Prior to the last few days, Jeffrey Toobin existed to me only as a cogent, thoughtful legal analyst. I didn’t know that he had a long-term extramarital affair. Nor did I know he had pressured his girlfriend/mistress to abort her pregnancy by him – which she resisted, and, instead, gave birth to the baby resulting from her sex with him.
All that concerns me much more than does his recent Zoom scandal.
My reaction to the Zoom scandal is kinda trifurcated: I feel bad for a dude caught making a relatively innocent mistake (as I understand it). I feel bad for people who might be required to be on the other end of a phone call or Zoom meeting with him. And, I feel like privilege occupies an uncomfortable role in this story. White privilege (no way a black man could survive such a scandal) to be sure, but even more than that, class privilege.
First: I have a lot of sympathy for Toobin. I’ve jerked off at work. I’ve looked at porn during conference calls. I’ve never jerked off during a conference call. Or a Zoom call. (Well, that’s not quite right; I’ve jerked off on Zoom, but never surreptitiously.) When I have looked at porn during work, it’s been to keep me alive. Once, a gay male colleague walked in on me when I was jerking off. My door was locked. He used a key he had, thinking I wasn’t in there. He’s an intrusive fucker. But the bottom line is, I’m not too concerned with someone doing what he thought he was doing – masturbating in his house during work hours, but when he (wrongly, carelessly) imagined himself to be alone. I think the analogies to the workplace are misplaced; he wasn’t in an office. He was in his home.
My understanding is that Toobin wasn’t jerking off during his ostensible participation in a Zoom call (it was during a break in an ongoing Zoom call, when his camera was still on, and others had returned from breakout rooms and were reconvening the call from which Toobin believed he was on a break), and I have the sense, from what little I’ve been able to glean, that he either was looking at porn or participating in an explicitly sexual interaction with another human – in other words, that he wasn’t jerking off to Jane Mayer as she was blithely executing her role, or to Masha Gessen as they were executing theirs, in the, um, s(t)imulation. I do think it would be a bit different if it seemed he had been doing that.
Second (and cutting in the opposite direction): I think he’s now raised in all of our minds the question of just what he’s doing during phone and Zoom calls. And, he’s given us all reason to imagine he might have his dick in his hand. This seems… uncomfortable… to me. If I were an editor at the New Yorker, I don’t think I could imagine asking an employee to interact with him absent a really comprehensive, thoughtful, written, public apology from him that left no doubt in my, or anyone’s, mind that there was zero danger of a situation like this repeating itself. So I suppose I’m saying I think this should turn out to be somewhat career-limiting for him.
Finally: most white collar folks don’t have their time owned. They’re paid for their work, not their time. There are exceptions, of course: a corporate lawyer bills by the hour, and can’t bill for time spent wanking. But most white collar folks are compensated for executing a series of responsibilities. No such luck for a security guard, or assembly line worker, or janitor. Even though, for blue-collar and white-collar folks alike, a good wank might well improve productivity.
We all know that a security guard, assembly line worker, or janitor would face summary termination for Toobin’s offense. But Toobin – a white guy with a lot of privilege – may never be fired.
As my grandmother taught me, life’s just not fair.
And a postscript: it’s interesting to wonder just how this all would be different had Toobin not been wanking, but actually having sex with another human….