Department of Thin Skin

Toobin: Don't "blame journalists"

Jeffrey Toobin has a column in the current New Yorker in which he discusses the current Supreme Court’s “revolution in campaign-finance law,” pointing to a moment during last week’s argument over the constitutionality of an Arizona law known as the Clean Elections Act (summarized by Toobin as “a law that attempts to do a little something about campaigns in which one candidate has a great deal more money than the others”) as indicative of “how peculiar the Court’s campaign-finance jurisprudence has become.”

On Monday, Toobin did an online Q&A with readers, fielding questions about the first amendment, WikiLeaks, and Justice Kagan’s first year and a half, among others, including this one:

QUESTION FROM ANDREW: It seems that money in politics has an enormous effect in distorting the political process. Does the media have an obligation to educate the public about these distortions? If so, what do you think the most effective way to do that is?

JEFFREY TOOBIN: The news media has hardly been silent on the question of money in politics. Just because the Court and Congress have not reined in spending … I don’t think that’s reason to blame journalists. We are not in charge.

Kind of defensive, no? Is Andrew really “blaming” journalists here, as Toobin interprets it? What about answering the last part of Andrew’s question: what is the most effective way that reporters can educate the public about the distorting effects of money in politics? (A premise with which, based on Toobin’s column, Toobin wouldn’t seem too inclined to argue.)

Journalists may not be “in charge,” but some of them have produced some solid work on the intersection of money and politics, and Toobin might have better answered Andrew’s question (and come off better himself) by pointing to a few examples of that good work. Since Toobin didn’t, I will: see here, here, and

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.