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Jun 24th 2008

CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin has a mind like a steel trap

Monday on CNN, Wolf Blitzer, Jack Cafferty, Jeffrey Toobin, and Gloria Borger discussed Charlie Black’s statement in Fortune magazine, where he suggested that a terrorist attack on America would turn voters to his guy, McCain. The CNN people piled on about how bad the comment was (the group collectively expressed shock, Cafferty called it “breathtakingly stupid”, etc). CNN showed a contrite McCain denouncing the statement, put up the apology from the original guy who said it, and speculated about how damaging it would be to McCain. Then — and this is what I really liked about the segment — CNN’s Jeff Toobin goes on to utter practically the same taboo statement he and his colleagues just took turns denouncing, except he says it from the opposite side.

Yes, Jeffrey Toobin said a terrorist attack on America before the election would actually inure to Obama’s benefit. Not a particularly dumb statement by Jeff Toobin’s low standards, and not particularly troubling to me. What bothers me, however, is the context: To advance an “atrocity” identical to the one your network has just spent an entire prime-time segment denouncing? Amazing. The phrase, “breathtakingly stupid” comes to mind:

BLITZER: ….Chief McCain strategist Charlie Black is quoted in the new issue of “Fortune” magazine as saying a new attack on America would be — and let me quote him specifically — a big advantage to John McCain. The Obama camp now responding, calling that remark a complete disgrace.

Let’s discuss this and more with our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger. She’s here in Washington. Also joining us in New York, our own Jack Cafferty; and our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin. They’re part of the best political team on television.

Wolf needs to knock on wood every time he says that. Continue reading and you’ll see what I mean:

Jack, the specific quote from Charlie Black in “Fortune” magazine referring to when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan back in December, before the New Hampshire primary, which McCain desperately needed to win. Black is quoted as saying, “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it re-emphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be commander-in-chief and it helped us. Certainly, it would be a big advantage to him.”

Is this a big deal or a little deal?

CAFFERTY: Well, that’s talking about the Benazir Bhutto thing. The quote that’s the big deal is about another terrorist attack on America.

Do you have that handy?

BLITZER: Right. He said it would be a big advantage.

CAFFERTY: Well, I mean it’s just a breathtakingly stupid thing to say. However, it’s probably true. And in the twisted logic of politics, John McCain is perceived as the guy who is more capable of handling the war on terror. So it’s probably true. But you just don’t say stuff like that in polite company — not that we’re polite company, but we’re company and you don’t talk that way to us.

BLITZER: Yes. I think Jack makes an excellent point, Gloria.

I want you to listen to John McCain, when he was in told about this quote in “Fortune” magazine, how he responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN: I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true. It’s — I’ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Gloria?

GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, can you tell he’s just a little irritated…

BLITZER: Yes.

BORGER: …by even having to answer a question about this?

Look, Charlie Black made a mistake. He apologized for it. The Obama campaign will volley back and forth, no doubt, with him about it. But I think Jack is right. I think when you get to the bottom line here, everything in the McCain campaign is going to be seen through the prism of natural security, including the economy, including oil, including energy, because that’s their strength and we know it.

But should Charlie Black have said that?

No. And he knows he shouldn’t have said it and he apologized.

BLITZER: And, Jeff, the McCain campaign put out a statement just a little while ago saying, “Charlie deeply regrets his comments. They were inappropriate and he recognizes that the candidate we work for has devoted his entire adult life to putting — protecting this country and placing its security before every other consideration.”

That statement from the McCain campaign.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST, “NEW YORKER” MAGAZINE COLUMNIST: You know, I don’t think this is a big deal. This is probably a one day story that will go away. But I’d just like to disagree with both Jack and Gloria about this in the grotesque calculus of who benefits. I don’t think this would help McCain if something terrible like this would happen. 9/11 was a one time deal.

“there is no terrorist threat! there is no terrorist threat!” — Michael Moore…except that caused by George Bush’s policies, which have made us less safe:

If our defenses fail again, I think that would only be — re- emphasize the message of change that Obama is bringing.

So I certainly hope we never find out.

In other words, Jeffrey, you’re saying it would be a big advantage to the Obama campaign if we were attacked again like on 9/11?

Note this, folks: CNN rounded up a group of people to discuss how grotesque and terrible it was for McCain’s guy to postulate his candidate would have an advantage in the election if there were another terrorist attack between now and November. Then Jeffrey Toobin points out that, actually, Obama would benefit from another terrorist attack on this country because it would re-emphasize his “message of change.”

BORGER: Well, I wasn’t thinking…

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: But I don’t think the…

CAFFERTY: They attacked…

BORGER: I wasn’t speaking to what…

CAFFERTY: They attacked the World Trade Center in 1993. It wasn’t a one time deal.

BORGER: And I wasn’t saying that it would necessarily benefit McCain, because I really don’t know the answer. And we shouldn’t even be talking about it. So, you know, I mean what I’m saying is that his campaign wants to talk about national security, wants to talk about the question of terrorism because in all the polls, the public trusts McCain more than Obama on these issues.

BLITZER: And on that point, Jeff, the new quote “USA Today”/Gallup Poll asked who would do a better job on the issue of terrorism. Obama wins on almost every other major issue.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: But on terrorism, Obama gets 33 percent, McCain gets 52 percent.

TOOBIN: That’s now.

But if there is a problem in the future, who knows if that will be the same the same — the same calculus?

I agree with Gloria. I think this is really kind of a grisly, unpleasant discussion and we shouldn’t discuss it. But since Charlie Black brought up the subject, I think in addition to being distasteful, he really might be wrong, as well.

….because Obama’s message of change will resonate with people after they see George Bush’s policies have made us less safe. Ok. That’s your second foray into grisly, terrible hypothetical land. Charlie Black made that journey once, and he has apologized and endured a CNN pile-on. Jeffrey Toobin just said it twice, and Wolf doesn’t bat an eye (Query: Which CNN anchor is more of a pushover — Larry King or Wolf Blitzer?) I wonder if the Obama camp will object like it did to Black’s statement, and call Toobin’s words “a complete disgrace”….

[Read the full CNN transcript here]

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