Tales From the Blogosphere: On October 17, the Anti-Defamation League charged The New Republic senior editor Gregg Easterbrook with “either absolute ignorance or total bigotry” for writing in his Web log that “Jewish executives” in Hollywood “worship money above all else.” Three days, two editorial apologies and one lost job later, the ADL considered the matter closed.
Then began the condemnations of the condemnation.
“What is going on here?” Charles Krauthammer asks in his October 24 Washington Post column. “Jews are being attacked in Germany. Synagogues are being torched in France. Around the world, Jews — such as Daniel Pearl — are hunted and killed as Jews. The prime minister of Malaysia tells an Islamic summit that ‘1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews’… and gets a standing ovation from the heads of state of 57 countries. And amid all this, the Anti-Defamation League feels the need to wax indignant over a few lines on a Web log?”
Easterbrook’s offending words, for those unfamiliar with the online world of punditry known as the blogosphere, were that Miramax head Harvey Weinstein and his corporate boss, Disney CEO Michael Eisner, should have known better — because they are Jewish — than to glorify violence in movies such as Miramax’s recently released “Kill Bill.” A barrage of criticism from the ADL and others ensued.
Even the milder critics took Easterbrook to task simply for mentioning that the film executives behind “Kill Bill” were Jewish, questioning the relevance of Judaism to the movie moguls’ decision making.
“Unless Miramax commissioned ‘Kill Bill’ director Quentin Tarantino to create a midrash on the Sixth Commandment, I don’t see how it is at all fair to raise the faith of Eisner and Weinstein,” Andrew Silow-Carroll — the previous writer of this column and former Forward managing editor — argues in the October 23 editor’s column of the New Jersey Jewish News. “Eisner and Weinstein have never presented themselves as anything other than executives charged with making money for their corporations; it’s not their fault that folks like Easterbrook can’t see past their last names.”
As the controversy unfolded, Easterbrook was sacked from his online football analyst position at the ESPN sports network — which, cynical commentators observed, is majority-owned by Disney, which also owns Miramax. The firing proved to be a turning point for Easterbrook’s public rehabilitation. One of his first and harshest critics, ADL national director Abraham Foxman, told the Web log amieden.com that The New Republic senior editor shouldn’t have been fired, and Krauthammer and other Jewish journalists rushed to Easterbrook’s defense, arguing that touchiness about ethnic slurs had crossed into vilification.
Yet even critics of the critics couldn’t resist criticizing each other’s criticisms. Sentiments attesting to the relative harmlessness of Easterbrook’s slander — particularly in comparison to the “real antisemitism” given voice that week by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad — drew the comical ire of Steven Weiss in an October 24 cover story for Jewsweek, the self-described “‘here and now’ webzine for Jews in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.”
“There’s no sense in, say, assigning a value of 1 to thinking Jews have horns, 2 to thinking they’re the devil, and 3 to saying they’re dominating the world a la the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’” Weiss writes. “The meaning of the charge of antisemitism has been diluted by falsely charging Easterbrook; the impact of the charge of antisemitism has been diminished by creating a false category that doesn’t require as much condemnation.”
For all the brouhaha, Easterbrook’s bosses at the The New Republic are sticking by their senior editor. His was, they contritely admit, a “false and ugly” comment — but one that must be returned to its proper context.
“We have seen too many reputations unjustly ruined by media inquisitions and the vituperative politics of ethnic insult in America,” the magazine’s editors write in an October 20 online letter to readers. “We hope that the firmness with which Easterbrook’s awful remark has been judged will be attended by fairness in the consideration of his character and his career. What he wrote last week is the terrible exception, not the terrible rule.”