Rick Sanchez thinks you’ve got him all wrong.
And on Thursday night at a synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, the former CNN anchor engaged in a dialogue with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach to set the record straight. Sanchez was fired from CNN in October after saying on a radio show that Daily Show host Jon Stewart is a “bigot” and suggesting that Jews run CNN. Sanchez later apologized for his remarks.
His friends recently launched the website Friends of Rick Sanchez to further clear his name.
About 30 people came to hear his side of the story last night.
Throughout the night, Sanchez kept returning to the theme of being an outsider. Born in Cuba, Sanchez came to the U.S. when he was two. His father worked as a shoe shiner and dishwasher to support the family, humble beginnings that Sanchez often referenced.
“My parents didn’t give me a lot, but they gave me my name,” he said. “I’m here tonight because I have four beautiful kids, and I need to restore their name,” Sanchez said, through tears. “It’s painful.”
Sanchez said he had long felt ridiculed by Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who dedicated more than a few segments to lampooning Sanchez. To Sanchez, Stewart belonged to an “elite” club that he would never be a part of.
But Stewart makes fun of everyone, Boteach reminded Sanchez. “He’s an equal-opportunity offender,” he said.
“I felt like he didn’t get me,” Sanchez said. “My skin should have been much thicker. I lashed out, and it was wrong.”
Sanchez admitted later on that when he talked to Stewart about the jabs, Stewart actually told Sanchez that he made fun of him because he was his “favorite.”
But among Sanchez’s admissions came contradictions. Sanchez often struggled to say what he really meant, first saying “Jews have a long history of [being targets of] prejudice in America,” before then walking back from that claim. Ultimately, Sanchez was there to do damage control for comments he feels were misconstrued, but it wasn’t always clear what exactly he meant — or if he meant it.
Boteach — who is something of a celebrity rabbi — offered a few lighthearted moments during the evening, including pausing every few questions to promote one of his many books, all of which were available for sale on a table in the back. He also joked that CNN had given him Sanchez’s old time slot, and that he’s naming it “Shmuley’s List.”
Boteach wasn’t easy on Sanchez during the conversation, but he concluded that Sanchez is not anti-semitic. Instead, Boteach said Sanchez is a man with great insecurity, which caused him to lash out at Stewart. In a symbolic gesture to end the night, Boteach gave Sanchez a copy of his book, The Broken American Male.