In a state where the once-mighty local press has atrophied to a scrappy few, and faced with a governor who detests the news media with such vigor that he once introduced a bill nicknamed âthe newspaper revenge bill,â the unflattering photograph of the governor lounging seaside with his family was a big victory for the state news media contingent that has been a thorn in his side.
Hours after Mr. Christie was spotted on the sand, Claude Brodesser, a reporter for The Star-Ledger, asked the governor if he had gotten any sun.
Mr. Christie curtly responded that he had not and hurled an unrelated insult at Mr. Brodesser.
But in The Star Ledgerâs newsroom, Mr. Mills and his editor, Kevin Whitmer, were poring over the photographs. They had originally planned to fly over the stateâs beaches on the Fourth of July, as they do every year, but Mr. Mills, a veteran Jersey Shore photographer, thought they might get Mr. Christie on Sunday.
For years, major and local newspapers owned planes to take aerial shots. But as budgets have withered over the years, renting a plane is increasingly rare, but The Star-Ledger and Mr. Mills were willing to take the risk.
Shortly after Mr. Mills arrived at Monmouth Executive Airport on Sunday, he spotted the governorâs helicopter idling next to a plane â mounting evidence that Mr. Christie was by the ocean.
When The Star-Ledger sought the governorâs response to the photographs, Mr. Christieâs office tried to turn it into a joke, âHe did not get any sun. He had a baseball hat on,â was the official statement from Mr. Christieâs spokesman, Brian Murray. But as soon as the photographs were published, criticism, condemnation and laughs at the governorâs expense rained down.
âAttn Chris: When Springsteen sang, âDown the shore everythingâs all right,â Iâm pretty sure this is not what he had in mind,â Preet Bharara, a former United States attorney, wrote in a tweet, adding an extra hashtag, #JerseyGirl.
The images of the governor, head tilted back in rumpled black shirt, mesh shorts and flip flops, quickly became a meme and ricocheted around social media. Soon the lounging governor found himself Photoshopped into the Oval Office next to a kneeling Kellyanne Conway, in an apocalyptic scene from âPlanet of the Apesâ or gazing longingly at Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, locked in their iconic surfside embrace from the movie âFrom Here to Eternity.â