I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary in order to remediate them,” the governor said.
That led to the next textbook action: Accountability. Heads rolled. Mr. Christie announced that he had canned a senior aide and his top campaign adviser. Gone, without even listening to their version of the story.
And by the way, even though “journalists” pressed the governor — “I’m saying talk to her,” said Bob the Reporter. “I mean, in terms of the conversation, like ‘Why did you do this?’ Get some information … ” — the guv was ahead of them all again. “Listen, Bob … if I did that, then you’d have the Legislature complaining that I’m talking to someone who the chairman has said yesterday publicly he intends to call as a witness,” he said.
And the press, too. “Did Christie Meet With Top Aide To Get Stories Straight?” would be a New York Time headline in a New York minute.
More, Mr. Christie got personal. He said he fired his deputy chief of staff for one simple reason: “She lied to me.” And after calling her a liar, he said her behavior was “stupid.” And he made it personal for himself, too. “I am a very sad person today. That’s the emotion I feel. A person close to me betrayed me.”
And another: After his humble mea culpa, Mr. Christie took questions. Not just some questions — every single question. For 100 minutes. He gave short, to-the-point answers without “ums” and “uhs” (those make you sound like you’re trying to keep track of your false story). When he finally left the podium after nearly two hours, not one reporter called after him with an unanswered question.
The indefatigable exhibition brought to light one stark contrast: Mr. Christie versus President Obama. The president has been mired in scandal for the last 18 months: Benghazi, the IRS mess, NSA spying on Americans, seizing phone records from U.S. news organizations.
And how has he handled those? By stonewalling, obfuscating, misdirecting. He sent out top aide Susan Rice to lie about Benghazi (an unknown YouTube video caused the spontaneous attack — lie, and lie). The IRS mess was perpetrated by rogue workers in some Ohio district office — no heads rolled in Washington; instead, those involved were either allowed to retire or, amazingly, promoted. His attorney general, censured by Congress, also remains in his post, despite targeting journalists and running guns into Mexico.
While the mainstream media debates whether there is a “culture of deceit” in the governor’s office, what about the president’s administration? Remember Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, called before Congress to explain how an American ambassador was murdered, spat: “What difference at this point does it make?”
Make no mistake: The reason The New York Times and the others are whipping up this scandal is simple: Fear. Yes, they are terrified of the Republican, who, by the way, started out the week as America’s most admired politician, according to a Quinnipiac University poll.
And Thursday’s presser shows good reason for their terror. Faced with a crisis, Mr. Christie did three things: He apologized, he held people accountable, and he answered every question asked.
Not that difficult, but a world of difference from the last five years.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times and is now editor of the Drudge Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @josephcurl.