The News on Jan. 10: Christie outweighs other scandals

Editor’s note: This is an opinion column by George Salamon.

In every newspaper, on every cable news channel and on news websites, the “bridge scandal” swirling around New Jersey governor and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has been getting top billing. His administration, according to a Page 1 story in the New York Times, “ordered revenge closings of traffic lanes at the George Washington Bridge.”

That’s bad, all right, especially since it impeded medical emergency vehicles trapped in the ensuing traffic jams and may have contributed to the death of one person.

These unforeseen consequences from an act of political revenge should not go unpunished. Should they, at the same time, become so much the focus of the media that the kind of scandal they create drives other kinds of scandals from the front page of public attention? That is what the scandals similar to the one involving Christie have done (and continue to do) in a culture fascinated by, and fixated on, political and entertainment personalities.

But scandalous behavior does not have to involve violence, sex or money. It may be the passage of a bill that deprives thousands of school children of lunch provided by the state or federal government. Proposal and passage of such a bill is indecent behavior. It is scandalous.

One story getting less attention is one about an ongoing absence of good-paying jobs: “Job growth tumbles in December (2013), employers add just 74,000 to payrolls,” was the headline in the Los Angeles Times.

Bad economic news may not make a scandal in the classical sense, but millions of citizens are affected – and the effect is devastating and permanent.

Politicians from both parties told Americans that creating jobs at home is “our job No. 1.” Why have they not been held accountable for not pursuing and delivering on the goal they promised?

The Obama administration pledged to “change Wall Street” after the 2008 financial crisis. But despite the fact that “millions of people have lost their homes; whole communities have been devastated … the government does not have the ability or the will to prosecute the executives responsible for abuses that contributed to these disasters.” (Paul Starr, “Why the Democrats did so little to change Wall Street,” in the New Republic, July 12.)

IRS tax data revealed “the rich getting richer and staying richer” and “the poor, poorer and staying poorer” between 1987 and 2009 in a groundbreaking study by five economists in 2013.

By now, in many newsrooms and television studios, such “non-scandal” scandals often get the “yada yada yada” treatment made famous on Seinfeld.

Instead, our celebrity besotted-culture demands juicier and fresher scandals, preferably involving a “personality” or “public official” or “star.”

Christie will do. So pundits are already talking (and will be talking in the days ahead) about the upshot of his scandal: Can he still become the first full-figure presidential candidate since William Howard Taft – who weighed in at about 340 pounds – to run successfully for the office?

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