Andrew Brenner, a state senator in Ohio, is getting some heat for driving while participating in a Zoom call earlier this week. The Ohio Senate is currently taking up a bill that would create additional penalties for distracted driving and a local newspaper, the Columbus Dispatch, pointed out the irony of the situation.
But local media aren’t discussing perhaps the funniest aspect of this whole minor scandal: Brenner turned on a virtual background to make it appear like he was at home in his office. And he failed miserably.
Monday’s meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board was just 13 minutes long, but those were apparently precious minutes that Brenner couldn’t waste. Brenner turned his camera on and off repeatedly in an apparent effort to disguise where he was actually calling from.
Brenner, a Republican, can be seen at the start of the meeting sitting in his car while it’s stationary, according to video available on the government website the Ohio Channel. And while some workplaces might think it’s weird to take video calls from your car, there’s nothing inherently dangerous about calling from a vehicle, as long as you’re not actually driving and fiddling with your phone the entire time. But that’s precisely what Brenner did.
Brenner picks up his phone around the 1:50 mark in the video and his camera is suddenly turned off. When it’s turned back on at about the 2:35 mark we see him tinkering with the virtual background and Brenner puts up what appears to be a home office behind him, as you can see in the GIF below.
The camera is turned off yet again, and the next time we see Brenner is at the 4:20 mark, still with his seatbelt fastened, and his ridiculous virtual background flickering away.
Amazingly, he then turns his camera off yet again, apparently unhappy with the way it’s making him look.
Brenner’s video comes back one last time, glitching as much as ever. You can even see outside the window behind Brenner’s head as the scenery rushes by. No one in the meeting comments on Brenner’s location nor his weird background, but you can see at least one fellow politician smiling to herself.
When confronted with questions about the bizarre situation, Brenner told the Dispatch that it was no big deal.
“I wasn’t distracted. I was paying attention to the driving and listening to it,” Brenner said to the Dispatch. “I had two meetings that were back to back that were in separate locations. And I’ve actually been on other calls, numerous calls, while driving.”
“Phone calls for the most part but on video calls, I’m not paying attention to the video,” Brenner continued. “To me, it’s like a phone call.”
Brenner’s explanation would be a lot more believable if he didn’t bother with the virtual background and wasn’t constantly fiddling with his phone while he was driving. His entire ruse made him way more distracted than if he had simply kept his camera off and only had the audio going.
We’ve all had to adjust to more video conferencing during the covid-19 pandemic, and it’s almost nothing like we were promised. Video calls were supposed to be cool and easy, like the Jetsons, not filled with constant dread and surprise genitalia.
Yes, driving on a Zoom call is a weird thing for a politician to do, especially since Brenner was clearly trying to cover his tracks so poorly. But there have been many worse Zoom failures since the pandemic began last year. At least Brenner kept his pants on. It’s the small blessings.