Christie released a timely enough statement: "This behavior is not representative of me or my administration in any way, and people will be held responsible for their actions." Next day, he did a masterful job, when, at a marathon news conference, he stood for 108 minutes, took responsibility, announced he had fired key staff, and fielded many questions.
"Under the circumstances," says G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, "what he did was as good as it could possibly have been."
And on Tuesday, Christie delivered his State of the State address. He acknowledged the fracas right at the top - "mistakes were clearly made and as a result, we let down the people we're entrusted to serve" - but also noted accomplishments and charted future policies.
Madonna notes that "the applause was surprisingly enthusiastic. He was very shrewd to keep stressing, to a Democratic-controlled legislature, bipartisanship, 'Look at everything we've done together.' It's absolutely textbook."
At one time, not so long ago, "textbook" would have helped grab back a story on the loose. Not now.
It was already a day old, a lifetime in today's media world, when Christie took the lectern Thursday. By then, thousands of other voices had taken over.
And among those voices, there was scant respect for office - a casualty since the Web was first woven in 1991. Harper notes that Christie is "being hammered from both left and right. Democrats sense weakness and are going for a political takedown, and meantime, a lot of conservatives have never liked him and have been hammering him, too."
Advice was free. Minutes after the documents first emerged, many were dispensing it. Former presidential adviser Ari Fleischer tweeted: "If I were Christie, I would go on camera, show how angry he is, dismiss his staff and apologize to the public - and the mayor. Be blunt." And he was. Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) advised him to "answer every question" - and he did.
But comics also came out in force. Albert Brooks: "If you believe Christie knew nothing about those e-mails, there's a bridge I want to clog up for you." The writer Joyce Carol Oates tweeted the headline "Governor Throws Aide Under Bus," and comic Steve Martin added: "However, bus stalled in traffic." David Corn had an especially Jersey-centric quip: "Christie releases statement: 'The highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.' "
Throughout the news conference, it just continued. Myriad voices analyzed, debunked, and hate-tweeted, creating an entire other narrative. Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee tweeted what became a major debating point: "Biggest lie of this presser: This was not the culture I created for this office."
Same for the State of the State. Dell Poncet of the Philadelphia Business Journal tweeted: "Christie: Scandal 'does not define us or our state' Of course not, 'The Sopranos' does."
As ever, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central gave command performances, with Stewart stressing the "Jerseyness" of Christie, and Colbert his "108-minute someone-else-a-culpa."
Who tells the story? Everyone and no one. Even as Christie sought to turn from scandal to the future, the Web sizzled about a meeting he had, during the bridge slowdown, with David Wildstein, a staffer who allegedly ordered it. What does it mean? It almost doesn't matter. The story, like its tellers, goes where it will.
As Harper says, "Now we're leaping from Bridgegate to misuse of Hurricane Sandy relief funds. I don't know what you can do on Facebook, Twitter, reddit, or YouTube. How do you stave that off?"
"So many people, so many tools, so many sources, and a changing attitude toward reporting," Madonna says. "That changes campaigns, it changes politics. It's never been so fast, and no one can catch up."