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In the Age of Quiet Quitting, I Was Quiet Suspended, And I Can't Shut Up About It
On Toobin's wake, professionalism, and the lessons I thought we learned in #MeToo
People ask me these days if I’m still on TV. The answer is: not really. So, where have I been? What happened to this formerly visible part of my career?
It came to my attention in July that I had been punished under old CNN leadership— kept off air since January— for tweeting about Jeffrey Toobin in a Twitter dust-up with Andrew Kaczynski (another CNN employee) regarding our network's coverage of the 2017 Congressional baseball shooting.
You can read about that Twitter fight, here, which — although it got heated and brought in ugly trolling from others — remained basically above board between Kaczynski and me and resulted in no bad blood, as far as I knew, and as I assessed in an after-action debrief over private messages. I suppose some might reasonably conclude that critiquing CNN's coverage in a factual and calm tweet, or arguing with Kaczynski, could have spurred some disciplinary action, as it violates the rule against “shooting inside the tent” among colleagues. But it turns out that didn’t do me in. Rather, I’m told, “when it got to the comments about Jeffrey Toobin…everyone wanted a bit of a breather.”
Well, everyone but me, who had no idea there was a breather in effect. I was never informed of my punishment until it was rescinded recently by new management. No one called me or my representation about it. There was no announcement of a suspension, or notification of in-house disciplinary action, which I would have preferred, even welcomed by comparison to serving a secret sentence.
In case you're wondering, as I did, how my punishment for tweeting about Toobin compares to Toobin's suspension for his offense, I can tell you. He was off air for eight months; I was off for seven. One month was the difference between punishment for jacking off at work versus commenting on the inadvisability of jacking off at work.
On one hand, the people who made this call about me are gone from the network, so maybe I could let it lie. But on the other hand, many of my colleagues no doubt knew about my banning from air, but not the reasons behind it, thereby leaving the impression I must have done something tantamount to Toobining. I did not.
I was told it was Jeff Zucker, now gone, who put this order in place and a deputy, also gone, who kept it there. I was also told I wasn't informed of the network's displeasure because I had just had a baby and someone in the old leadership thought I might be a "loose cannon." Not as loose as Toobin's, but I digress.
(Look, if you’re gonna tell a grown-ass woman her former bosses thought her postpartum state made it problematic to inform her of routine information about her employment, she is entitled to the occasional penis pun.)
I’ve never been accused of being much of a loose cannon. Even in my worst moments of life, I can pretty much keep it between the navigational beacons, and have never before even been reprimanded for a tweet. In fact, I’d argue it takes this exact scenario, seemingly created in a lab to tick me off as much as possible, to make me fire off.
But let’s get back to talking about penises, as I did freely with the CNN employees charged with explaining this situation to me this summer.
In the #MeToo era, I have been asked to make public comment on basically every errant penis in the media, government, sports, and entertainment worlds, sometimes to the exclusion of everything else in the news, and at the expense of some amount of professional dignity. It is ironic that in shining a light on bad behavior, which is the right thing to do, you're still a woman on TV talking about penises. Every professional woman in a green room, preparing to talk about Weinstein’s penchant for potted plants for the 17th time, knows this feeling. Nonetheless, speaking up remains the right thing to do, and I flatly reject the notion, then and now, that Toobin's flagrantly errant member is the one I am not allowed to talk about— that this is the one offense about which I should be silent. I also reject the idea I’m to be quiet about being punished over it.
I’ve talked about so many instances of sexual misconduct, I had to develop a rubric for what made a credible allegation, so that I wasn’t ignoring due process entirely. Toobin didn’t need a rubric; there was video.
Despite a surprisingly sympathetic raft of pieces marshalled on his behalf about the changing nature of the pandemic-era workplace and the blurred lines that apparently made it understandable to drop trou, it was obvious to anyone with a job outside of media that this was an offense from which one need not be publicly rehabbed. It seemed obvious to me that I would not have been professionally rehabbed after such an offense, except perhaps on OnlyFans.
Megyn Kelly commented on Twitter, “There is not a woman alive who could have done anything close to what Jeffrey Toobin did (not that one would) and kept her job. What a disgusting, incestuous boys’ club. So damned tired of it.”
A lot of people wanted to say this, but did not for fear of retaliation. I know now that their fears were justified.
That is the downside of quiet, no-drama professionalism, the posture I attempt to take most of the time. That path has its upsides, and it’s often the right choice, but it can handicap you in a conflict. Avoiding airing dirty laundry has often protected those who didn't deserve it and caused the perpetuation of workplace bullshit to which I do not wish to be a party. I remain surprised that I ended up in this position in 2022, and I wish I hadn’t. The era of keeping our mouths shut about obvious sexual misconduct from colleagues did not serve us well. Wasn't that part of the lesson of #MeToo? My takeaway was that I wanted younger women to see that I spoke up about my treatment when warranted and survived, even thrived. Among those young women are my three daughters. I can’t tell them this story in good conscience if it ends with “Mom went right back to work with a smile on her face after that.” I don't get a rehabilitation interview to reflect on my absence or to plug a book, as Toobin did, but I can write this.
I was treated unfairly by the people who punished me. Simply shutting up about it does not sit right with me. In the course of any career, perhaps particularly a public-facing media career — even more a political media career — you're gonna run into some jerks who treat you badly. Sometimes it's condescension, sometimes paternalism, or harassment. The latter was the story at Fox, where I had a 10-year run during which I went completely un-harassed, a fact I am at pains to disclose every time I speak publicly about my career. Roger Ailes was not interested in me, but even in not harassing me, his actions put me in an uncomfortable position. Such is the lose-lose nature of that kind of thing. I later learned what friends and colleagues endured behind closed doors.
I have grown up in this industry, on national TV, proudly going toe-to-toe with people far older and more powerful than I since I was 26 years old. I've had three kids since I started in this business and I'm working on the fourth. I've seen great loss, my life torn asunder and beautifully rebuilt.
Through all of it, I have tried my best to make my commentary worthwhile, argue without being a total blowhard, maintain good relationships with people who disagree with me, check my own biases with those people, and act in good faith in a very strange time of a lot of political change. I know very well I'm in the ideological minority in many of the places I speak, and certainly in the Zucker era at CNN, that made me dispensable. But being the weirdo is why I went to those places, whether it's CNN, major universities, or my own hometown. I enjoy it and it benefits my brain. I believe it’s healthy to be the one in the room who disagrees, even if they don’t want to hear about how everyone was wrong about Russiagate or school closings.
To that end, I thought hard about how I should behave in this situation. I have not been asked to leave CNN. In fact, I've been invited back by the new guard to do the job I was prevented from doing by the old guard. Clean slate, as if nothing happened. But something did happen.
I have never been great at being quiet, and it’s not in my nature to start. So, that’s where I’ve been. I determined it was impossible for me to come back without saying why I’d been gone.