What a bizarre spectacle. Assuming he did not lie during his marathon news conference last week, the feeding frenzy surrounding New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will be remembered as one of those incredibly odd moments of elite journalistic hysteria that are difficult to explain to people who weren't there or didn't get it.
I'm not referring to the scandal itself; that's easy enough to understand. What Christie's team did was outrageous and deserves as much foofaraw and brouhaha as the New Jersey media can muster.
What's harder to grok is the hysteria at the national level.
For starters, there have been countless greater outrages at the state level that have received far less national coverage. (Indeed, there have been national scandals under President Obama that have received less intense national coverage.) Since 1961, four Illinois governors have ended up in jail, and with the exception of Rod Blagojevich, few have received comparable media attention.
"Meet the Press" dedicated 33 minutes to the New Jersey scandal, including a grilling of Reince Priebus, head of the Republican National Committee, as if Christie were Nixon during Watergate (a comparison ostensibly serious people have made).
Many conservatives see liberal media bias in all this. But that diagnosis misses the fact that this was the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, giving producers ample opportunity to advance a liberal agenda. Moreover, Christie is actually quite popular in establishment media circles -- the sort of politician Sunday-show liberals insist America needs more of. He's also quite unpopular in many quarters of the right.
If there is a secret left-wing cabal interested solely in advancing the liberal cause through the media, the Christie auto-da-fÃ© was a missed opportunity.
A more plausible partial explanation is partisan bias, which can be hard to distinguish from liberal bias in many outlets since it tends to favor Democrats. The key difference is that partisan bias focuses more on the political interests of specific politicians or a party generally.
Feeding-frenzy defenders insist the closure of lanes on the George Washington Bridge is special because innocent constituents were deliberately inconvenienced for partisan purposes. That's surely what makes this scandalous, but it hardly makes it unique. The Obama administration employed similar tactics during the sequester and the government shutdown. Closing the open-air World War II Memorial, furloughing air traffic controllers and other efforts were deliberate attempts to maximize the pain of innocents for political benefit. The tactic worked, but that's not a justification for it, is it?