Oh dear. It finally happened. A famous man on a Zoom call "took it out," as Julia Louis-Dreyfus' character Elaine once put it so succinctly on "Seinfeld."
Jeffrey Toobin, the 60-year-old New Yorker writer and CNN legal analyst, apologized to his family, friends and colleagues for being caught with his pants down during a Zoom call about potential election outcomes with other New Yorker luminaries, including Jane Mayer, Evan Osnos and Jelani Cobb.
What was Toobin thinking?
He said he erroneously believed that he had "muted" the Zoom video.
I guess I believe him.
But no one should do at work what Toobin has apologized for ever. It is disrespectful in the extreme, dangerous and has about it the whiff of wanton self-destruction.
It was, in any case, a moment made for Twitter.
Even the vile O.J. Simpson, whose murder trial arguably launched Toobin's career, could not resist indulging in a moment of schadenfreude: "Damn Jeffrey Toobin," he tweeted. This from a man who was found responsible for one of the more despicable acts in our lifetime.
Had Toobin exposed himself at the office in a meeting with colleagues, he almost certainly would have lost his job and perhaps even faced legal repercussions.
As it stands, social media is ablaze with a new hashtag #MeToobin, and a serious discussion about whether what Toobin did can rightfully be considered sexual harassment.
"I would say that a Zoom call from home is considered the workplace," said Leslie Levy, an Oakland, California, employment discrimination attorney. "I think his colleagues probably could make a complaint of sexual harassment against the employer. It's definitely indecent exposure, though it may not amount to a criminal act."
And maybe he will face professional repercussions other than an announced suspension at the New Yorker pending an investigation and time off at CNN "while he deals with a personal issue."
The age of COVID has changed our working lives in ways large and small, but perhaps the one constant among white-collar professionals is that we no longer take meetings in person.
Instead, we gather in the electronic conference room, our heads stacked in little squares like an aging, less attractive Brady Bunch. Some of us, already comfortable at home, get a little too comfortable and forget, as Toobin seems to have, that while he was sitting at home, he was also sitting at work.
A few weeks ago, I watched a young couple take their marriage vows online. I know they were disappointed not to be able to celebrate with their friends and families in person, but I can't tell you what a relief it was not to have to get dressed up, put on makeup and wear heels. I threw a strand of pearls on over my T-shirt, put some lipstick on and that was it. At the "reception," each guest had a few minutes in the spotlight, to offer the couple best wishes.
There is certainly a lesson to be learned from Toobin's poor judgment.
Most glaringly, that you should always keep your hands in view during a Zoom call with colleagues.
Second, that some men have learned nothing from the #MeToo movement, even a man such as Toobin, who has written and commented extensively on workplace harassment.
And third, that some people will always be willing to minimize bad male behavior: "Not sure someone getting caught doing something almost everyone does should be a national story," wrote a male reporter for Vox, in a tweet that has since been removed.
Another male writer tweeted that the reaction to Toobin's indecent exposure should be "empathy, politeness & forgiveness rather than punitive mockery." Oh come on now.
So what will become of Jeffrey Toobin?
My guess is he will take himself off to some sort of treatment for compulsive behavior, resurface after the election and live to Zoom another day.
The Los Angeles Times