Truth, Lies, And Traffic Cones: Why Bridgegate Is The Perfect Post-Truth Scandal

What did Chris Christie know and when did he know it? The truth may not set you free.

Truth, Lies, And Traffic Cones: Why Bridgegate Is The Perfect Post-Truth Scandal
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey

“Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee.”


While those words were first typed in an email by Bridget Anne Kelly, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s now-former deputy chief of staff, way back in September of 2013, their full impact wasn’t felt until this past November.

That’s when Kelly and her literal partner in crime, David Wildstein at the traffic-and-transportation-managing Port Authority governmental agency, were found guilty on all charges related to the lane-closing scandal that’s come to be known as Bridgegate.

How an 8-word email exploded into a full-on, “gate”-worthy political disaster is a rich and sordid tale of the kind that Jersey-based characters are so good at producing.

As the legend goes: Christie and his crew were miffed that Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich had not fallen in line with other state democrats and endorsed Christie’s re-election bid. To punish him, Kelly and other administration officials conspired with tight contacts at the Port Authority to close two of three local access lanes from Fort Lee, N.J., to the George Washington Bridge, which you probably know is the busiest bridge in the world, traffic-ly speaking. The lanes remained closed for four days, causing the worst traffic jam in the area since September 11, 2001.

George Washington Bridge[Photo: Flickr user Jason Devaun]

A couple of weeks after the closings, democratic New Jersey officials began an investigation into the event. Initially, truth-challenged Port Authority reps told investigators that the lanes had been closed as part of a “traffic study.” While that was not true at the time, it is kind of true now in the sense that Bridgegate is part of our end-of-year “study” of the post-truth era, and we hope it will yield good traffic. (Quotation marks: another good way to implicitly question the truth of a thing.)

Throughout the entire ordeal, Christie has pleaded innocence, which could easily be confused for cluelessness. He’s repeatedly said that he had no idea his closest aides were concocting such an ambitious revenge strategy. But being the totally un-dick-ish person that he is, the guvnah did have to mock the closings when the investigation was initiated. Early on, he called the whole thing “not that big a deal,” and joked that he had moved traffic cones himself to assist with the closings. He claimed that the plan was not political retribution, and denied that his staff was involved.


All of which has since been proved to be untrue. The biggest remaining question–and one we will likely never know the complete answer to–is whether or not Christie was telling the truth when he said he knew nothing about the lane closings during the planning and execution phase. According to the New York Times, testimony at the trial of Kelly and Wildstein suggested that the New Jersey governor actually did know about the plot, even as it was being set in motion.

In a post-truth world, Christie will almost certainly never face charges related to Bridgegate. So the pro-truth among us–those still happy to be members of the “reality-based community” once derided by a George W. Bush staffer–must seek solace elsewhere. Perhaps it can be found in Chris Christie’s plummeting poll numbers. In September, three years after Bridgegate broke, the diminished figures crashed into what one political reporter called “Nixon territory.” His favorable ratings? Twenty-three percent.

No matter how you feel about the shamed governor, so humiliatingly cast aside by the Trump transition team recently, I think we can all agree on one thing: those numbers don’t lie.