By now you probably know what Jeffrey Toobin did during his magazine's Model U.N. session or whatever it is they were supposed to be up to when he thought his Zoom video feed was off. (What the hell does it mean, anyway, to say that his New Yorker colleague Andrew Marantz was pretending to be "the far right"? I have nearly as many questions about this election simulation as I have about Toobin's behavior.)
It's worth pointing out, I suppose, that between this whole 2020 election thing and the lockdowns and the least-watched World Series in history, one journalist's indecent exposure should probably not be national news, even if "national news" happens to be his job. There is a lot going on right now.
Besides, a man's Upper West Side apartment is his castle. He thought he was abusing himself in private. It was an "embarrassingly stupid mistake." He already told his wife, his children (presumably including the one he fathered with a mistress whom he attempted to intimidate into having an abortion), and his coworkers that he was sorry. CNN says he is just going to take a little time off "while he deals with a personal issue." And let's be real: This is only the fifth or so most disgusting thing Toobin has ever made headlines for.
On the other hand: come on. (No puns intended.) I cannot pretend to be some kind of expert on workplace ethics, especially in the evolving work-from-home era. But I think we should probably all be able to agree that no one joining a video conference should feel as if he or she faces even a 1 percent chance of seeing a colleague who is supposed to be LARPing as the nine Supreme Court justices fondle his own genitals. On an HR scale ranging from "Being slightly late once in a while" to literally going postal, it's probably slightly less excusable than stealing your deskmate's Social Security number.
Where else could you even think about getting away with this? Call me crazy, but I have a hard time believing that someone working the drive-through at a fast-food chain for many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year less than Toobin makes for repeating the same liberal talking points about the Supreme Court could get away with touching his penis regardless of whether he insisted that he thought he had turned his headset off. If this were Geoffrey Tobin, Taco Bell staff, instead of Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker staff writer, there wouldn't even be a conversation.
This is not the impression you might get reading the response to this story so far, though. "Just when the world needs him most, Jeffrey Toobin exposes himself on Zoom," a person called Vinay Menon writes in the Toronto Star, as if the guy had just come down with mono or something. "So let's suppose Jeffrey Toobin had been caught on camera having sex with a partner instead of touching himself," Jonathan Zimmerman proposes in the New York Daily News. Great point: Exposing your colleagues to two sets of private parts instead of just one would be way more courteous and professional. "Jeffrey Toobin Can't Be the Only Person Masturbating on Zoom Calls," a BuzzFeed writer muses. Please excuse me while I go drink bleach.
I don't know how many levels of glue-sniffing partisan hackery you have to be on to arrive at positions like "Showing your penis to your colleagues during the presidential election version of Dungeons and Dragons is normal fine adult behavior," but it must be a lot. What Toobin did was not normal. It was disgusting and would have gotten him fired already at any other job.
It is also, not to put too fine a point on it, something that only a man would do. Which brings me to my last point, a bit of fraternal advice for this country's entire gainfully employed male population: Your sex organ does not belong in front of a camera, regardless of whether you think it is on, especially moments before or after a meeting. If you are struggling with this idea or have any questions, you might also be interested in one of my free advanced online seminars, "The Doggie Is The Animal That Goes Woof-Woof" or "Why Breathing Is Important."
These are the things they don't teach you at Harvard Law School.
Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.