Jeffrey Toobin grins on CNN.

Jeffrey Toobin Back at CNN Less Than a Year After Exposing Himself To Colleagues on Zoom

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It’s been just shy of eight months since legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin accidentally masturbated during a Zoom call with his New Yorker colleagues. Despite the excessive hand-wringing and dramatic lamenting we saw at the time, claiming Toobin was having his life destroyed over a moment of “poor judgment,” Toobin is now back at work in his high-profile position at CNN.

Toobin got to announce his return by way of a friendly interview with his employer. Speaking to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Toobin apologized to his family and his former colleagues, calling his behavior “deeply moronic and indefensible.”

When Camerota asked him “What the hell were you thinking?” Toobin said, “Well, obviously, I wasn’t thinking very well or very much. And it was something that was inexplicable to me. I think one point—I wouldn’t exactly say in my defense, because nothing is really in my defense—I didn’t think I was on the call. I didn’t think other people could see me.”

At the time, even Toobin’s colleagues on that call made it clear that they could tell he thought his camera was off. That was never really a question. The problem was that Toobin masturbated at work in the first place, whether or not anyone was watching. That’s inappropriate behavior in a work environment and the level of comfort Toobin exhibited in the act makes it pretty clear that this was not a one-off incident but possibly frequent behavior.

Toobin says that he has spent the last few months working to become a better person. Having spent decades watching prominent men see their own inappropriate behavior made into public spectacle, he said he wanted to avoid the “politician’s apology”—the “sorry if you were offended” non-apology. When asked if he has thought about what it was like for his colleagues on that Zoom call, he said that he has spent months talking to some of them and apologizing.

And yet the insistence that he is overflowing with remorse rings hollow, seeing as he still doesn’t seem to think he deserved the few consequences he faced.

In addition to the public shaming, Toobin voluntarily stepped down from his position at CNN. He was also suspended from the New Yorker, and after an internal investigation, he was officially fired. He is now back at CNN as their chief legal analyst and he says he spent much of his time out writing a new book, so those who claimed his career was ruined can feel free to keep it to themselves.

The only consequence that stuck was the New Yorker firing and Toobin’s thoughts on that do not sound like those of a man who fully grasps the impact of his actions.

He says the magazine reviewed his entire career history and says they told him they didn’t find any other instances of misconduct. And he thinks that being fired over just one instance of masturbating at work is an “excessive” punishment.

Never mind the fact that Toobin has been accused of sexually propositioning coworkers and fathering a child with a colleague’s daughter, pressuring her to have an abortion, and refusing to acknowledge the child until she took him to court—one offense of this sort is absolutely enough reason to be fired.

Toobin says he’s thought about how his actions made his colleagues feel but he doesn’t seem to realize that his firing might be more about preserving their feelings of safety than about punishing him. He thinks he should get to come back to work because he apologized. I wonder why he thinks everyone else should have to continue working with someone who (even accidentally) forced them to watch him masturbate.

Real remorse here requires decentering himself from this narrative, and he is clearly not interested in doing that.

(image: screencap)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.