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Sorry, We Have Zero Sympathy for Jeffrey Toobin Exposing Himself on a Work Zoom

Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

jeffrey toobin

It is a truth universally acknowledged that any time a white man in the public eye behaves badly, there will be droves of people rushing to his defense. No matter how large or small the infraction, complete strangers will fly out of the woodwork to proclaim that the offending man is innocent of all charges or didn’t mean it or that if he did do it, well, it wasn’t that big of a deal. And if said man is held responsible for his actions, his fans will cry “cancel culture!” and proclaim that their lives are ruined for no good reason.

But unless you’re Harvey Weinstein, you will likely spend a few months in the penalty box, the “controversies” section of your Wikipedia page will be updated, and you’ll slink back into respectability. Just look at Brett Kavanaugh or Mel Gibson or Louis C.K. or Johnny Depp or any of the countless men who have seen their careers and fortunes continue basically unharmed.

Which brings us to “The Undoing of Jeffrey Toobin”, a think piece in the New York Times about the author and journalist’s fall from grace. Toobin, you may remember, was suspended from The New Yorker after exposing himself and masturbating during a Zoom call with his co-workers in October.

In the wake of Toobin’s gaffe, he voluntarily stepped down from his job as senior legal analyst on CNN and issued a public apology, saying “I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends, and co-workers,” adding “I believed I was not visible on Zoom. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me. I thought I had muted the Zoom video.”

The article, written by Katherine Rosman and Jacob Bernstein, delves into the fallout from the scandal, which includes a cancelled cameo in HBO’s miniseries The Undoing, some mockery from late-night talk show hosts (as well as Donald Trump and O.J. Simpson), and a handful of other missed professional opportunities.

But given the article, you would think a grave injustice had befallen Toobin. “For as many people were excoriating Mr. Toobin for lewd and inappropriate behavior in a virtual workplace, others were thinking, or even saying, ‘there but for the grace of God go I,’ acutely conscious of all the private or potentially embarrassing moments they’d stolen in this odd new zone where we now meet our colleagues.”

I’m sorry, but there’s a WORLD of difference between an embarrassing zoom gaffe and masturbating during a work call. In fact, millions of people all over the world have been able to attend professional Zoom meetings without whipping their junk out. Crazy but true! The bar for acceptable behavior is so low, yet men like Toobin can’t stop tripping over it dick-first.

The piece also delves into Toobin’s history of pervy behavior, which was largely written off due to his success. Journalist Lisa DePaulo described an encounter in 2003, where Toobin asked her out and left her a lewd voicemail. She said, “I didn’t think he was a sexual predator, … I just thought he was a nice guy who was pervy. It was just like, ‘Jeffrey? Ick!’”

How many women have had to laugh off or downplay the aggressive overtures of a man just because they didn’t want to upset him or get a reputation as a scold or a girl who “can’t hang”?

Unsurprisingly, several men rushed to Toobin’s defense, and continue to defend his actions. According to the article:

“Several of Mr. Toobin’s longtime associates feel he was unfairly punished. ‘You are a fine person and a terrific journalist and did nothing here to hurt anyone outside of yourself and your family,’ Jonathan Alter, a friend of Mr. Toobin’s for 40 years, tweeted after Mr. Toobin announced his exit from The New Yorker.

‘I don’t like Twitter mobs, and I don’t like bullies from the left or the right taking part in cancel culture,’ Mr. Alter said later by phone. ‘I have trouble with the conflation of offenses. I don’t put Al Franken in the same category as Harvey Weinstein.'”

Other colleagues voiced their support for Toobin, including Mx. Gessen, who was on the call where Toobin exposed himself. After calling the incident “traumatic,” they now express sympathy, saying “I think it’s tragic that a guy would get fired for really just doing something really stupid, … It is the Zoom equivalent of taking an inappropriately long lunch break, having sex during it and getting stumbled upon.”

Hard disagree, but you do you, Gessen. If only all these literary luminaries and talking heads would apply the same level of forgiveness and conciliation to people who are unfairly attacked or genuinely remorseful. But Jeffrey Toobin is neither. The rules are simple: unless you’re a sex worker, if you masturbate at work, you should get fired.

It’s 2020, people. Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.

(via New York Times, featured image: D Dipasupil/Getty Images for SAG-AFTRA Foundation)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.