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“I Think Journalists Deceive People All The Time”

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I very much enjoyed my wide ranging interview with Jeffrey Toobin yesterday, just as I did his very readable through very biased new book, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme CourtThe transcript is here (and I imagine it will be closely read by a lot of law clerks today) and here’s the audio.

Towards the end of our conversation we were discussing whether Justice Souter, at the time of his nomination, had an ethical obligation to reveal to President George H. W. Bush that he –Justice Souter– was not the judge President Bush was looking for.

You can read that exchange for yourself, but in defense of Souter’s silence as to his jurisprudential approach and views, Toobin offered this statement, arresting for its candor about the ethics of the Manhattan-Beltway media elite:

I think journalists deceive people all the time.

Here’s the full exchange:

HH: Have you been following the controversy over Charles Schultz’ biographer? 

JT: Yes. 

HH: So do you think that biographer acted ethically by saying to the family I’m your guy, work with me, and then coming out and hitting him with a hammer? Clearly, he walked into that biography with an agenda, like I think Souter walked onto the Court with an agenda that he didn’t disclose to George Herbert Walker Bush. 

JT: Well, I think journalists deceive people all the time. My colleague, Janet Malcolm, wrote a famous book about this, about Joe McGinnis in The Journalist and the Murderer. I mean, I think people should be candid, but I also think people with enormous power, like George Herbert Walker Bush, can choose to exercise that how they feel. And if they don’t feel like they’re getting straight answers from people, they should just move on to the next candidate. There’s no shortage.

HH: That was a stunning statement. Do you think journalists deceive people all the time? 

JT: Well, I think some of them do, yeah.  I mean, my colleague, Janet Malcolm, wrote this famous, great book about it, that you know, we prey on people’s vanity, and we say oh, you know…I mean, I don’t think I do this, but I think people sometimes give people the impression they’re on their side when they’re not. 

HH: You know, I don’t do that. How many journalists inside the Beltway do that, or Manhattan-Beltway media elite? Is that like a 90% number? 

JT: I don’t know, but I mean, I think that the reason Janet’s book struck such a responsive chord is that there is an element of that. I think people bare their souls to journalists and often feel betrayed. I mean, I think sometimes, the subjects project more sympathy than the reporter ever gave, but I do think that sometimes, reporters can be cynical in dealing with sources.

HH: No wonder so many people hate us. 

JT: You know what? That’s a real fact. No wonder so many people hate us.

Hats off to Toobin for his honesty about the profession’s collective dishonesty.


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