The Big Three networks' evening newscasts on Friday jumped on the latest development in the traffic scandal surrounding Chris Christie. NBC and CBS both led with the accusation from the former Christie appointee, who claims that the New Jersey governor knew more about the lane closures than he previously asserted. CBS's Scott Pelley trumpeted how "Chris Christie just got thrown under the bus in that traffic jam scandal that has jeopardized his presidential ambitions."
Brian Williams hyped the "explosive new allegations," and that "this scandal has again engulfed Chris Christie – embarrassingly on the eve of the Super Bowl, the first ever held in New Jersey." On World News, ABC's Diane Sawyer played up the "bombshell of a new accusation," and correspondent Jim Avila spotlighted that New Jersey's "largest newspaper has published this: 'Christie is now damaged goods. If... [the] disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the Governor must go.'" [MP3 audio available here; video below the jump]
Williams led the NBC Nightly News broadcast by wondering, "What did he know? Explosive new allegations about Chris Christie. Tonight, the man at the center of the bridge shutdown scandal says the governor isn't telling the whole truth. He says there's evidence to prove it." Moments later, the anchor continued with more hype:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Despite the governor's repeated denial tonight, this scandal has again engulfed Chris Christie – embarrassingly on the eve of the Super Bowl, the first ever held in New Jersey. Tonight, the state's leading newspaper is saying if this is true, the governor must resign, and Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz said tonight, Chris Christie needs to hire a criminal lawyer if he hasn't already.
NBC correspondent Katy Tur led her report by underlining that "it is important to note we don't know what the evidence is, the letter didn't specify. Also important to note: his lawyer is trying to get his legal fees paid for." However, she continued that "if this is substantiated, you have to wonder: how can Chris Christie survive this?"
Tur then outlined the accusations from former Port Authority executive David Wildstein, which were released through his lawyer. She included a soundbite from fellow NBC journalist Michael Isikoff, who contended that "this is a hugely significant development in the investigation. It's a direct challenge to the credibility of Governor Christie." He added a caveat: "But until we see the evidence that David Wildstein is talking about, it's very hard to know how to evaluate."
The NBC evening newscast followed Tur's report with a second Christie segment from correspondent Kelly O'Donnell, who reported on the response to Wildstein's allegations from the New Jersey's governor's administration. O'Donnell noted that "the timing is also interesting, because these new allegations come just as Christie is arguably getting some more favorable media attention as his state hosts the Super Bowl, and before Monday's deadline, when the responses to those subpoenas are due."
Pelley introduced correspondent Elaine Quijano's report with his "thrown under the bus" line. After Quijano gave a rundown of the scandal so far and the latest development, the CBS anchor pointed out "[it's] important for us to underline that the letter says that there is evidence, but it offers no evidence of Chris Christie's involvement."
ABC's World News didn't lead with the Christie story, but waited until eight minutes in. Sawyer led with her "bombshell" label, and turned to Avila, who first noted that "in the beginning, Governor Christie cynically mocked the notion that his office was behind the traffic mess that paralyzed Fort Lee, New Jersey for a week in September." He continued that "after a smoking gun e-mail from his deputy chief of staff – 'time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee' – he held a two-hour news conference, emphatically denying that he knew anything about what happened on the busiest bridge in America, until the traffic was long gone."
The ABC correspondent mentioned the Star-Ledger's analysis of Wildstein's allegation near the end of the segment: "Now, Wildstein says he can prove the governor was inaccurate at that press conference. And already, the state's largest newspaper has published this: 'Christie is now damaged goods. If Wildstein's disclosures are as powerful as he claims, the Governor must go.'"
A January 10, 2014 study from the Media Research Center found that in the first two days of the Christie bridge scandal, ABC, CBS, and NBC devoted 88 minutes to the story, compared to a mere two minutes for the last six months of President Obama's IRS controversy.
[Update: the transcripts of the Christie reports from ABC's World News; CBS Evening News; and NBC Nightly News on Friday can be read at MRC.org.]