Navarrette: Jeffrey Toobin should opine on the law, not journalism
SAN DIEGO – To kick off 2018, I have a deal for CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin: I pledge not to start practicing law if Toobin promises to stop talking about what does or does not constitute journalism.
Even though he is a long-time legal analyst and staff writer at The New Yorker, and has written several books, the Harvard-trained attorney has no experience working in daily journalism. So he has no business trying to define it.
As for me, well, after nearly 30 years of writing for newspapers, hosting radio shows, and doing television commentary, I've just about got it figured out.
Instead of doing what he's paid to do - i.e., comment on the law – Toobin spends much of his air time bashing the administration and waving his partisan colors.
During a recent appearance on CNN, Toobin attacked Fox News for providing the White House with "extremely favorable conditions." He was especially critical of the successful morning show "Fox & Friends" – which routinely outperforms CNN and the rest of its cable competition.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'm a former CNN contributor who appeared on the network for more than 20 years, and who now appears most often on Fox News.
Toobin suggested that the popularity of the Fox morning show is all about "access to the president" and that it is "not real journalism."
That's rich coming from someone who works for CNN, which has gone off the rails since Trump was sworn in and whose singular mission now seems to be bringing down the president.
This is a noble objective, if we're talking about the Democratic Party or liberal activists. But it's not the role of journalists, who are supposed to search for truth and not lead the resistance.
It's staggering that – as a CNN employee – Toobin would have the audacity to look down on anyone else's version of journalism, since his network has made more than its share of mistakes since Trump entered the political arena.
As any media observer can tell you, CNN has been fumbling the ball in the past few years. In fact, it could be argued, no single network has done more to diminish public trust in media than the granddaddy of cable news.
It starts at the top. CNN President Jeff Zucker is the same person who – while serving as president of NBC Entertainment – put Trump into millions of American homes as host of "The Apprentice." Practically since the moment Trump entered the political arena, he has bludgeoned CNN, Zucker and the network's reporters and anchors – often by name. In turn, CNN's on-air personalities have done little to hide their contempt for Trump. Here's a news flash: Personal agendas get in the way of doing good journalism.
CNN's reign of error has included:
• Eight reporters, anchors and executives attending, in April 2015, an off-the-record dinner at the New York home of Joel Benenson, chief campaign strategist for Hillary Clinton, just two days before the eventual Democratic nominee announced her candidacy in 2015. The meeting was held in secret, and no one reported or confirmed it until it was revealed by WikiLeaks.
• Piggybacking, in January 2017, on an unconfirmed BuzzFeed story about a tawdry dossier compiled by an ex-British spy that alleged the Russians had incriminating material – including the unverified claim that Trump caroused with prostitutes in Moscow. Brian Stelter, host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," at one point scolded BuzzFeed Editor Ben Smith for running the story. Stelter failed to mention that CNN had first reported on the existence of the dossier.
• Several months later, CNN contributor Van Jones being captured on hidden camera by Project Veritas declaring that "the Russia thing is just a big nothing-burger." After some called for Jones to be fired for helping overcook that nothing-burger by dwelling on the story, CNN's public relations department issued a statement saying the network values different views and that "diversity of personal opinion is what makes CNN strong."
• Having to later retract an inadequately sourced story posted on CNN.com. The article incorrectly claimed that Senate investigators were examining a meeting between Wall Street financier Anthony Scaramucci, who was a member of Trump's transition team, and an executive for the $10 billion Russian Direct Investment Fund, which invests in Russian companies. CNN was threatened with a $100 million lawsuit, and three CNN journalists responsible for the story resigned.
Is this what Jeffrey Toobin, a loyal soldier who has been with CNN since 2002, considers real journalism? If so, why would anyone take seriously what the legal analyst has to say about anything?