Name: Matt Katz
What he does: Reporter, WNYC/New Jersey Public Radio; author, “American Governor: Chris Christie’s Bridge to Redemption”
Why he matters: Since the release of his book last month, Katz has become New Jersey’s highest-profile journalist covering Christie, not just on public radio but also on other media outlets following the governor’s presidential bid. But his story before the book has some twists of its own, including several journalistic ventures outside of New Jersey politics.
All in the timing: Katz first broached the idea of writing a book about Christie in the fall of 2013 when he was still a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Within a few months, Katz got a new job at WNYC, Christie won the gubernatorial election in a landslide, and the Bridgegate scandal erupted.
Bridgegate, especially: “It made the book better, but it certainly complicated the process … It was like a whole ‘nother book.”
All in the timing, part 2: The release of the book was a race against Christie’s own presidential ambitions and political fate. The January 18 publication date preceded by less than a month the Iowa caucuses and yesterday’s New Hampshire primary.
B.C., as in ‘Before Christie’: Katz started with the Daily Record of Morris County in 2000, and then moved to the Courier Post, where he wrote extensively on Camden, especially its schools.
Dating dateline: Less noticed was Katz’s dating and relationship column that was syndicated by Gannett newspapers. He must have been onto something, since Katz himself moved into a relationship.
“It was first called Dateline, then Bachelor Pad, and then Gender Lines,” he said. “It wasn’t so much advice as a first-person account about how dating and relationships have changed.”
Next stop: Katz moved to the Philadelphia Inquirer and continued to cover Camden, embarking on a project on the state’s takeover of the city and its finances. It gave him his first taste of South Jersey’s famous politics. From there, he launched the “Christie Chronicles” blog that caught WNYC’s eye.
Stint in Afghanistan: In between, he had a chance to be a correspondent for the Inquirer in Afghanistan, where he was embedded in an military reconstruction team for three weeks and then reported from Kabul for another week.
The real war zone: It’s may be a bit tempting to compare Kabul and Camden, given the state of dysfunction and government ineffectiveness in both. But it ends there, Katz said. “We faced mortar shells at the base in Afghanistan, and that never happened in Camden.”
Never worried: Katz said he never thought Christie would withdraw from the race before the first caucuses and primaries — or the release of his book. “I think there was some concern with the publisher, but I had no doubt in my mind that he’d still be running.”
The book’s lesson: “The takeaway is the irony of a politician who began his career on a platform of ethics reform and became governor on the strength of his record as a corruption buster but who ended up embroiled in a national political scandal that may have permanently prevented him from becoming president of the United States. The book, as I see it, is the making, and unmaking, of an American presidential candidate.”
The ‘cones’ quote: Before it was front-page news, it was Katz who asked Christie about the George Washington Bridge traffic jam, prompting Christie’s now-famous line trying to dismiss the issue: “I worked the cones, actually.”
Little did he know: At the time, Katz didn’t think much about the yet-to-emerge scandal. “I was just on the job (at WNYC), and I actually don’t think I even recorded (the cones quote) right.”
Christie ground rules: Katz twice interviewed the governor under the condition that anything Christie said would have to wait for the book. “That was an agreement I made with him and my editors were aware of,” Katz said.
Christie’s reaction: In a press conference after the book’s release, Christie maintained he hadn’t read the book and had no plans to do so.
Personal: Katz lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two young children.