CNN's Toobin knocks media for "gullib[ility]," which Blitzer and Todd had just demonstrated

››› ››› ANDREW WALZER

On CNN's The Situation Room, Jeffrey Toobin asserted that the media are "being kind of gullible in falling for" Sen. John McCain's announcement that he was going to suspend his campaign. Minutes earlier, however, Wolf Blitzer and correspondent Brian Todd had repeatedly asserted as fact that McCain "suspend[ed]" his campaign, without noting, as Toobin did, that McCain ads were running; that his surrogates repeatedly attacked Sen. Barack Obama on cable networks; or that McCain gave interviews with the three broadcast networks following his "suspension."

On the September 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin asserted that the media are "being kind of gullible in falling for" Sen. John McCain's September 24 announcement that he was going to suspend his campaign. Toobin noted that McCain campaign television ads were running and that McCain himself has "been campaigning all day. He gave a speech in New York. He's giving interviews all night. He's raising money. His surrogates are attacking [Sen.] Barack Obama." Minutes earlier, however, host Wolf Blitzer and correspondent Brian Todd had themselves repeatedly asserted as fact that McCain "suspend[ed]" his presidential campaign, without noting, as Toobin did, that McCain ads were running; that his surrogates repeatedly attacked Obama on cable news networks; or that McCain gave interviews with the three broadcast networks the day following his announcement. Nor did Blitzer or Todd give any indication that they had attempted to determine if the campaign had in fact stopped; by contrast, according to reporter Sam Stein, The Huffington Post "called up 15 McCain-Palin and McCain Victory Committee headquarters in various battleground states. Not one said that it was temporarily halting operations because of the supposed 'suspension' in the campaign."

According to a Media Matters for America search* of the TVEyes.com database, McCain campaign ads ran dozens of times on local stations during the three-hour broadcast of The Situation Room, between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET.

Following an interview with Obama on The Situation Room, Blitzer said: "Happening now: Acting on instinct, John McCain says the nation's economic crisis calls for all hands on deck and suspends his campaign. Barack Obama says the race and Friday's debate should stay on course. Who made the right move?" Introducing Todd's report, Blitzer said: "A very controversial move he [McCain] made yesterday, Brian, to suspend his political campaign, if you will, and to postpone that first presidential debate, unless a deal on the bailout is achieved. Now, what are you hearing?"

Todd then said, "Well, Wolf, John McCain's gamble here is astounding, suspending the campaign with five-and-a-half weeks left in the race." During his report, Todd stated: "McCain's aides say the move to suspend his campaign was made with deliberation after constant talks with experts and party leaders. Others believe this was also bare-knuckle instinct," adding, "We spoke to a man who's been in the room when McCain's made decisions like this. He's Roy Fletcher, deputy campaign manager for McCain in 2000. Fletcher wasn't there on Wednesday, but suspects it played out like this." He then aired a clip of Fletcher saying: "He walked into a room and said, 'Gentlemen, we are going to suspend the campaign and we're also going to -- we're going to suspend the debate, and we're going to go to Washington and we're going to get this business done, and you guys figure out how to handle it.' " Todd also said: "Former aides say in making his boldest decisions, McCain is genuinely motivated by moral conviction -- putting country before self. CNN analyst David Gergen agrees, but says this move on the financial crisis was not without political calculation."

Toobin later accused the media of "being kind of gullible" and said of McCain's actions: "I think this is posturing of being apolitical and, frankly, I think we're being kind of gullible in falling for it. He didn't stop his campaign. He's campaigning."

From the September 25 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

BLITZER: And, to our viewers, you're in The Situation Room. Happening now: Acting on instinct, John McCain says the nation's economic crisis calls for all hands on deck and suspends his campaign. Barack Obama says the race and Friday's debate should stay on course. Who made the right move?

Both candidates joined today's unprecedented White House meeting on a government bailout plan. Only a few weeks away from Election Day, the economy now stands squarely as an issue, the issue. It's issue number one. We'll examine who stands to gain, who stands to lose politically from the downturn -- all of this coming up, plus the best political team on television.

Lots of news happening today. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in The Situation Room.

Whether or not you agree with what Senator John McCain did and is doing, there's general agreement on this. It could help or hurt his presidential hopes; it won't be neutral.

Let's go to Brian Todd. He's speaking to people who know Senator McCain rather well. A very controversial move he made yesterday, Brian, to suspend his political campaign, if you will, and to postpone that first presidential debate, unless a deal on the bailout is achieved. Now, what are you hearing?

TODD: Well, Wolf, John McCain's gamble here is astounding, suspending the campaign with five-and-a-half weeks left in the race. If the timing on a deal in the financial bailout doesn't go his way, he could be seen as reckless, desperate, trying to recapture his poll position in this race. If it turns in his favor, it could be a huge political score. So we tried to gain some insight into how John McCain arrived at this decision.

[begin video clip]

TODD: John McCain says he's just tapping into his training.

McCAIN: I'm an old Navy pilot and I know when a crisis calls for all hands on deck.

TODD: McCain's aides say the move to suspend his campaign was made with deliberation after constant talks with experts and party leaders. Others believe this was also bare-knuckle instinct.

We spoke to a man who's been in the room when McCain's made decisions like this. He's Roy Fletcher, deputy campaign manager for McCain in 2000. Fletcher wasn't there on Wednesday, but suspects it played out like this.

