As you may have heard, the popular gossip website Gawker, with the help of the New Jersey ACLU, recently filed a civil complaint against New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie’s sin? Invoking executive privilege to conceal a dinner with Fox News chief Roger Ailes.
The mini-scandal lost momentum when Christie confirmed a schedule entry showing his dinner with Ailes. Gawker, in response, said they would likely withdraw their complaint. But I wonder if this was merely the opening salvo.
The media’s interest in transparency and executive privilege is obvious. But early reports indicated the lawsuit was about much more than simply finding out whether or not the two men dined together. As the New York Times reported Sunday, the lawsuit stated that “A strong public interest exists in knowing whether the executive in charge of the nation’s most-watched cable news channel is acting as a political consultant to a prospective Republican presidential candidate.”
This, of course, is highly presumptuous. The notion that occasionally offering informal, unpaid advice (there is no evidence that Ailes even offered advice to Christie) qualifies someone as a “political consultant” is dubious. And even if true, the notion would hardly be unique or shocking.
As Jonathan Alter recounted in his book, “The Defining Moment,” after Franklin Roosevelt’s speeches were criticized for being too “timid and unfocused,” the New York Herald Tribune’s Ernest K. Lindley actually volunteered to write a speech for FDR. Alter goes on to note that Lindley’s speech “became what Sam Rosenman called a ‘watchword’ for the New Deal.”
Alter editorialized that Lindley’s blatant and unethical behavior would likely get him fired today, but I’m not sure.
Two years ago, it was revealed that George Stephanopoulos (then-host of ABC News’ “This Week”) participated in daily conference calls with Democratic strategists, including then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. As Politico reported, Emanuel even “turned for advice” to the group when deciding whether to leave his congressional seat and accept the position in the Obama White House.
Rather than being fired, Stephanopoulos was made anchor of “Good Morning America.”
One wonders what other advice might have been offered during those calls. Will Gawker try to track down those records, too?