Iâve made no comments yet on the still-unfolding flap about Gregg Easterbrook.
Partly, this is because the end of the week was just so hectic and I didnât hear more than the bare outlines of what had happened. Then I wanted to take a day to mull over it before saying anything.
What Easterbrook said was weird and something a hair's breadth short of ugly. It seemed out of context not only for the writer, but even in the post itself. The anti-Semitic undertones of the sentences in question are obvious: it's the same old game of taking Jews to task for failings that all sorts of poeple share, but seeing their failings through the prism of their Jewishness -- an irrelevance behind which often hides a malign intent.
Try as I might to explain to myself how Easterbrook could have unwittingly walked into such an unfortunate formulation, I still find it a bit difficult. What was he thinking? I go back and forth. Iâm not sure.
Jews have some license to engage in intra-communal polemic along these lines, just as blacks do within their own community. Gentiles don't.
But two points occur to me.
First, when something like this gets said, I think you have to look at the breadth of the writersâ work. Is there a pattern? Are there other signs of an anti-Semitic mindset or animus? To the best of my knowledge, thereâs none. In fact, quite the opposite in this case. I take what he said in that context, as I think do his friends and colleagues.
(For what itâs worth, Iâve never met Easterbrook and didnât agree with the overall thrust of the actual post, which was a rant against violence-saturated movies.)
One friend asked me how this was different from the Trent Lott situation. And that's certainly a reasonable question to pose of me. To me, though, the two situations seem quite different. The issue with Trent Lott was that his remarks about Strom Thurmond came after a decades long history of nostalgia for Jim Crow, hostility to civil rights, and cavorting with crypto-racist or not-so-crypto-racist groups like the Council of Conservative Citizens -- a track record the press shamelessly ignored for years. What happened in Lott's case was that the open secret of his unreconstructed views on race finally came up in a way that was just impossible to ignore.
Second, ESPN fired Easterbrook over this incident. He had a sports writing gig there. Thatâs one of his two jobs. So Iâm sure itâs a major financial, not to mention professional, blow.
Why did this happen? Not because ESPN has a zero-tolerance policy for intolerance, to put it mildly. It happened because one of the guys Easterbrook criticized was Michael Eisner. Eisner runs Disney and Disney owns ESPN.
What happened here is old-fashioned payback, empowered by media concentration and hidden beneath a mantle of opposition to intolerance.