The Steve Scully and Jeffrey Toobin scandals appear on the surface to be quite far apart about what they represent and mean about the state of so-called journalism today. But, in fact, they issue a very similar warning to everyone: The legacy media has devolved into theater, peopled with corner salesmen who are rarely what they purport to be.
The Scully debacle in particular reveals so much about more than just him, but about the system in general. The scandal began with a now-deleted tweet to Trump-hater Anthony Scaramucci which read, “@Scaramucci should I respond to trump.” Mr. Scaramucci is not only opposed to the president, but gives the impression of being an active enemy who wishes to ruin Mr. Trump.
For those familiar with the Twitter platform, that message appeared to be meant as a private communication known as a “direct message.” If one is not paying attention, your intended private message can go on the public timelime.
During the ensuing outrage, Mr. Scully insisted his Twitter account had been hacked. That excuse was laughable, and yet C-SPAN reiterated this and noted they were investigating and had alerted the FBI.
Several well-respected individuals, including Sean Spicer, the former press secretary for Mr. Trump and now the host of a program on Newsmax Television, defended Mr. Scully as most were laughing at the absurdity of his hacked claim.
As an example, Mr. Spicer tweeted, “I spoke w @SteveScully Only interactions w Scaramucci he has had are a June 2018 tv & 2019 radio @cspan interview. He did not send the tweet. Steve is good man & will make an excellent @debates moderator. CSPAN does an amazing job of giving people unfiltered access #Debates2020”
About a week later, C-SPAN announced Mr. Scully had been put on indefinite leave, issuing a statement which read, in part: “… By not being immediately forthcoming to C-SPAN and the Commission about his tweet, he understands that he made a serious mistake … Starting immediately, we have placed Steve on administrative leave. After some distance from this episode, we believe in his ability to continue to contribute to C-SPAN.”
Since the suspension of Mr. Scully, the story has dropped from view but the other absurdities involved in this episode speak to the larger ethics issues with today’s media.
In his statement, Mr. Scully implies he meant to tweet Mr. Scaramucci publicly, a man who is hostile to the president, just before Mr. Scully is set to moderate the debate. That’s unbelievable on its face. But he also can’t very well admit that it was supposed to be a secret communication because that confirms the nature of what he was doing. That alone is something C-SPAN should be extremely concerned about. Mr. Scully, with his position at C-SPAN, knows pretty much everyone. He could have chosen anyone to ask for advice, but he didn’t.
Instead, he reached out to someone with a vendetta against one of the debate participants and from whom it appears he had previously sought advice and counsel.
In the aftermath, we also know he lied to at least one person, Sean Spicer, in an effort to cover up his ethical breach. Mr. Spicer’s tweet defending him now makes it appear Mr. Scully lied to him directly about the facts of the matter. Did he not know Mr. Spicer would put his own reputation on the line by defending him? Did he not care?
Then we have anti-Trump pundit Jeffrey Toobin. Mr. Toobin, a staff writer for 25 years at the New Yorker, as well as CNN’s chief legal analyst for 18 years, has been suspended from the magazine for having exposed himself while masturbating during a work Zoom call with New Yorker magazine and New York public radio staff.
Mr. Toobin explained that he “didn’t think anyone could see” him because he thought he had “muted” the video portion of the call. He then apologized to his friends and family for the obscene display.
The New Yorker magazine is investigating the incident and his Conde Nast email has been disabled. CNN, however, is another story. It simply announced that Mr. Toobin was taking some time off to deal with a personal matter. No details were provided to the CNN audience about why its chief legal analyst was no longer available. On Tuesday, the network finally provided more detailed coverage, pointing to Mr. Toobin’s excuse that it was an “accident.”
The issue of whether Mr. Toobin wanted co-workers to see him expose himself is important, but it also matters that he seemed unable, literally, to keep his pants on in the midst of work. Being compelled to do that is not something that swoops down on you like an angry bird; it’s something in your compulsion repertoire.
Mr. Scully and Mr. Toobin have been viewed as respected, trustworthy journalists over time. Mr. Scully was defended as a fair, reasonable journalist who operates on dignity and has a character we can all trust. Instead, he is someone who appears to have presented one persona to the public while working covertly with one of the worst anti-Trump operatives available.
Mr. Toobin, unhinged in his hostility toward President Trump, is a natural part of the CNN brigade hammering home almost every day how awful the president is, morally and otherwise. It’s Mr. Trump who can’t be trusted, who isn’t what he says, who is a bad man who makes a mess of everything. It’s past time Mr. Scully and Mr. Toobin start looking in the mirror, a piece of advice too many in the legacy media could benefit from.
• Tammy Bruce, president of Independent Women’s Voice, author and Fox News contributor, is a radio talk-show host.