October 19, 2003

That Easterbrook thing

I've been writing this post in my head for about two days now. I wasn't going to post on the Greg Easterbrook flap, because everyone else (see the links) had already said enough. I was driven to comment in Michael Totten's post on it after reading what Dipnut had to say. (Scroll down for my comments.) My take on the matter is that Easterbrook is far from anti-Semetic, but that he is guilty of using an anti-Semetic stereotype to make his point. I believe that it is possible to use anti-Semetic stereotypes (as well as other racially or ethnically offensive stereotypes) without actually being a Jew-hater or any other kind of racist. Do I believe that this is the right thing to do? I do not. But people do it all the time. People are careless. People also make dumb decisions which seem good at the time; I am sure that Easterbrook thought that using this stereotype (money-grubbing Jewish Hollywood exec) would be a good way to get people's attention. Well it sure did that.

Therefore, I thought that the contention that Easterbrook was an anti-Semite was ludicrous. I think that the reaction he got from readers alone was enough punishment -- after all, his main crime, to me at least, was against the English language. (Why are so many lousy writers paid writers? Never mind, that's an argument for another day.) Firing him from ESPN and removing all his columns from their website was overkill -- as many people have pointed out (see the Instapundit link above), the sort of overkill you can expect from a Disney-owned media company.

And no, Mr. Hackbarth and Matthew, I do not agree that it is the fault of bloggers that Easterbrook got canned. What, we aren't to say anything about someone's stupidity for fear they might get fired? It was one thing to be cautious when someone's life was possibly on the line (remember peoples' fears about Salam Pax when Saddam was still in power?); it's another thing to insist we worry about every media writer's job. The media is a shark pond; if you get careless you'll get eaten. If Easterbrook didn't know it then, he knows it now. If that sounds heartless of me, too bad. Sometimes baby needs to get burnt before he learns not to touch the stove.

Be that as it may, I also agree with Dipnut when he says: "But it seems to me what's really going on here, is you can't use the word 'Jew' in a sentence anymore without being ridden out of town on a rail by a bunch of outraged pantywaists." He exaggerates only a bit. I can state that this is true because it happened to me. Read on:

Full disclosure: once in the long ago, BB (Before Blogs -- well, at least before I had my blog), I was an occasional poster on an X-Files discussion forum. Threads were pretty free-wheeling; the only rules seemed to be Stay On Topic and Don't Sign Your Posts. (It drives me crazy to this day to see people sign their comments when their name appears in the comment footer.) Anyway, one day discussion turned to David Duchovny's injunction against Chris Carter when the latter sold syndication rights for the show without giving the actor a cut (or a fair cut) of the profits -- or maybe it was for not consulting the actor beforehand, I don't remember. Anyway, I decided to quote (or paraphrase) the actor's comments from some interview where he said Carter should have known better than to attempt to mess with the finances of the son of a Scot and a Jew. (That would be Duchovny, whose mother is from Scotland and whose father is an American Jew.) Well, the thread went ballistic. I was labelled anti-Semite (natch), offensive, insensitive... The works. Despite the fact that:

The gist of the reaction was I should have just let this comment of Duchovny's slide down the memory hole, since the mere action of repeating it could cause offense. The underlying theme seemed to be that by quoting someone you are therefore and always espousing the beliefs revealed in the quote. Bizarre, to say the least. In any case, for some reason I lost interest in participating in the forum -- oh, let's be blunt, I don't talk to people who can't think, it's a waste of my time. By the way, no one came to the defense of the poor Scots I offended, so I guess we can let fly at drunken, angry, penny-pinching Scots as much as we like.

PS: Easterbrook was wrong about his assertion that Jews should be against depictions of violence in the movies because of what happened to them in the Holocaust. If you ask me some violence on the Tarantino scale would have kept lots of Jews off those trains. Is he really suggesting that Jews should be pacifists? Yeah, that will impress their enemies.

Update: "Monsters from the Id!" Heh.

More: here's some more cogent commentary from E. Nough.

Posted by Andrea Harris at October 19, 2003 12:31 PM

The Scots are penny-pinching to the end, and no one knows this more than the Scots themselves; and they don't really mind the label. (However, they're not fighting to the death for their territory either unless the northern border English have got a few new-found tricks up their sleeves.)

The more often the following joke is retold (another characteristic of the Scots is that they repeat themselves endlessly) in the McGougan household the louder the laughs it receives; combining as it does miserliness with death:

Old Sandy was dying. Tenderly, his wife Maggie knelt by his bedside and asked:
‘Anything I can get you, Sandy?’

No reply.

‘Have ye no’ a last wish, Sandy?’

Faintly, came the answer. . . ‘a wee bit of yon boiled ham.’

