Since Jeffrey Toobin lost his New Yorker job with his sexually explicit Zoom meeting mistake, questions have swirled around how he may have destroyed one of the most enviable careers in journalism.
Was his Zoom accident really so egregious that he doesn’t deserve a second chance? Is he the victim of what New Yorker colleague Malcolm Gladwell called an anti-intellectual and “unexpected turn toward traditional Catholic teaching” about masturbation?
AT new report by the New York Times digs into those questions, while describing a bit more what Toobin’s mistake actually involved.
During an Oct. 15 meeting with New Yorker and WNYC colleagues to discuss presidential election coverage, the best-selling author and legal expert “was seen lowering and raising his computer camera, exposing and touching his penis, and motioning an air kiss to someone other than his colleagues, ”writer Masha Gessen told the New York Times.
The 60-year-old Toobin committed an “act that would make him subject, not observer, of scandal, investigation and commentary,” the New York Times said.
Toobin lost his contract with The New Yorker, where he had broken news and wrote incisive legal commentary for nearly 30 years, including about the OJ Simpson murder trial.
Toobin also took a leave of absence from CNN, where he is the chief legal analyst, Moreover, his relationship with his publisher is in limbo, and several TV and film projects are now in doubt, The New York Times added.
The decision that may best illustrate Toobin’s being the subject of today’s trend towards “cancel culture” has to do with his scheduled cameo on the HBO’s series “The Undoing.” Toobin was supposed to play himself delivering commentary on the murder trial that shapes the crime thriller’s story arc.
But when the episode that was supposed to feature Toobin finally aired, “his image had been edited out, leaving just the audio of his fictional commentary,” the New York Times said.
The Times report also cites incidents from Toobin’s past that show he didn’t always lead a scandal-free life. Although married to fellow Harvard alum Amy McIntosh since 1986, Toobin made the New York gossip columns for an affair he had with attorney Casey Greenfield, a lawyer 13 years his junior. He and Greenfield had a son, whom Toobin initially refused to acknowledge until Greenfield took him to court.
Another magazine journalist, Lisa DePaulo, said Toobin asked her out in 2003, saying that he and McIntosh were separated. After DePaulo accepted his invitation, she said he left her a sexually explicit phone message.
“I didn’t think he was a sexual predator,” DePaulo told the New York Times. “I just thought he was a nice guy who was pervy.”
It’s not clear who Toobin thought he was exposing himself to on Zoom – whether it was his wife or someone else. When Toobin apologized, he said he didn’t mean for his colleagues to see him.
“I made an embarrassingly stupid mistake, believing I was off-camera. I apologize to my wife, family, friends and co-workers, ”Toobin said in a statement to Vice, which first reported on the Zoom call. “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 incident led to Donald Trump Jr. gleefully heckling Toobin on Twitter and OJ Simpson posting a video, saying, “At least Pee Wee Herman was in a X-rated movie theater.”
The incident raised very 2020 human-resources-related questions about whether Toobin committed workplace sexual harassment.
But as much as anything, the incident proved to be very “embarrassing” for the New Yorker, said TIna Brown, the magazine’s former editor. Like Gladwell, Brown told the New York Times that she believes that publisher Conde Nast was being excessive in firing Toobin.
“I think 27 years of superb reporting and commitment to The New Yorker should have been weighed against an incident that horribly embarrassed the magazine but mostly embarrassed himself,” Brown said.
Gessen, who said she was initially “traumatized” by witnessing Toobin’s Zoom mistake, is now sympathetic, telling the Times: “I think it’s tragic that a guy would get fired for really just doing something really stupid.”
As Toobin’s “stupid mistake” leaves him professionally adrift, the New York Times suggested one project he could easily sell right now: An essay or book about his “stupid mistake.”
“Judging from the reaction to and discussion of the now-infamous Zoom call, there would likely be a market for his own writing about it,” the New York Times concluded.