The self-immolation of former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez, fired October 1 after delivering a lengthy anti-Semitic rant during a radio interview, offers a depressing reminder of how terribly routine the public maligning of Jews has become in 21st-century America.
Perhaps it should not shock us that an educated individual in this day and age can still believe that Jews exercise some sort of malign, collective control over much of the media, as Sanchez asserted September 30 on Sirius Satellite Radio. Even so, it is alarming to learn that a mainstream network news anchor thinks it is acceptable to say so on the air. It is chilling, and chastening, to hear him laugh in mocking disbelief at the notion that Jews could be called a vulnerable minority. Something has changed.
As recently as a decade ago, open talk of Jewish conspiracies was understood to be taboo in polite society. In the perilous world of post-9/11 America, however, it is commonplace to hear ex-presidents and college deans rail defiantly against a shadowy, all-powerful Israel lobby that subverts the national interest. At some point, the line between policy critique and conspiracy-mongering disappears. Sanchez reached that point.
Sanchez’s defenders claim he fell victim to the bullying of this same powerful Jewish cabal. They claim the Jewish lobby stifles all criticism of itself, while bigots of every other stripe are permitted to rant away undisturbed. This would come as a surprise to Don Imus, the radio jock whose national program was canceled in 2007 after he insulted an all-black girls’ basketball team.
Imus is hardly an exception. Tennessee GOP leader Chip Saltsman was forced out of the race for chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2009 after circulating a CD with a racist ditty called “Barack, the Magic Negro.” Radio talk jockey Michael Savage’s Jewish background did not save his job when MSNBC fired him in 2003 for anti-gay language. On the very day that Sanchez delivered his soliloquy, Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia fired a staffer for posting anti-gay slurs on a political website. Those are just a few prominent instances.
Sanchez was spewing anti-Semitic venom on the radio. If he knew what he was doing, he doesn’t belong in the news business. If he simply didn’t know better, that’s worse.