Update from Italy: On Not Zoomin’ with Toobin

Fellow human as idols? It never ends well. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

When I first saw the news I was like, what? But he’s so smart. Why would he do that?

Exposed himself? In a Zoom meeting with his fly employer, The New Yorker, and WYNC, which is cooler than The New Yorker? Who does that?

A quick note: I feel qualified to weigh in as a layperson on this topic. I’ve been reading The New Yorker since 1993 or before, and have been a subscriber for 25 years. Why, just last week I was chatting with their customer service people (“Please stop sending us paper copies to Italy, for real, and now.”) I feel about Jeffrey Toobin as I feel about Malcolm Gladwell, one of his colleagues. They’re those smart boys in AP English who talked too fast and were quick to outpace one another’s amateur stand-up routine for the back row of class. But nervous, nervous as hell. Afraid they wouldn’t meet the expectations of their élite parents. Probably exhausting in person, like dating a Stairmaster, to borrow a bon mot from Sorkin. I read everything those two wrote, Toobin and Gladwell, religiously and for years. Insightful! Different! Clarifying.

For a brief period, Jason and I were friendly with a man through Jason’s Oregon connections. This professor had been a staff writer for The New Yorker for some years in the past, and regaled us and my lit fangurl with tales of the hallway gossip, how insufferable Adam Gopnik was in person. I felt less to blame for the standard rejection letters they’d sent me from time to time our of the slush pile in the submissions office, back in the nineties. Place was an office like any other. Good days and bad days.

Well, for some people, some really bad days.

Important disclosure: I am one of the few people in a room who will immediately quash mean jokes about lawyers. I like lawyers; I always have. I have frequently worked with them in jobs I found fulfilling. I have many lawyer friends. I appreciate their intensity and wit. I am not attracted to smarmy people when seeking potential new friendships, so this may be a contributing factor to why my lawyer friends are upstanding people who do good work.

I read up on Toobin. I hadn’t realized how élite and privileged his background was. Harvard undergrad, HLS (ok, so he actually has a law degree), hanging out with Kagan back in the day, staffing in the U.S. Senate, parents beyond successful (son of Marlene Sanders, former ABC News and CBS News correspondent, and Jerome Toobin, a news broadcasting producer). Ok, so probably, as we say in Italian, molto pesante. All that.

I Toobined a little in his footsteps, keeping my fly securely fastened and the video OFF. I rolled up my shirtsleeves and set out to analyze The Incident. I called a friend in the UK who tracks this type of news closely, in the name of #metoo and general feminism. “They’re all sex maniacs!” she laughed. “It’s a huge thing for them to flop it out in public.” Me: “You have got to be kidding. A work meeting? at 2 PM? Why?” She said it was a power thing, to see if they could get away with it. The more powerful they are, the more exhilarating the risk. Related: Having sex in public.

For me, the most disturbing part is how the news reported that he “exposed himself,” rather that “actively participated in Zoom sex on another video call and screen while his work meeting’s video was active.” I also have a real issue with the term “exposed himself” when in reality he was having a wank in a very public way in a work meeting during office hours. This is a willfully misleading synecdoche. He was not exposing his deepest self. Nor was he exposing a knee, or an ankle, or armpit. It was not intimate. It was exhibitionist. This act might be more accurately termed “exhibited his penis while pleasuring himself.” I think Toobin would appreciate the accuracy in wordsmithing here.

Sorry, élite writer, but your longtime employer did the right thing ending your employment. When I think of how hard a woman has to work to even be considered for any one of the multiple jobs that Toobin seems to have held concurrently, and how I have never known or read about any woman who had a quick wank in a work meeting, it is clear that Toobin became rather too accustomed to earning in the highest echelon of thought leadership. I am struggling to understand, Q: who risks that? A: Someone who’s accustomed to receiving everything, and expects to never have anything taken away.

I am so glad I was not on that Zoom call. Zoom is one of the last redoubts of connection and socializing and normal work in 2020. I am sure he’ll be rehabilitated soon. Someone will probably give him a softball book contract soon to talk about What He Learned From This.

Semi-related: I was listening to a Reply All podcast with Jia Tolentino, another staff writer for The New Yorker, about her bitcoin and online drug purchases and trying to track down her missing $264,000 USD, only to find she’d spent it all on the weed from Mali that she bought on The Silk Road. Jia writes really well, but demonstrates a greater-than-average dumbness on a variety of counts in this story. My idols are crashing down faster than I discover new ones. (If you think you might qualify for Idol Status here at my desk, there’s a Contact Form on my site.)

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