On the clash of news, politics and justice with journalist Jeffrey Toobin
By Kenna Caprio
November 2, 2017 — Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst and acclaimed author, visited Fairleigh Dickinson University for conversation and a Q&A session with students. David Rosen, professor of anthropology and sociology, moderated the event, held at the Florham Campus.
“This has been the most tumultuous debut of a new administration,” said Toobin at the beginning of the discussion. “This week, in particular, has been really surreal. It’s just been this whirlwind of news,” he said, referencing the terror attack in New York City and the indictments announced against President Donald Trump’s former presidential campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
“I don’t think there’s anything that [special counsel Robert] Mueller could find that would lead House Republicans to impeach Trump,” said Toobin. But, he contends, if the president attempts to fire Mueller — a decision that would have to be carried out by the Department of Justice — that may spark action.
He answered audience questions on modern warfare and terrorism, health care and abortion rights, indictments and partisanship, athletes taking a knee, and justice and the Supreme Court.
“Why have politics become so polarized might be the question of our time,” said Toobin. “I don’t pretend to know the answer.” Instead, he offered two contributing factors: partisan gerrymandering and the evolution of media.
“Gerrymandering [the determining of electoral districts to create political advantage], locks a party in power. People don’t have to fear the opposing party or cooperate with the opposing party. It also contributes to the election of politicians who don’t want to compromise.”
At the same time, the public, the media and the politicians can no longer agree on what constitutes fact. At one point he joked, “Does anybody remember what a newspaper is?” Cable news and social media, especially Facebook, said Toobin, reinforce narratives. “Most people get their news on Facebook,” which allows the social media platform to curate and determine what shows up in an individual’s news feed. If a user clicks on conservative content, more conservative content will show up, and vice versa. “There’s no law that says you only have to click on Facebook. The Internet is the greatest information source the world has ever seen, with more access to diverse news sources. Use the Internet as a resource, in an exploratory way.”
Later in the evening, Toobin spoke at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J., as part of FDU’s New Jersey Speakers Series. The Speakers Series brings world leaders, acclaimed authors and other fascinating personalities to NJPAC for seven Thursday evening presentations, each of which is followed by an audience Q&A with the featured speakers.
The chief legal analyst for CNN and a staff writer for The New Yorker, Toobin also authored The Run of His Life: The People vs. O. J. Simpson, the basis for the acclaimed FX miniseries. His latest book is American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst.