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CNN takes heat from the left over handling of Toobin’s return from masturbation scandal

CNN’s decision to allow chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin to return continued to draw criticism over the weekend as liberal publications take aim at the network’s handling of the uncomfortable situation.  

Toobin sat down with CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota Thursday to address the embarrassing scandal that derailed his career in October, when he was seen masturbating by colleagues on a workplace Zoom call. The act was enough for The New Yorker to swiftly fire its longtime reporter, but CNN granted him a nearly eight-month leave of absence before welcoming him back. 

NBC News published a story on Saturday, “Jeffrey Toobin’s CNN return after Zoom call was a class in performative accountability,” which blasted the way CNN handled the situation. NBC News culture critic Marcie Bianco wrote that Toobin was able to “evade accountability” and “demonstrated how culture can work in the service of men but also how it lacks the institutional apparatuses necessary for effective accountability generally.”

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Bianco noted that CNN “set the stage by choosing a white woman” to detail Toobin’s ordeal. 

“Camerota’s sequence of questions allowed Toobin to cast himself, in his own words, as a relatable, ‘flawed human being who makes mistakes,’” Bianco wrote, before adding CNN allowed Toobin to rely on “keywords intended to evoke viewer sympathy” during the explanation. 

She knocked Toobin for framing the masturbation incident with self-deprecating rhetoric designed to downplay the situation as a simple mistake. 

“Never once did Toobin say these acts were choices, because to do so would be an acknowledgment of deliberate intent over a period of time,” Bianco wrote. “Real accountability, in this moment, would not only be Toobin using the language of choice but acknowledging that his deliberate choice to masturbate during a work call was predicated on the assumption that he could take the risk and not face consequences.” 

The NBC News culture critic hit CNN for not holding Toobin accountable. 

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“Toobin claimed he is ‘trying to become the kind of person that people can trust again,’ but his performance on cable TV indicated he has yet to achieve this beyond skillful rhetoric. A culture of accountability, however, is not the exclusive work of the individual but of communities, and, particularly in this case, the institution of CNN. The network has yet to demonstrate how it has changed its policies or implemented a culture of accountability since Toobin’s chosen eight-month leave of absence,” Bianco wrote. 

Washington Post media critic Erik Wemple also criticized CNN in a piece headlined, “CNN still hasn’t explained its decision to reinstate Jeffrey Toobin.”

Wemple pondered if CNN would be able to use Toobin’s analysis the next time a powerful man is accused of sexual misconduct or harassment. He noted some CNN staffers were “blindsided by the news” that Toobin was welcomed back. CNN has been quiet about Toobin except to say he will be a regular on-air analyst again at the network, where he’s worked since 2002.

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“Of course, CNN declined to elaborate on its coddling of a fellow who masturbated on a Zoom call with fellow journalists,” Wemple wrote, before mocking the network with an example of what a statement could have looked like. 

“CNN believes in a safe, inclusive and welcoming workplace, though those principles are negotiable if you can break down complex legal topics in fewer than 90 seconds,” Wemple wrote mockingly.

Wemple asked CNN a series of questions including whether the network requested how Toobin spent his time off, whether Toobin’s behavior will disqualify him from covering particular topics such as sexual misconduct, what the network considers a fireable offense, and if CNN brass notified rank-and-file staffers before his return.

“We have yet to receive any answers to those questions,” Wemple wrote. 

 The Washington Post media critic ended his piece by shooting down CNN media pundit Brian Stelter’s claim the Toobin saga was old news only hours after his return. 

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“The Erik Wemple Blog pretty much senses that the social media conversation will return to Toobin and CNN, again and again — especially when the news cycle churns out [scandals] topically adjacent to Toobin’s misdeeds,” Wemple wrote. “Let the mockery rain down: Why go easy on a network that won’t even defend its own actions?”

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