‘Wheesht, man,’ said Maggie, ‘ye ken fine that’s for the funeral!’

Posted by: pooh at October 19, 2003 at 11:25 PM

Last year, a blogger got all riled up about a candidate who used a fictitous Scots relative in his campaign ad for Controller of California, which played upon the penny-pinching stereotype depiction of Scots.

I really didn't understand it then(the blogger in question didn't claim any Scots ancestry, AFAIK), but it's amazing what people find to get angry about.

Oh, on Easterbrook: It's obvious he never saw Shrek, or he'd have know what kind of guy was ultimately(metaphorically) signing his paycheck for his ESPN work......

Posted by: Dark Avenger at October 20, 2003 at 03:06 AM

I'm still fleshing my thoughts out in hopes of blogging about the concept for real one day, but I think that it is becoming the convention that unless you comment about something you quote on a blog, it is considered an endorsement of the idea.

When you decide to blog something, you generally have one of two reasons -- you post it to affirm it and spread the word about it, or you post it to criticize it. When you fail to criticize something, then it is seen as an affirmation by silence. (I know there is a Latin term for that but it escapes me at the moment.)

I think this is a good thing. A blogger should be willing to take ownership of what is on his blog without comment. If you aren't going to add anything to it, then you are just plagerizing. Shouldn't you have something to say about it?

Getting twisted about a short quote that is given as a quote like you described is just stupid people being stupid, but a lot of bloggers seem to get into situations where they put something up affirming the idea, and then claim they were just quoting it when they start to get called to task on the idea.

Posted by: Phelps at October 20, 2003 at 04:08 PM

'When you decide to blog something, you generally have one of two reasons -- you post it to affirm it and spread the word about it, or you post it to criticize it. When you fail to criticize something, then it is seen as an affirmation by silence. (I know there is a Latin term for that but it escapes me at the moment.)'

Non Bloggus Postus Criticus, Silentium Acquieso?

Posted by: pooh at October 20, 2003 at 10:19 PM

Andrea, with all due respect, I said everyone who called Gregg Easterbrook a racist or an anti-Semite after his post got him fired -- and that includes the LA Times' Tim Rutten -- not that bloggers per se got him fired.

That's not the same as saying his post had anti-Semitic elements, which, I think you could do without indulging an audience that mentally equated "an anti-Semitic remark" with Easterbrook "being an anti-Semite." And I'm afraid that, from their comments, too many of Roger Simon's and Charles Johnson's readers jumped to that conclusion almost immediately.

I don't trust the comment sections of high-traffic blogs and I never will; too much groupthink and psycho fandom has spilled over into real life in recent years, with commenters and fans going after the "enemies" of bloggers they like in real life. That nasty precedent is why I think blog readers may have had a hand in Easterbrook's firing, though the main force -- if Easterbrook is to be believed -- was Michael Eisner.

Posted by: Matthew Stinson at October 21, 2003 at 01:02 AM

I'd say it really is getting to the point, with enough reporters and other people reading weblogs, that if you run a high-traffic site, you should be careful what you say about people.

I suspect that bloggers did in fact have something to do with Easterbrook's firing, given how many high-traffic blogs that we know are read by media personalities picked up on it. I generally contend that such people should be aware of the lynch-mob mentality that can take hold, especially involving charges of anti-semitism, which, as I said, is like someone calling a sexual harasser, a rapist, a stalker, etc.--something you can tar someone with for life.

That sort of thing is not only irresponsible, but it actually tends to dilute the message when you talk about real anti-semites, the kind of people who treat Israel as the moral equivalent of the PLO, who think Hitler wasn't all that bad, who think Jews are all money-hungry cheats, and so on.

Posted by: Dean Esmay at October 21, 2003 at 01:15 AM

To Matthew: if Michael Eisner is the one behind Easterbrook's firing, I rather doubt it has anything to do with what other people said about him online. Do you think Eisner gets his info on what columnists his companies employ say about him from blogs? I rather think that Easterbrook was fired because of what he himself wrote. It is possible that if his blog entry/column/whatever it was had gone uncommented-on by readers, he may have been able to slip it under the radar. But given the apparent popularity of this man's writing (I had never heard of him, but I don't follow sports or read TNR that much) I doubt it would have remained unnoticed. And I agree with Dean that some people, at least, have to watch what they say about someone. That would be writers who work for companies with lots of big revenue who are owned/affiliated with Disney. Bloggers, on the other hand, are speaking on their own dime (barring donations), so they can say what they like. I'm not one of these people who thinks that all blogs need to be taken to the next level and considered to be the equivalent of newspapers.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at October 22, 2003 at 06:35 AM