For Christie and MSNBC, a Messy Divorce Plays Out in Public View

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from The New York Times,

It was a match made in moderately minded Northeast Corridor heaven.

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey needed a TV network that would burnish his bipartisan bona fides and showcase his gleefully contrarian style. MSNBC craved a Republican who cut against the party grain and lit up the screen with his everyman-ish, Springsteen-loving spontaneity.

An on-air romance blossomed, forged over chummy strolls along the Jersey Shore and heart-to-hearts in the studio about everything from overeating to education, embodying the aisle-crossing aspirations of this partisan era.

Now, the improbable relationship between a governor with his eyes on the White House and a network determined to break into the top tier, up to now so beneficial to both, has curdled in a spectacularly public fashion.

Mr. Christie is confronting the worst crisis of his career, stemming from his aides’ role in shutting down approach lanes to the George Washington Bridge. The governor’s predicament is a ratings bonanza for MSNBC, whose left-leaning viewers are eating up every development in the sordid scandal.

Over the weekend, Mr. Christie, who has appeared on MSNBC many times since taking office, angrily denounced it as a “partisan network” that is “almost gleeful in their efforts attacking” him. Christie aides have called it a “feeding frenzy.”

“There is a difference between treating this matter seriously and seeking out the truth and irresponsibly using hearsay and conjecture without confirming the facts,” Colin Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Christie, said on Sunday. Feelings are frayed on both sides. Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who makes no secret of her affection for Mr. Christie, seemed taken aback by the governor’s harsh critique.

“I was a little surprised when he took a jab at us,” she said in an interview on Sunday.

“I don’t think it’s legitimate to say this is a partisan attack,” she added. “I think this is a very real story, with legs.”

MSNBC executives and hosts said the tale of power, revenge and traffic had riveted its audience, and they made no apologies for their near-saturation coverage.

That appetite has permeated the network. Over the nine-day period since the controversy erupted, MSNBC has dedicated nearly twice as much coverage to Mr. Christie as CNN and about three times as much as Fox News, according to Mediaite.

It appears to be playing well with viewers: For the week of Jan. 6, when the story began to gain national attention, Rachel Maddow, who had pursued the story for more than a month, scored a rare weekly win, beating the perennial ratings leader Fox News among the coveted 25 to 54 viewer category. It was the first time Ms. Maddow, the network’s star host, had won a ratings week in more than a year.

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