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Christie bridge: Get over it

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
January 17, 2014 -- Updated 0426 GMT (1226 HKT)
Aides and appointees of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, pictured, for not endorsing Christie for re-election. If true, this wouldn't be the first time an American politician was targeted with dirty tricks -- the practice goes back as far as running for office. Click through to see other examples of less-than-ethical campaign tactics. Aides and appointees of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie have been accused of closing lanes on the George Washington Bridge to punish Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, pictured, for not endorsing Christie for re-election. If true, this wouldn't be the first time an American politician was targeted with dirty tricks -- the practice goes back as far as running for office. Click through to see other examples of less-than-ethical campaign tactics.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Tom Brokaw's right -- Media should move on from Christie story
  • Navarrette: Media are addicted to story, hoping to derail a Christie presidential bid
  • He says a report about partisanship run amok is partisan in the way it's covered
  • Navarrette: They say Christie's a bully, but since when is that bad in politics?

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- Tom Brokaw has had enough of "bridgegate."

Appearing last week on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown," the veteran newsman lamented the fact that so many of his colleagues are stuck on the story of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's bridge problems. They can't stop talking about whether members of Christie's staff tried to harass the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey, by shutting down traffic lanes on the George Washington Bridge, and whether Christie was in on it.

Do you ever get the sense that the media are on Mars while most Americans are on Earth? This story confirms it. We've known that those who spoon-feed us the news march to their own drum, but now it's clear they have their own agenda. It's not to pass along the information that helps shape people's concerns, but rather to tell people what they should be concerned about. Like a traffic jam.

Brokaw put it this way: "I do think, across the country, however, when they're looking at long-term unemployment, and they're looking at the uncertainty of the Obamacare, they're saying, 'You've got to move on, guys.'"

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

I'm all for moving on. The media can start up again if it discovers evidence Christie knew about the lane closures and then lied about it.

But I'm also fond of self-awareness, especially from those of us in the media. So my message to Brokaw is: "Newsman, heal thy own network." In the last couple of weeks, it has begun to look like NBC stands for "Nothing But Christie."

According to the conservative media watchdog site, Newsbusters, since the bridge story broke on January 8, NBC News has aired more than 25 full reports in less than 10 days. The angry liberal talk show hosts on MSNBC are even worse, droning on about the bridge story day after day in what is a blatant attempt to smear Christie.

What do you suppose is more annoying? Being stuck in traffic for hours on a bridge -- or watching the media get stuck for days on a story about a juvenile stunt that might, or might not, bloom into a full-blown scandal?

I'd have to go with the latter, especially when you consider that the media seem addicted to the story in hopes that it could somehow derail the plans of a Republican presidential hopeful.

It's a long walk from one to the other, but see if you can follow me there. If Christie was in the loop, then he lied at his marathon press conference. If there is one thing that our friends in the Fourth Estate will not tolerate it's a liar. That is, at least not a Republican liar.

That's part of the problem with this, the sense that a story about partisanship run amok is itself partisan in the way it's being covered. Left-leaning elements of the media are trying to blow it up into a scandal to help clear the way for the likely Democratic presidential nominee -- Hillary Clinton.

The other problem is that too many Americans have quickly jumped to the wrong conclusion. No, not about whether Christie knew about the prank and conspired to inconvenience scores of New Jersey residents in order to bully a political opponent. I'm talking about the other conclusion -- the one about how being a bully is a negative trait in an elected official, and perhaps even enough to end a political career.

Is that so? Who made that determination? Think back to the great leaders who helped define the last century -- from Teddy Roosevelt to Winston Churchill to Franklin D. Roosevelt to Harry Truman to Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan. You had better believe that those people had moments when they acted like bullies. That's part of politics.

Besides, it seems like just yesterday that presidential candidates like George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis were trying to stiffen their upper lips and overcome the so-called "wimp factor." We Americans are a fickle bunch.

America could use more strength on the world stage. We needn't push around other countries, but -- whether we're talking about China or Libya or North Korea -- we also need a president who won't let our country be pushed around either.

Who's afraid of big, bad bullies? Voters aren't. They keep voting them into office -- perhaps in the hopes that they'll use their strength for good.

I'm still not sure that Christie knows how to do that. Yet, if he aspires to greatness, and to be the kind of leader that helps define this century, he had better learn fast.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

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