CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin made his high-profile return to the network Thursday after a lengthy leave of absence over being caught masturbating during a Zoom call last fall — and some CNN "insiders" criticized his on-air segment as "awkward," "inappropriate," and even "insane," according to a report from the Daily Beast.
What's the background?
Toobin's faux pas occurred in October during a work call with the New Yorker, for whom he was a veteran staff writer. After his behavior came to light, Toobin lost his New Yorker job — but CNN, for whom he also worked, granted him a leave of absence rather than terminating his employment.
The Daily Beast, citing two people familiar with the matter, reported that Toobin's "friends" embarked on an "aggressive lobbying campaign" to bring him back to the network. The outlet added that CNN head Jeff Zucker also was open to giving Toobin a second chance.
The big day arrives
CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota introduced Toobin by detailing his embarrassing moment and its aftermath. She then pointedly inquired, "What the hell were you thinking?"
"Obviously I wasn't thinking very well or very much," Toobin replied.
#BREAKING: Jeffrey Toobin RETURNS to CNN and will continue as their chief legal analyst despite having masturbated… https://t.co/Bf6sX06VVK— Curtis Houck (@Curtis Houck)1623350807.0
He explained that he thought he'd turned off his camera.
"I didn't think I was on the call. I didn't think other people could see me," he said.
Toobin added that it still didn't excuse his behavior and called his actions "deeply moronic and indefensible."
He also told Camerota he'd been in therapy during his leave of absence and did things like working at a food bank and is "trying to be a better person."
The Daily Beast noted that Camerota welcomed Toobin back at the end of the interview and said "many of us have really missed having your legal analysis."
Indeed, the Daily Beast characterized Toobin's return as "cringeworthy" — and the outlet said it spoke to CNN "insiders" who said similar things.
One female CNN staffer said the interview was "a bit inappropriate in terms of a full segment of mea culpa and then a hard pivot to his legal analysis on air," the Daily Beast said, referring to the fact that Toobin also spoke about a current news story during the segment.
The same staffer also said the "general feeling" from co-workers is that while they "trust" the New Yorker's investigation that there weren't similar incidents in Toobin's past, "they also wonder if CNN followed through with an internal probe of its own," the outlet reported.
The Daily Beast said the CNN staffer wondered, "And if so, why weren't we informed?"
Another CNN employee told the outlet Toobin's return was "just awkward" while a different network staff remarked with an "Oof."
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A person familiar with the matter, meanwhile, pointed out that while there were "mixed feelings" at the network about Toobin's return, he was greeted warmly by those in the newsroom following his interview with Camerota.
"Men and women hugged him after he left the set," the source noted. "They seemed happy he was back. It's invisible if people are grossed out because they wouldn't be the ones to come up to him. The couple dozen in the newsroom seem happy to have him back."
The feeling wasn't shared by other CNN insiders, however. One former CNN contributor said they weren't "surprised" that the network brought Toobin back but that "it's insane they have him on air" after his transgression. Another insider observed that CNN came across as hypocritical.
The Daily Beast also said CNN did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding its story.