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On Fox News, Wasting Taxpayer Money Is OK If You’re Republican Darling Chris Christie

Reported by Ellen - November 11, 2010 -

While the Republicans and Fox News boast about attacking spending in Washington, it’s amazing how fast they sing a different tune when it’s a Democrat trying to save taxpayer dollars. No sooner did the Inspector General at the Department of Justice release a report criticizing conservative darling Chris Christie’s extravagant travel expenses than Fox News pundits took to the airwaves to defend and spin them and to baselessly accuse the Obama Justice Department of going after Christie for political reasons.

As NJ.Com reported, the DOJ found Christie to be “the U.S. attorney who most often exceeded the government (travel-expense) rate without adequate justification” and that he offered “insufficient, inaccurate or no justification” for most of the excessive costs in 2007 and 2008.

NJ.Com also noted,

Inspectors singled out a stay at the Four Seasons in Washington that cost more than double the approved rate of $233 per night, and took issue with Christie’s decision to pay $236 round trip for a car service in Boston instead of taking a taxi for four miles.

Christie declined to be interviewed as part of the examination, but his secretary at the time was questioned. Inspectors said memos submitted by Christie and his secretary contained misleading statements, saying "that the government lodging rate was not available in the particular city on the particular dates ... According to the U.S. attorney’s secretary, the language of the memoranda did not literally mean that there were ‘no hotels available at the government rate in the particular city’ but that the government rate was not available at the hotel or hotels that fit her criteria — a ‘decent’ hotel at or near the meeting site."

Christie was discussed on at least two Fox News shows yesterday (11/10/10): America Live with Megyn Kelly and The O’Reilly Factor. Christie’s “the-government-lodging-rate-was-not-available” defense was put forward without question, without noting that it was not quite credible and without noting just how excessive some of the costs were. Also not noted (though it was brought up by one of the America Live guests) was that Christie’s extravagance was quite a contrast to his war on government spending and the high costs of salaries and benefits for public officials. There's no doubt in my mind that if Christie were a Democrat or an African American welfare recipient, those points would have been made blaringly obvious on Fox.

FoxNews.com did its part for the Christie cause not just by posting videos of the discussion on its website but by giving the America Live segment the Cavuto mark of a title, Left Trying to Damage Chris Christie?

Host Kelly described Christie’s infractions as “breaking federal travel regulations… basically staying at nicer hotels than the federal budget allowed.” We’re not talking The Holiday Inn instead of EconoLodge here. We’re talking a $475-per-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, justified, according to Christie, because an early-morning speech was scheduled at the hotel. Kelly did obliquely mention the name of the Four Seasons later in the segment but she left out the $475 figure.

“It all amounted to $2,100 in questionable expense account items. $2,100 bucks,” Kelly said dismissively. She added suggestively, “Why is this being raised now?” Rather than investigate – and this show does air during what Fox calls its “objective news" lineup – Kelly held a debate between two people with no inside knowledge.

Other than the Beckian “the timing is coincidental so it must be something evil on the part of liberals” suggestion, Kelly offered no evidence to show that Christie was actually being targeted. But on Fox, evidence is not needed – when a Democrat is under suspicion. “There’s a question now, his name keeps getting mentioned about a possible 2012 presidential contender and there’s a question about whether that’s why he’s being targeted.” Kelly said.

Later, Bill O’Reilly struck the same theme, made the same omissions in Christie’s record and put forth the same unfounded counter-attack, this time in the O’Reilly Factor Talking Points he called Desperation on the Far Left.

Before getting to the DOJ’s “desperation,” O’Reilly harped some more about Dana Milbank. I hate to break this to you, Bill, but your Milbank obsession is making you look like the desperate one. But I digress.

“Far more serious is what the Justice Department is now doing to Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey,” O’Reilly continued. “…So now Attorney General Eric Holder is putting out that Christie did not properly follow hotel guidelines while he was a federal prosecutor for six years. The amount in question: about $2,000. Now you don’t have to be Dana Milbank to know this is bogus. The Justice Department isn’t accusing Governor Christie, it’s just pointing out his accounting was a bit lax.

Not quite. The Justice Department is pointing out that Christie was being extravagant and couldn’t justify the charges.

“But why?” O’Reilly asked. “Doesn’t Holder have anything more important to do?” Of course, the same question could be asked about Fox News – unless they’re planning on banking all their GOP marbles on Christie - who insists he’s not running – in 2012.

Nevertheless O’Reilly continued gravely, “This is a desperate attempt to denigrate Governor Christie, is it not? What other explanation is there for this? The governor should just write Holder a check for two grand and send it to him. Preposterous.”

Then O’Reilly brought on Karl Rove. He, too, took a detour to attack “snarky Dana Milbank.” It struck me as hilariously ironic that the King of Dirty Tricks should start whining about Milbank being a meanie. Rove called him “generally bitter and brittle and nasty to people on the center and right of American politics.”

Fox News producers helpfully posted on the lower third not just the name of Rove’s book but that it’s “now out in paperback with bonus chapter.”

Back to Christie again, O’Reilly groused misleadingly, “All it is is that he stayed in hotels… that cost above what the feds usually have. Six years – that’s less than $350 a year. Now why would the Attorney General of the United States have his guys put that out now? It doesn’t mean anything.”

Rove cagily reiterated the dubious “we-couldn’t-get-a-government-rate-room” (at the Four Seasons) defense and then furthered the attack on the DOJ. “Here’s the point, what is the Attorney General of the United States picking up on a discarded and discredited political attack launched during (Christie’s gubernatorial) campaign and bringing it up now?”

Then Rove, a key player in the Bush administration, the administration with a real scandal over a politicized DOJ, began to attack the Obama DOJ for being politicized. I’ve repeatedly said that Fox News is setting up that department as the next ACORN and here was another indication of it. Rove said, “There’s a very interesting piece on the politicization of the Justice Department under Holder.” Naturally, Rove brought up how the DOJ “tossed out the Black Panther case – completely political. We know that we have now two career people inside the Civil Rights Division decrying the new attitude from the political suite at the Department of Justice down through the career, saying ‘This is the kind of cases we’re going to take and this is the kind of cases we aren’t.' And look, we know that they mishandled (the Governor Siegelman case)… This is a very political Justice Department which is very scary.”

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