Behind That Photo of Chris Christie Wagging His Finger at a Teacher

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 4 2013 8:58 AM

Behind That Photo of Chris Christie Wagging His Finger at a Teacher

On Saturday, during a short reporting trip to New Jersey, I watched Gov. Chris Christie campaign in Somers Point and captured a moment that quickly got memed. Over the weekend I've seen the photo I tweeted of teacher Melissa Tomlinson being lectured by Christie get copied on dozens of Twitter accounts and blogs. This isn't a #humblebrag—just saying, I was surprised that "Christie takes exception to protesting teacher" was a story in November 2013.

But here's what I saw. After the rally, Christie made his way back to his campaign bus, flanked by low-key security guards. Tomlinson, who had been carrying a sign and handing out fliers from her Badass Teachers Association, asked Christie why he'd called New Jersey schools "failure factories." Christie rounded on her, blurting out that he was sick of "you people."

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 7.10.35 AM

"This story—oh really? They have more money now than they’ve ever had before. This is an old story from you folks, and they fail because you guys are failing in those schools. Have you ever sent your child to one of those schools?

"You portray us as the bad guys," said Tomlinson.

"Guess what, this is the most money the school has ever spent on education in the history of this state," said Christie.

"It is not," said Tomlinson.

"$9 billion in education!" yelled an onlooker.

"Yeah, and it’s down 0.1 percent," said Tomlinson.

"And it’s never enough for you," said Christie.

"All I want is money for my students and my school," said Tomlinson.

"Do your job," said Christie, turning away and heading into the bus.

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 7.11.49 AM

The crowd of Christie supporters cheered. "Good for him!" yelled the guy who'd supplied the $9 billion number. An elderly woman turned to Tomlinson and told her "you’re in the wrong place, hon."

"I know," said Tomlinson with a shrug.

Most people commenting on the photo have gotten the details right, but I've noticed some (occasionally rude) remarks about the expression on Christie's wife's face. Mary Pat Christie smiled through the entire talk-off. Why? Because a local NBC News camera was facing her, capturing the scene. Two days later, I don't see any trace of the video online. Is that a statement on how ordinary the confrontation was? Possibly. I think it's also a reflection of the front-runner coverage boosting Christie as the race ends, as the polls showing him winning (with up to 37 percent of voters not even knowing who is opponent is) are taken as prima facie evidence that he's running a faultless campaign. The day after this little contretemps, one of north Jersey's major papers ran an analysis of how the governor's tone had moderated so much recently.

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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