WaPo Defends MSNBC Coverage Of 'BridgeGate'

Erik Wemple defends MSNBC from Bill Maher criticism

The Washington Post's Erik Wemple defended MSNBC from criticism over its coverage of the Chris Christie 'Bridgegate' scandal Wednesday, saying comparing it to Fox News is unfair.

HBO's Bill Maher "broke up" with the network in a blog last week, and criticized it on his show Friday night in part over MSNBC's devotion of extended coverage to the 'Bridgegate' story.

Wemple conceded that MSNBC's coverage has been extensive:

The analytics confirm that Christie has indeed preoccupied MSNBC’s attentions in recent weeks. A week ago, for instance, NewsBusters reported that MSNBC spent 95 minutes covering the crisis between 5:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. on Feb. 10, a focus that suppressed other stories, such as a delay in implementation of part of the Affordable Care Act. Last month, the Christie camp itself hammered MSNBC for its “gleeful” attacks on the governor. On an edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week, political analyst Nicolle Wallace lashed out, “So much time has been spent in the last four weeks covering every teeny, minuscule, breaking non-news event” relating to the bridge.

So yes, MSNBC’s bridge work has crowded out other stuff, as Maher alleges.

But Wemple pushed back at Maher's comparison to Fox News, claiming that unlike MSNBC, Fox News's coverage of the Benghazi issue has been factually unreliable:

Squishy factual turf right there. There may be a parallel between how extensively MSNBC has played the bridge story and how extensively Fox News played Benghazi in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2012, when an attack on the U.S. diplomatic installation in the Libyan city claimed the lives of four U.S. personnel.

Yet Fox News’s relationship with Benghazi involves more than just spending a lot of time together. On Oct. 26, 2012, the network issued what then appeared to be a resounding scoop about the goings-on of that controversial night. It reported that requests for military assistance were denied, that security operators were told to “stand down” instead of rushing to help and that a U.S. team at a CIA annex had “captured three Libyan attackers and was forced to hand them over to the Libyans.”

As documented in a extensive series of posts by the Erik Wemple Blog, these claims have undergone a punishing 1.5 years of challenge and debunkment. No component has gotten more of a lashing than the alleged “stand down” order, the last rites of which were administered last month by a Senate Intelligence committee report: “The Committee explored claims that there was a ‘stand down’ order given to the security team at the Annex. Although some members of the security team expressed frustration that they were unable to respond more quickly to the Mission compound, the Committee found no evidence of intentional delay or obstruction by the Chief of Base or any other party.”

Wemple then said, though MSNBC has published accounts that have since been contradicted, that is in no way a negative reflection of the left leaning network, going so far as to compare the consistency in its coverage to other, "heroic" efforts:

Thus far, MSNBC’s key break on the story came from MSNBC host Steve Kornacki, who in January reported on allegations from Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer that the Christie people held relief aid from superstorm Sandy hostage to concessions on the urban development front. CNN Investigative Reporter Chris Frates pointed out some contradictions in Zimmer’s story; the New Jersey Star-Ledger’s Tom Moran finds it credible; and the New York Times found evidence of development-related pressure on Zimmer from the Christie administration. However this whole thing shakes out, it’ll be hard to tie MSNBC to any frailties in Zimmer’s storyline; reporting the on-the-record allegations of public officials, after all, is a core journalistic responsibility.

Just a question to finish this out: When newspaper columnists and reporters stick with a story no matter what, they’re heroic and persistent. When TV networks do the same, they’re bloated and irresponsible. What gives there?