CNN Reinstates Jeffrey Toobin After Eight Months in Exile

Has the Disgraced Legal Analyst Done Enough to Regain Public Trust?                      

6/11/21 – – Viewers tuned into CNN yesterday witnessed the return-to-air of Jeffrey Toobin. What can crisis counselors learn from the disgraced legal analyst’s reinstatement?

You may recall that last year Toobin disappeared from view at CNN and lost his job at The New Yorker magazine, which he had held for 27 years, after unintentionally exposing himself onscreen during a Zoom meeting with New Yorker colleagues. He apologized for his embarrassing indiscretion and retreated from public view.

What has he been doing during his eight months in exile to gain CNN’s and our forgiveness?

Toobin told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota that he has been “working at a food bank, going to therapy and writing a book about the Oklahoma City bombing.” Describing his behavior as “deeply moronic and indefensible,” he explained: “I am trying to become the kind of person that people can trust again.”

In a blog post last November titled “Jeffrey Toobin’s Zoom Indiscretion Costs Him His Job at The New Yorker,” I discussed the required steps along his path out of purgatory:

As we discuss in Chapter 21 of The Crisis Preparedness Quotient, the surest path to forgiveness and redemption for famous individuals who fall from grace is performance. Apologies, time away from the spotlight, good deeds and pledges of improved behavior are important. But only performance — doing what you did before the troubles at a comparable level of success — holds the power to heal most reputational wounds.  

Toobin’s low-profile, charitable work, book project and promise to earn back trust are all on-script. But his reinstatement at CNN — where he can perform once again as a legal analyst — is the most meaningful accomplishment of his redemption campaign.

Contrast Toobin’s promising situation with the challenges facing fallen media personalities still looking to get back in the game. Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Megyn Kelly, Eric Bolling and Bill O’Reilly have been unable to regain comparable platforms to the ones they lost. This makes it much harder from them to rebuild their reputations through performance.

Before any individual, company or organization can fully recover from a crisis involving shame, some level of suffering — time in the stocks — is expected. That’s human nature. Just how much pain is required before the public and media are satisfied depends on the nature of the offense, the pre-crisis reputation of the offender, and the adequacy of the offender’s response.

It seems Jeffrey Toobin understands he has a lot to be grateful for and much left to do. As he told the CNN audience yesterday, “I got a lot to rebuild . . . but I feel very privileged and very lucky that I’m gonna be able to try to do that.”

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