When legal analyst and writer Jeffrey Toobin was exposed last October masturbating on a Zoom call with his colleagues from The New Yorker, the repercussions were swift.
In a stunning fall from grace, the magazine fired Toobin after 27 years of service, with CNN subsequently suspending him from his duties as its chief legal analyst.
Last week, after an eight-month hiatus, CNN reinstated Toobin -- but not before political commentator Alisyn Camerota raked him over the coals in an interview that was equal parts cringe and composure. Toobin handled the awkward discussion with incredible humility and savvy.
The interview was a master class on how to appropriately address a stunningly uncomfortable situation.
Toobin retained his composure, apologized, confessed his ardent desire to make things right and discussed what he is doing to become a better person.
It was a textbook script for Crisis Management 101 and should be required viewing within the Beltway, where it seems that every week brings news of a new scandal.
"I feel like we should address what's happened in the months since we've seen you," Camerota said, in her bold opening. She unflinchingly summarized Toobin's embarrassing fall from grace and then hit him with this:
"To quote Jay Leno, 'What the hell were you thinking'?" It was THE question that everyone who had followed the Toobin case was wondering. Toobin's answers were laced with regret.
Toobin described himself as a "flawed human being who makes mistakes" and acknowledged that his conduct was "deeply moronic and indefensible." He apologized to his wife and family, his colleagues on the video call, his current co-workers at CNN and everyone else who had read his work or followed his reporting.
His carefully-thought-out return to TV provides a clear roadmap to success for politicians and others living in the public eye who must wrestle with embarrassing news.
As far as self-inflected scandals go, you would be hard-pressed to find one worse than Toobin's debacle. But he handled his return to cable news with aplomb, hitting all the high points as far as crisis PR is concerned.
And by the end of the interview, it no longer felt unthinkable to give him a second chance, given that most people have make errors but thankfully not of the same nature.
Toobin repeatedly took full responsibility for what happened on the Zoom call and never made excuses for his offensive behavior. "It was wrong, it was stupid and I'm trying to be a better person," Toobin said during the June 10th interview. He explained that he thought his camera was off, admitting that his behavior was inexcusable nonetheless.
"I am trying to become the kind of person that people can trust again," Toobin told Camerota.
He said he had spent the past seven "miserable months" going to therapy, doing public service by volunteering at a food bank and working on a new book.
Another thing that was so remarkable about this televised attempt at reputation revival was the way CNN re-introduced Toobin to its audience.
Rather than quietly insert Toobin into a broadcast without acknowledging his shocking past behavior, CNN addressed the elephant in the room in a direct and bold fashion.
Anything short of that would have left CNN open to enormous criticism. Likely, the channel would have been ridiculed for avoiding a tough topic when the perpetrator was one of their own.
The no-holds-barred interview made for some very uncomfortable, yet instructive TV. Camerota did a good job of keeping Toobin on the hot seat by asking tough questions in a fair and stern manner
Toobin remained cool and collected throughout and never make light of what had taken place.He did not even flinch when Camerota mentioned how he had been mercilessly mocked on late-night TV.
The CNN legal analyst spoke about his faux pas in an earnest manner and treated the interview as an opportunity to reach out to open-minded viewers. He acknowledged his colossal judgement error, asked for forgiveness, and spoke about how thankful he was to not have lost his entire career because of his horrific lapse in judgement.
What's more, Toobin showed class by continuing to speak of his former employer The New Yorker in favorable terms, although he disagreed with their decision to terminate him.
Toobin also repeatedly voiced thanks to CNN for giving him a second chance and allowing him back on the air. He spoke powerfully about how he was going to be dedicating himself to earning back people's respect.
What Toobin showed is that proper preparation can bring you back into the public eye to redeem yourself.
The way Toobin comported himself was admirable; surely the humiliation of having to go on TV and relive such an incredibly embarrassing affair must have been very hard. Still, he demonstrated grace under fire and came across as heartfelt and genuine.
Citizens of Washington take note: taking an open, self-critical stance in the wake of a scandal can help put a crisis in the rear-view mirror. And keeping your clothes on during work can help you avoid naked humiliation.