Are we going to be rid of Chris Christie soon? The right-wing imprint of a major publisher just placed a bet that he'll be around for a while longer:
Louise Burke, President and Publisher of Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, announced today the publication of Matt Katz's biography of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Matt Katz has covered Chris Christie extensively as a reporter. For three years he wrote stories about Christie almost daily for the Philadelphia Inquirer while posting more than 500 entries in his blog, 'The Christie Chronicles.' ... Katz recently left the Inquirer to cover Christie for WNYC and New Jersey Public Radio. … The currently untitled biography is scheduled for publication in Spring 2015.Threshold, which was founded by Mary Matalin, publishes the likes of Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and Jerome Corsi. The Threshold list is a mix of crazy righties (Jack Cashill, the guy who thinks Bill Ayers wrote Barack Obama's first book, got a book deal from Threshold) and Establishment righties (Ed Gillespie published a book there).
So is this book going to aim a boot at Christie from the right? Or is it meant to rehabilitate him ahead of the 2016 elections?
I'm guessing the latter. The author, Matt Katz, doesn't seem like an ideologue, or even a right-winger. But he's been covering Christie for a while now and he seems a bit too close to the governor, who seems to play reporters like a Stradivarius. I don't know much about Katz, so I don't want to leap to the conclusion that he looks at Christie the way a skinny high schooler admires the Big Man on Campus who decides to befriend him (I was a little, geeky kid who got shoved into a lot of lockers in high school, so I can say that), but I'm not reassured by the photo of Katz and Christie that accompanies Katz's Politico Magazine story about covering Christie, from last November:
Subtitle of the article: "The Strange Thrill of Covering Chris Christie."
If this is reminding you of the way George W. Bush manipulated the boys on the bus in the 2000 presidential campaign -- nicknaming Frank Bruin "Pancho" and all that -- then read on. Please note that Christie manipulates in a more complicated way than Bush, withholding as well as giving. But his technique clearly gets results:
CNN's Jake Tapper may have gotten to ride the bus with Christie on his gubernatorial re-election day, but the local reporters who follow Christie around know him better, from his ability to cultivate a conservative agenda without turning off Democrats to his canny use of celebrity endorsers for cross-cultural appeal.(Already with the admiring gush, and there's more to come.)
The local reporters get our own unique treatment -- revealing, off-the-record, end-of-summer beers at Jersey Shore bars and profanity-infused Christmas party conversations at the governor's mansion. But we also get our own unique abuse: We know what it's like to be put in the "penalty box," as Christie calls it, briefly shut out from the inner circle for writing something Team Christie hates. And we've all been dressed down in State House hallways by Christie’s chief spokesman, Michael Drewniak, an expert at channeling his boss’s fury.I don't know if this is love, but it's serious like.
Christie's press conferences are meaty affairs, providing enough fodder for tweets, blog posts and weekend stories as he lingers long after his press secretary calls out "two more questions!" And his town hall meetings are masterful spectacles in political communication. New Jerseyans literally laugh and cry at these things. It all makes for great copy.
Short end of the stick? Beside the fact that I too often found myself filing stories at rest stops on the New Jersey Turnpike, this was one of the wildest rides in American journalism. Christie likes to tell crowds at press conferences that I must have pissed someone off at the Philadelphia Inquirer to get the Christie beat, but he's lying. He knows he fulfilled his promise from that first day we met: "We're going to do our best to keep you entertained."
Katz's Christie coverage at the Inquirer was pretty much down the middle, though the headlines could be gushy ("A confident and cursing Christie cruises South Jersey," "Christie marks Sandy anniversary with media domination," "Christie's a 'bully'? No way, says New Jersey") -- though that may just be a reflection of how little political resistance Christie faced pre-Bridgegate. Katz's more recent work for WNYC also seems to be down the middle.
But down the middle may not be appropriate in this case -- not if, as seems to be the case, Christie is as nasty as Nixon and as corrupt as Agnew. If you're going to read a book about Christie, you want it to be by a reporter who resists being an amen chorus for the governor:
A couple weeks in to the Is-Christie-Running-for-President-in-2016 beat, and I find myself in the lobby of a five-star resort in Scottsdale, Ariz., crossing paths with Christie. He is trailed by a lone TV reporter from Channel 3 in Phoenix who asks, inevitably, about running for the White House.I know, I know -- that's the way these things work. But a little distance from Katz's subject would be nice.
"For godsakes," Christie begins.
I'm just catching up, thrusting my recorder forward. I don't think he sees me, but he says: "Matt, how do I normally answer that?"
"For godsakes," I say.
"Yeah," he says.
It's possible, of course, that Threshold signed this in the hopes of publishing a Woodward/Bernstein-style book about Christie's downfall and Final Days. Well, maybe -- though if so, that would be the first act of journalism at a right-wing press since, um, pretty much forever.