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New Yorker Writer Suspended After He Was Caught Masturbating On Zoom Call With Colleagues

The actions of Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s chief legal analyst, put "Zoom dick" and #MeToobin into the internet stratosphere after he claimed he "thought no one on the Zoom call could see" him as he masturbated.

Jeffrey Toobin at a discussion on gerrymandering and its impact on the American political system at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on May 30, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Getty Images
Jeffrey Toobin at a discussion on gerrymandering and its impact on the American political system at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate on May 30, 2018, in Boston, Massachusetts. | Getty Images

Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for The New Yorker and CNN's chief legal analyst, was suspended Monday after he was caught masturbating during a Zoom call with colleagues who were preparing for coverage of the 2020 election. 

Toobin’s actions were first reported on Monday by Vice with the headline, “New Yorker Suspends Jeffrey Toobin After Zoom Dick Incident.” That “incident” was initially described as Toobin exposing his genitals by mistake, with no further description as to what he was doing. 

The phrase “Zoom dick” was a Twitter trending topic most of the day, and tongue-in-cheek jokes flooded social media feeds, as if it were a laughing matter and not an instance of blatant sexual misconduct. Ryan Simmons, a writer at SB Nation, started making mock versions of New Yorker cartoons, with characters in various scenarios saying “Jeffrey Toobin took his dick out on a Zoom call.” 

Toobin, 60, initially apologized and claimed he didn’t know the camera was on — but that was before details surfaced that he was masturbating and believed he had “switched [from The New Yorker call] to a second call that was the video-call equivalent of phone sex,” according to two people familiar with the incident who spoke to The New York Times

“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 Monday afternoon. “I thought I had muted the Zoom video. I thought no one on the Zoom call could see me.”

By Monday evening, the Vice story had this update on the bottom: “This piece has been updated with more detail about the call and WNYC. The headline has been updated to reflect that Toobin was masturbating.”

Vice’s updated story included details from two people on the call, who said it was part of “an election simulation featuring many of The New Yorker's biggest stars,” including Jane Mayer role-playing as Republicans, Evan Osnos as Joe Biden, Jelani Cobb as Democrats, Masha Gessen as Donald Trump, Andrew Marantz as the far right, Sue Halpern as left wing Democrats, Dexter Filkins as the military, and Jeffrey Toobin as the courts, plus “a handful of other producers” from The New Yorker and WNYC.

According to Vice, “it was unclear how much each person saw, but both said that they saw Toobin jerking off.” 

New Yorker spokesperson Natalie Raabe told Vice that Toobin “has been suspended while we investigate the matter.” Later Monday, CNN announced that Toobin asked for “some time off while he deals with a personal issue, which we have granted.” Vice also reported that New Yorker editor David Remnick sent an email to staffers stating that Toobin “was suspended after an incident on a Zoom call last week. Please be assured that we take such matters seriously and that we are looking into it.”

By Tuesday morning, #MeToobin was trending on Twitter, which at first glance might lead one to think #MeToo allegations were surfacing against Toobin or that survivors were speaking out. But in fact, many were using the hashtag to laugh about the incident and make penis puns. One Twitter user quipped: “Hoping now that Jeffrey Toobin has more free time he can give me some lessons in fishing. He is a master baiter.” 

Enraged women have responded online, noting that a virtual meeting is only one scenario of many where they face constant threats of sexual harassment. And even without physical workspaces in which to be harassed, people had to look, without consent, at a coworker’s penis. 

The satirical website McSweeney’s published a piece (written by four women) titled, “Ten Legitimate Reasons To Pull Your Dick Out On A Zoom Call.” Some examples include: “You are having a dick-relevant exam via telehealth,” and “There is someone who has asked, out loud, with the consent of all parties on Zoom, ‘would you please show us your dick?’”

While most of the world is trying to stay alive as a deadly virus looms over communities, and while women are working tirelessly to stay employed for less money than men — if they haven’t already lost their jobs in a pandemic that’s disproportionately impacting women and people of color — the question comes to mind: how is someone able to even have the thought that a work call would be a great time to pleasure themselves? 

One woman on Twitter noted, “this [is] 100% sexual harassment and the only people deserving of your compassion and understanding are his coworkers who he exposed himself to.” 

The UN and The Lancet noted in an August 2020 study that “Across the globe, women earn less, save less, hold less secure jobs, are more likely to be employed in the informal sector. They have less access to social protections and are the majority of single-parent households. Their capacity to absorb economic shocks is therefore less than that of men.”

Women also face increased risk of physical or sexual abuse by a partner, as the pandemic is forcing cities to lock down. 

The Lancet wrote: “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months. Many of these women have been trapped with their abuser. Within 1 week of France instituting its lockdown, reports of domestic violence had surged by 30%. It was a similar story in dozens of other countries.”

Toobin is also an author of several books, including “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump,” and “The Run of His Life: The People v. O. J. Simpson,” the latter of which was adapted for television as “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” 

Simpson, who escaped a conviction for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, chided Toobin in a tweet on Monday, saying “Damn Jeffrey Toobin, at least Pee-wee Herman was in an X-rated movie theater. I’m just sayin’.” The Twitter video had more than 1.4 million views by Tuesday afternoon. 

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