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'Deeply moronic': Jeffrey Toobin returns to CNN, talks Zoom incident that cost him job

The legal analyst made his surprising return to TV news with a recounting of the lewd event that got him fired from The New Yorker magazine.
Image: Jeffrey Toobin at SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Conversations with Tom Brokaw on Oct. 7, 2016 in New York City.
Jeffrey Toobin at a SAG-AFTRA Foundation Conversations event with Tom Brokaw in New York City in October 2016.D Dipasupil / SAG-AFTRA Foundation via Getty Images file

Author and legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin made a surprising return to CNN on Thursday, apologizing for the lewd Zoom mishap that led to his firing from The New Yorker and vowing "to be a better person."

Toobin was reintroduced to CNN viewers by anchor Alisyn Camerota, who had the unenviable task of summing up how Toobin was on a Zoom call with his colleagues at The New Yorker in October when an incident was captured on camera that cost him his job at the magazine.

Toobin was brought on the air to discuss a federal court ruling against California laws on assault weapons. But before she dived into that issue, Camerota greeted Toobin by saying, "It's been a while."

"I feel like we should address what's happened in the months since we've seen you," Camerota said.

"Everyone took a break for several minutes, during which time you were caught masturbating on camera," an awkwardly smiling Camerota went on to explain about the October Zoom call.

"You were subsequently fired from that job after 27 years of working there, and you since then have been on leave from CNN. Do I have all that right?" she asked.

Toobin responded: "You've got it all right, sad to say."

Camerota then referred to the famed 2005 episode of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," when Hugh Grant gave his first interview about his humiliating arrest for picking up a prostitute on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

"OK, so let's start there. To quote Jay Leno, 'What the hell were you thinking?'" Camerota said.

"Well, obviously, I wasn't thinking very well or very much, and it was something that was inexplicable to me," Toobin said.

Toobin, the author of "The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson," said he believed he was off camera.

"I think one point — I wouldn't exactly say 'in my defense,' because nothing is really in my defense — I didn't think I was on the call. I didn't think other people could see me," he said.

Toobin threw himself on the mercy of viewers, promising to become a better person.

"This was deeply moronic and indefensible, but that is part of the story," he said. "I have spent the seven subsequent months — miserable months in my life, I can certainly confess — trying to be a better person. I'm in therapy, trying to do some public service, working in a food bank, which I certainly am going to continue to do."

Camerota asked Toobin whether he understood the impact the incident had on co-workers who witnessed the embarrassing act.

"I've spoken to several of my former colleague at The New Yorker about it," he said. "They were shocked and appalled. I think they realized that this was not intended for them. I think they realized this was something I would immediately regret."

Toobin said he doesn't want make a "politician apology" like "I'm sorry if you were offended."

"That's exactly what I've tried not to do," he said. "I have tried, and I'm trying now, to say how sorry I am."

"In all seriousness, above all, I am sorry to my wife and to my family," Toobin said. "But I'm also sorry to the people on the Zoom call. I'm sorry to my former colleagues at The New Yorker. I'm sorry to my current, fortunately still, colleagues at CNN."

Toobin's videoconference incident came to be the comic symbol of the country's work-from-home culture forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

"Saturday Night Live" mocked his situation in a sketch set two years ago, in which a fortune teller, played by Kate McKinnon, predicted to Toobin's adult daughter, played by Heidi Gardner, how Zoom would play a key role in her father's misfortune.

Toobin said he felt The New Yorker's decision to fire him was "heartbreaking" and "excessive," but he didn't push the issue on the air Thursday. He said he's grateful for his second shot on TV.

"I've got a lot to rebuild," Toobin said. "But I feel very privileged and very lucky that I'm going to be able to try to do that."

CORRECTION (June 10, 2021, 6 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled Toobin's first name. It is Jeffrey, not Jeffery.