CNN’s chief legal analyst returned to national television on Thursday, eight months after masturbating on a New Yorker Zoom conference call that included several female colleagues who had to witness it.
Unlike the New Yorker, which promptly fired Jeffrey Toobin after the incident, CNN curiously held out in doing the same. And for about the past 250 days, the network continued to pay Toobin his lucrative salary before putting him back on air. Suspension without pay would be one thing, but CNN’s brass made sure they had Toobin’s back. For his part, Toobin called the New Yorker firing “excessive.” Talk about hubris.
“Many of us have really missed having your legal analysis to guide us on our programs, so let me be the first to welcome you back,” CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota – who was tasked with conducting this cringeworthy interview – told Toobin during his first return to the air.
“I hope to be a better person off-camera as well as on-camera,” Toobin replied.
Earlier in the interview, Toobin played the victim, insisting he didn’t know other people could see him on the infamous Zoom call. “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,” he said.
“You thought that you had turned off your camera?” Camerota asked.
“Correct,” Toobin responded. “I thought that I had turned off the Zoom call. Now that is not a defense. This was deeply moronic and indefensible. But that is part of the story.”
So, to unpack this, if Toobin had turned off his camera, this kind of behavior on a work call would have been a-okay?
It is amazing that CNN simply couldn’t cut ties with him, since there isn’t exactly a shortage of run-of-the-mill legal analysts to replace him. Is the embarrassment this brings the network really this important to a network in a ratings freefall that has lost nearly 70 percent of its audience since the beginning of the year?
For those who say Toobin shouldn’t have his career cancelled for making this (very big) mistake, that’s not what’s being advocated here. If Toobin is this talented, this indispensable, and another network sees him as an addition to its lineup despite this incident, then no one should stop him from being signed elsewhere.
But, undoubtedly, CNN’s contracts – like all cable news and broadcast news contracts – have something called a morality clause. Those clauses basically say that one’s personal conduct can be considered for termination if he or she acts in what is deemed to be an inappropriate or reckless manner, thereby reflecting poorly on the network as a whole. Given the national headlines and ridicule Toobin’s conduct has generated, the whole “reflects poorly on the network” thing would seem to apply here.
And two questions to ask: How do his female colleagues at CNN feel about this? If Toobin held any other lower-level job besides “Chief Legal Analyst,” would he have kept his job?
The second question is rhetorical, of course. Because it was just recently that former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) was released from the network for comments deemed controversial about a lack of influence of Native American culture in American society.
Again, if keeping score:
- Santorum, an opinion contributor, not up to standards for a debatable statement. Fired.
- Toobin, a chief legal analyst, pleasures himself on a work call, gets paid during suspension. Welcomed back to network a few months later.
As for how this is being received, here’s a small sample of the social media reaction to Toobin’s on-air return, from the right, the left and in-between:
This is garbage.
Why does the media protect these old white male dinosaurs in this industry?
No woman on PLANET EARTH would be welcomed back on network tv after being caught masturbating in front of her colleagues.
What does working at a food bank have to do with this? https://t.co/ZTULvVsbnv
— Meghan McCainMeghan Marguerite McCainArizona synagogue vandalized with swastika, antisemitic slur Meghan McCain, Joy Behar argue over GOP support for Gaetz Meghan McCain: Greene ‘behaving like an animal’ MORE (@MeghanMcCain) June 10, 2021
There is not a woman alive who could have done anything close to what Jeffrey Toobin did (not that one would) and kept her job. What a disgusting,
incestuous boys’ club. So damned tired of it.
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 10, 2021
Jeffrey Toobin is back on CNN… in case you’re wondering whether or not #MeToo is dead.
— Tim Young (@TimRunsHisMouth) June 10, 2021
Toobin is back in another one of his $$$ gigs because exposing yourself during a meeting at which you were presumably being paid to pay attention and participate is totally fine in media if you run with the right boys’ club.
— stacy-marie ishmael (@s_m_i) June 10, 2021
One of the arguments for firing Toobin was how his female colleagues would feel working with him. Seth is joking but I’d sincerely like to know how CNN is making female staff feel comfortable. https://t.co/D6UZiRuaBt
— Bethany S. Mandel (@bethanyshondark) June 10, 2021
Tara Reade, who in 2020 accused Joe Biden of sexual misconduct during his time as a senator, also ripped the network, writing: “@CNN always got the perverts back but you smash survivors of sexual assault when they come forward. Your outlet is misogynistic, xenophobic weaponized arm of the Establishment @TheDemocrats. Hypocrisy & bad taste abounds.”
The Toobin reinstatement comes just weeks after a Washington Post report found that CNN anchor Chris CuomoChris CuomoClub for Growth bashes CNN in social media ad The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Biden, Capito meet today as deadline looms CNN under ethics scrutiny following Cuomo revelations MORE advised his brother, Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoRepublican NY state senator: Single-payer health care bill won’t get a vote this week Prosecutors ask New York State officials for communications related to Cuomo book: report One-man show ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ to return for limited run MORE (D-N.Y.), on how to stave-off multiple sexual harassment allegations against him by staffers as much as 35 years younger than him.
Imagine that: A network anchor provides advice on how to dismiss and deflect sexual harassment allegations, and the network does absolutely nothing in terms of punishment.
What do these actions say to the women of CNN? To real victims in the #MeToo movement?
In a related story, the network’s primetime lineup from 8 p.m. to midnight consists solely of men. And, unlike Fox News and MSNBC, there has never been a female president of the network.
Jeffery Toobin is back on TV, and not a penny poorer after an eight-month hiatus. Will viewers be able to remove from their brains the image of him doing what he was doing in front of adult women on that Zoom call?
Doubtful. But, hey, at least the boys’ club remains very much intact.
Joe Concha is a media and politics columnist for The Hill and a Fox News contributor.