[See update below for how Toobin did the same thing later in the evening.]
CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin brushed aside the issues of Barack Obama’s affiliation with left-wing terrorist William Ayers and the liberal group ACORN during a roundtable discussion on Wednesday’s Situation Room program: "Who cares about ACORN? Who cares about Bill Ayers? I mean, I just don't get this. What is the point of raising that?" When CNN senior political analyst Gloria Borger countered by trying to show the relevance of these affiliations, that "he has given lots of different stories on Ayers, and that his affiliation with ACORN, as a group that they think now has been discredited," Toobin went further: "But he doesn't have an affiliation with ACORN." When both Borger and host Wolf Blitzer both affirmed that he did have ties to the organization, Toobin backtracked: "...I stand corrected on that, but I just don't see why that is going to move voters?"
Toobin must not be watching his own network, for CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin outlined on October 6 how "the relationship between Obama and Ayers went much deeper, ran much longer, and was much more political than Obama said," including how the two worked together on the board of the Annenberg Challenge Project and the Woods Foundation, and how Obama’s political career began during a meeting at Ayers’s house. While the network omitted ACORN’s name from an October 9 news brief about a raid on the organization’s Las Vegas office, the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s story about the raid acknowledged how ACORN "has a liberal political agenda and ties to Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama."
The issues of Ayers and ACORN came up after Blitzer played a clip of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin stated how the issues are "fair game" in the presidential campaign. After his "who cares" statements and being corrected by Borger and Blitzer, Toobin later conceded that "she’s [Palin] right. Those are legitimate questions. I don't think that's negative campaigning at all to raise those questions. The way -- the problem is how do you do that in such a way that resonates with voters to make you want to support your candidate?"
The transcript of the relevant portion of the roundtable discussion, which began 34 minutes into 6 pm hour of Wednesday’s The Situation Room:
WOLF BLITZER: All right, listen to Sarah Palin today. She gave an interview to our affiliate in New Hampshire, WMUR. I'm going to play this little clip.
SARAH PALIN : I do not think it's negative or mean-spirited at all, not whatsoever, when you call someone out on their record, and of course, when we talk about Barack Obama's associations that he has had in the past, and maybe has today -- when we talk about ACORN, when we talk about Bill Ayers. Those things -- they're fair game. In fact, Barack Obama even has kind of called John McCain out on this recently, saying -- hey, you know, if you've got something to say, say it to my face in the debate. So we'll see tonight if John McCain does that.
JEFFREY TOOBIN: Who cares about ACORN? Who cares about Bill Ayers? I mean, I just don't get this. What is the point of raising that?
GLORIA BORGER: Their point is trying -- well, their point is trying to show that Barack Obama is not truthful, and that he has given lots of different stories on Ayers, and that his affiliation with ACORN, as a group that they think now has been discredited. And that's what they're trying to do --
TOOBIN: But he doesn't have an affiliation with ACORN.
BORGER: But, but -- well, he does. I mean, he does. I mean, it's, it's --
TOOBIN: Well, they are supporting him.
BORGER: Yeah, exactly.
TOOBIN: But he doesn't -- authorize their work.
BORGER: He's not directing them.
TOOBIN: He's not in charge of them.
BORGER: Guilt by affiliation.
BLITZER: During -- during the primary season, they did subcontract some voter registration work with a subsidiary of them.
TOOBIN: Subsidiary of ACORN -- yeah.
BLITZER: David Axelrod was just on the show the last hour and he told us.
TOOBIN: That's right, and I stand corrected on that, but I just don't see why that is going to move voters?
CANDY CROWLEY: Well, I think it does move some voters. I mean, if you are really sitting there in the middle and haven't decided, it says one of two things -- you don't know Barack Obama that well, or you're a little turned off by John McCain. I mean, what he has to do is go back to what used to be the problem with Barack Obama, which is you don't really understand who this guy is. And he has to do that on policy and he has to do that on association, and by the way --
BLITZER: She's raising -- Sarah Palin -- serious questions about Barack Obama, about his past associations, and maybe, his associations that he has today. She said that.
TOOBIN: Clearly -- she's right -- I mean, she's right. Those are legitimate questions. I don't think that's negative campaigning at all to raise those questions. The way -- the problem is how do you do that in such a way that resonates with voters to make you want to support your candidate?
BORGER: Well, first of all the moderator has to ask the question, because I don't think -- as Dana's [Bash] reporting, that he's going to raise it first.
BLITZER: That would be Bob Schieffer.
BORGER: If he is asked by Bob Schieffer tonight about Bill Ayers, he's going to jump to the bait, and I guarantee you Barack Obama has his answer.
TOOBIN: He's been waiting. He's been waiting for three debates.
BORGER: We have alredy heard it essentially from all of his spinners, but he's got to talk about policy, and be clear and direct. This is McCain -- this is where I disagree with you. We have fundamental differences and lay it out. Lay it out.
CROWLEY: Well, also say -- also lay out Obama's record --
CROWLEY: Which he has been trying to do on the stump, which is, well, he tells you that he is going to cut taxes, but let's take a look at this.
BORGER: Exactly, exactly.
BLITZER: Guys, hold on for a moment because we have to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation, including fighting to be the underdog -- why the candidates see an advantage in coming from behind. We're back with the ‘best political team on television.’
[Update, 2:12 am EDT, Thursday, 10/16: When the subject of Ayers came up again during the Election Center program, 46 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour, or about 14 minutes before the start of the presidential debate, Toobin again acted like it was a non-issue. Candy Crowley partially agreed with Toobin, that it was a "passe issue:"
JEFFREY TOOBIN: Can I ask -- can I ask a question about Bill Ayers -- if they raise it, so what? So what?... I mean, what is it going to accomplish? Do you think anyone out there is going to change their vote because of a mention of Bill Ayers? It just seems like this phony issue that has been -- there's more of a press interest than public interest.
CROWLEY: It's probably less of a phony issue than a passe issue. This might have had some resonance had he done it early on, and he had a whole, you know, springtime to begin to, you know, chip away. The problem is, that the economy just came down on him.