A detailed article on Chris Christie: The trouble with journalism

I am writing in January 2015, and these ridiculous, unnecessary discussions of the 2016 Presidential election have been going on for quite some time now. I will mark the official beginning of this massive waste of time and ink with the article that appeared on November 23, 2014, as the New York Times magazine cover article.  Mark Leibovich writes about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, “Is it 2016 yet?”

A news story about the Governor of New Jersey might be interesting. So might a political report. But this story is neither but instead about how Chris Christie wants to be President of the United States. Okay, so let’s look at his qualifications for that job. Is Christie capable of running large bureaucracies? How is Christie at working with legislators, administering projects, communicating his visions and policies? A related issue, particularly interesting to those of us who don’t live in the state of New Jersey, would be about how he juggles his ongoing duties as governor with his presidential run.

Leibovich doesn’t answer any of those questions. Instead he observes Christie as a fictional character. What do a myriad of closely observed details about Christie’s behavior tell us about his inner life? That’s an interesting question to pose in a movie review but absurd in what purports to be political reporting. Christie swings his entire arm during handshakes. He spends 90 minutes downing a plate of nachos. The “real” Christie appears to defy both of the caricatures commonly used to describe him.

Christie’s behavior isn’t a set of artistic choices, like an actor’s would be. Christie is governing a state. He has done actual things and has an actual record. Presumably a reporter would be able access those facts. Why should I care about all this “information” about the impression Christie is making? Because this isn’t a movie, we can find out a lot about Christie’s performance (that is, what he has done) without reference to his level of skill in the performing arts. In Leibovich’s discussion, style has driven out substance entirely. Also, none of these details matter unless Christie were to become the nominee for the Republican Party in 2016.

And if he does, I hope that political reporters will spend less time on his weight, appearance, and parenting and more time on his management skills, legislative accomplishments, and ideology. I will never have the opportunity or desire to share a beer with this guy, so I don’t need that experience captured for me by some insider. I’m not sure there will ever be a right time to discuss Chris Christie’s unpleasant personality and poor health habits. But if there were to be such a time it would definitely be in 2016 and after his nomination as his party’s candidate.

So, is it 2016 yet? No.

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