FLETCHER: He walked into a room and said, "Gentlemen, we are going to suspend the campaign and we're also going to -- we're going to suspend the debate, and we're going to go to Washington and we're going to get this business done, and you guys figure out how to handle it."

TODD: Fletcher and other former aides say if there was dissent in the room, McCain probably listened to it, then pressed ahead anyway. They describe him as a man willing to do his research and gather consensus. But then, they say, he goes purely on his gut, is willing to gamble, but not recklessly. The selection of Sarah Palin: part of that pattern.

TERRY NELSON (former McCain campaign manager): He is somebody who does have a tendency to kind of want to shake things up a little bit. And the Palin decision, you know, shook things up because she was an unconventional choice, in some respects, and she was, you know, not a choice that, you know, a lot of people had talked about.

TODD: Former aides say in making his boldest decisions, McCain is genuinely motivated by moral conviction -- putting country before self. CNN analyst David Gergen agrees, but says this move on the financial crisis was not without political calculation.

GERGEN: And he's doing this, in part, also to rescue his campaign, because this, you know, financial meltdown was driving him down in the polls and allowing Barack Obama to go up.

[end video clip]

TODD: Now, if this move backfires, don't expect a lot of navel-gazing from John McCain. His former aides back him up on a quote from his 2002 book that's called Worth the Fighting For.

Here's the quote: "I don't torture myself over decisions. I make them as quickly as I can, quicker than the other fellow, if I can. Often my haste is a mistake, but I live with the consequences without complaint," end quote.

Wolf, it looks like we're going to see about those consequences, maybe within a matter of hours.

BLITZER: All right, Brian. Good work. Thank you.

In the long run, whose response to the current economic crisis was right? Would it be McCain's or Obama's? Let's discuss this and more: joining us from New York, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; also, our senior analyst, Jeff Toobin; and here in Washington, Steve Hayes, the senior writer for The Weekly Standard.

What do you think about this amazing day -- Gloria? Whose instincts were right? Would it be McCain or Obama?

BORGER: At this point, I'm wondering if John McCain is second-guessing his decision, but as Brian Todd said, he doesn't do a lot of that.

I think this has to play out, Wolf. And I think -- I think House Republicans now hold John McCain's fate in their hands. And House Republicans, by the way, these conservative Republicans, they don't like John McCain very much. They never have. They opposed him on immigration reform. And they're trying to distance themselves from an unpopular president, as well. So they don't like any of the Republicans who are sitting in that negotiating room right now.

BLITZER: Steve Hayes, you know John McCain. You've spoken to him on many occasions. What do you think he's going to do? Vote with the president, with the Democrats, by and large, or go with those House Republicans, those conservatives in the House, who are fiercely opposed to any bailout?

HAYES: Well, I -- it's a good question. Obviously, if I knew the answer, I'd be -- I'd be very smart and probably very wealthy.

I think, you know, one of the things that he's doing is really trying to get -- make himself sort of a proxy for House Republicans. Now, that doesn't mean that he agrees with everything that they're saying, but I think he's trying to take their complaints to this negotiating table, sit down with people and say, "Look, we don't want this bill larded up. We don't want Democrats to add infrastructure spending. We don't want a slush fund for housing advocacy groups." I think we're likely to hear him give voice to these objections from House Republicans.

And as we were talking about 24 hours ago, at the very least, what he's done is sort of press pause, which makes him a popular guy with the House Republicans, who are at the center of this dispute.

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Well, can I just quarrel with the premise of this? Who says he suspended his campaign? He didn't suspend his campaign. He's been campaigning all day. He gave a speech in New York. He's giving interviews all night. He's raising money. His surrogates are attacking Barack Obama.

I think this is posturing of being apolitical and, frankly, I think we're being kind of gullible in falling for it. He didn't stop his campaign. He's campaigning. Now whether it's --

BLITZER: I guess the argument --

TOOBIN: -- successful or not --

BLITZER: -- is that he didn't go out to a rally or a town hall meeting today. He addressed the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, then he came to Washington for meetings on the Hill, went over to the White House and is now doing some television interviews.

TOOBIN: That's exactly --

HAYES: He's pulled his ads down, too, Wolf.

TOOBIN: Well, no, he didn't pull his ads down. His ads have been on. And he's done exactly what Obama has done all day. And Obama admits that he's campaigning. It's the middle of the campaign. I don't see why we should treat what he's doing as anything different from what Obama is doing.

BLITZER: Well, let me let Steve weigh in on that. Go ahead, Steve.

HAYES: Well, we should treat it differently because it is differently. There were reports this morning that some of the ads were still running. You can't snap your fingers and get these ads to come down, but I think they've done pretty close to that. And I think these ads have been largely taken off the air thus far.

TOOBIN: But, Steve, this is --

HAYES: What he's --

TOOBIN: -- not campaigning, what he's doing?

HAYES: No, of course, it is. But it's just the same thing as when Barack Obama said yesterday, "Look, we don't want to inject presidential politics into these discussions." The whole -- all -- the discussions have been about presidential politics this entire time.

BORGER: The --

HAYES: So of course both sides are playing politics.

Posted In
Elections
Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Stephen F. Hayes, Wolf Blitzer, Jeffrey Toobin, Brian Todd
Show/Publication
The Situation Room
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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