The Double Standards of Jeffrey Toobin's Return
Jeffrey Toobin's recent re-hiring at CNN shows that sexist double standards still retain their power.
In the era of MeToo and supposed “cancel culture,” it is perhaps shocking that Jeffrey Toobin, the former New Yorker contributor who was fired for masturbating on a Zoom call, has returned to CNN. However, the awkward interview that came up with his return indicates the seriousness of Toobin’s firing and recognizes the inherent preference given to men in the public sphere.
The public has always struggled with the proper response to scandals, particularly involving sex. To this day, people are torn over the infamous scandal between Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinski. Lewinski, fate would have it, is also an example of double standards being used against women. That struggle, however, has yet to be addressed properly, with very few changes being made to ensure that it reaches a just conclusion.
While it is one thing to allow someone to return to their job and acknowledge their mistake, such reparative justice must be applied equally. If not, it ceases to be justice and turns into a privileged for an in-group. In the case of Toobin, it appears that it is the latter over the former.
Redemption for Me, but Not for She
While Toobin has been allowed to return his job, albeit awkwardly, others are not so lucky. Katie Hill, the former congresswoman from California, is a perfect example of this. She is the first bisexual woman to be elected to Congress, putting further scruples on her. During her time in Congress, she served on the Armed Services Committee and as the Vice-Chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform. Unfortunately, her career ended abruptly after being accused of sexual impropriety with several staffers and after her nude photos were leaked against her will.
At the time, Hill was in the midst of a quarrelsome divorce with her now ex-husband, whom she accused of leaking the photos. The photos were then published on the right-wing website, RedState, which was quickly accused of publishing revenge porn. Later, it was revealed that the managing editor for RedState, Jennifer Van Laar, had job plans with Hill’s political rivals. Van Laar also falsely claimed that Hill had a Nazi tattoo on her body, further revealing her partisan intentions.
Despite her critics providing no evidence of these relationships being forced, Hill was investigated under new house rules and eventually resigned. If Hill were to run again, it is unlikely that this scandal wouldn’t be used against her.
Hill is far from alone. Reporters such as Emily Wilder have also been subject to undue scrutiny that men in the same industry don’t get. A recent hire to the Associated Press, Wilder was fired 16 days after she was brought onto their staff over tweets she had made before her hiring. Wilder, who is Jewish, worked with the pro-Palestinian organization Jewish Voices for Peace, had made multiple comments about the military operations of the Israeli government. The Stanford Republicans then flagged these posts, and right-wing media came out against her.
Men in Power
Then there is the infamous old example of Bill Clinton and Monika Lewinski. Toobin himself complained about the media’s fixation on sex scandals in his book, but he dumped numerous documents detailing the sex scandal to announce the book. Indeed, no scandal quite captures the privileges that men caught in sex scandals receive, like Clinton’s adultery.
Rather than rehash the story about Clinton, it is critical to remember how Clinton’s reputation has rebounded. Despite her being an intern at the time, Lewinski's name was subject to endless scorn that Clinton, a married man, was not. Her boss, Linda Tripp, secretly recorded her private admittance of an affair. Tripp then turned the tapes over to Special Counsel Ken Starr, who used it to attack Clinton, forcing her into the public sphere.
Though Clinton was found not guilty, Lewinski’s name was tarnished. There are numerous jokes about Lewinski and t-shirts that make sexual comments at her expense, especially when they insult Hillary Clinton. It seems that misogyny is a self-maintaining parasite.
What Happens Now?
While there is not much that can be done, it is important to acknowledge what CNN contributes to. They took a man who overtly engaged in sexual misconduct for all of his colleagues to see and gave him his job back. Meanwhile, numerous women in the public eye have been scrutinized to a ridiculous degree, with many of them being targets of victim-blaming and propaganda efforts by their rivals. If there is to be an honest conversation about double standards in public, then there needs to be a recognition that reparative justice is not being applied equally. We live in a country where men get second chances and women don’t.