Saturday, October 18, 2003

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Gregg Easterbrook, anti-semitism, and ESPN

Despite yesterday's post about the Malaysian Prime Minister's graceless remarks, I don't blog all that much about anti-Semitism. Alas, this will have to be the second post in the last 48 hours on the subject.

I just learned about the accusations of anti-Semitism against Gregg Easterbrook for his tirade against Miramax, Quentin Tarantino, and "Kill Bill" on his TNR blog.

Having read the controversial post, I concluded:

  • Easterbrook has clearly never seen Reservoir Dogs;
  • Easterbrook did not "get" Scream;
  • Easterbrook's final two grafs -- the source of all of the controversey -- was a bizarre and offensive rant extraneous to the rest of his misguided post;

    After reading his apology, my conclusions are slightly more charitable than Virginia Postrel's.

    What genuinely puzzles me is that Easterbrook is hardly a novice in his writings on religion. He is, however, a novice blogger, which might be the best explanation. Andrew Sullivan phrases it nicely in his Inside Dish:

    Blogging is, indeed, a high-wire act. Looking back, I write about a quarter of a million words a year. The notion that I will not write something dumb, offensive or simply foolish from time to time is absurd. Of course I will. Writing is about being human. And blogging is perhaps one of the least protected, most human forms of writing we have yet discovered. It's like speaking on air, live. Yes, bloggers should take criticism. But they should be judged on the totality of their work, not their occasional screw-ups.

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Gregg. You jumped in at the deep end.

    Eric Alterman makes a similar argument:

    Action frequently gets the better of thought. Gregg could have used an editor before he wrote those silly words, but apparently he didn’t have one. He is, as he said, willing to defend the thoughts behind his anti-Semitic-sounding post, but not the words themselves.

    Many bloggers could and should say the same, but don’t do so often enough.

    [Easterbrook should have taken your advice!--ed. Well, that post also recommended blogging about religion, so maybe he did.]

    As a big fan of Easterbrook's writings in general, and his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN in particular, I've never come across anything else in his voluminous set of writings that even hinted at anti-Semitism. When someone without a track record of these utterances apologizes, I tend to think that's the end of it.

    However, according to Roger Simon, Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN for what he wrote on his blog. Glenn Reynolds has a collection of responses across the blogosphere, as well as's Orwellian response. Meryl Yourish -- who has been unrelenting in flogging Easterbrook for his screw-up -- thinks ESPN has screwed up.

    I tend to agree. This situation is not analagous to Rush Limbaugh's. Easterbrook's gaffe does not appear to have been on ESPN, and he's apologized. Limbaugh made his statements on ESPN, did not really apologize, and then refused to appear on Sportscenter to defend himself.

    [A side note: the above graf is based on Glenn Reynolds assertion that this decision was, "especially bizarre given that the whole flap was about something that wasn't even published at ESPN." I'm not completely sure that's true -- a lot of Easterbrook's initial posts at Easterblogg appeared in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback posts. However, since ESPN has erased all of his posts, I can't check on my own and will assume that what Reynolds says is true. UPDATE: I just found the cached version of the last two TMQ columns at Google -- and "Kill Bill" is not mentioned in either of them.]

    Think ESPN screwed up? Let them know about it.

    posted by Dan on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM


    I read TMQ as I always do...Tuesday Morning in Class, and that's where I think I read the post in question first, I think. Not totally sure though, but I don't go to his TNR blog much. Either way, Jonah at The Corner made a point that I thought was apt, that "Indeed, creating a climate where offending Jews automatically results in your termination will do far more to hurt Jews in this country than anything which might have resulted from Easterbrook's original comments." I thought the original post by Easterbrook was odd and poorly worded, but (hey while everyone is getting offended) I find the reaction quite offensive.

    posted by: Bill S. on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Easterbrook has clearly never seen Reservoir Dogs

    I think it's pretty obvious he's never seen Pulp Fiction of Jackie Brown, either. Check out this line from his rant:

    Tarantino does nothing but churn out shabby depictions of slaughter as a form of pleasure

    Eh? Only four people (Fonda, De Niro, Jacskson, and Tucker's characters) die in Jackie Brown, all in different scenes, all of them from a single bullet. One of the four deaths (Tucker's) happens out of camera view.

    Six or seven people die in Pulp Fiction (the three punks who stole the briefcase; Marvin; one of the redneck rapists; Floyd Wilson the boxer; and possibly the Gimp). Wilson dies off-camera (actually he's never ON camera except later, as a corpse). The three punks die in one scene (well, two, since it's repeated later), the Gimp and redneck in another. And while the aftermath to Marvin's death is gory, he's never actually shown being shot (you just see the car window turn bloody). Three (short) scenes in a movie that's two and a half hours long.

    What Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, and Reservior Dogs consist of -- almost entirely -- is dialogue. Lots of long scenes with two (sometimes three) people talking and arguing. Little to no action, until those rare spurts of graphic violence. And NONE of the violence in any of those three movies could be called "preposterous"; if anything, it's brutally realistic.

    "Kill Bill" is a new thing for Tarantino -- it's an action movie, first of all, and secondly it really is as violent and preposterous as his movies have a rep for being. I loved it, but then I'm a big fan of the Japanese and Chinese action film genres (especially samurai flicks) that influenced it. I don't know that it'll ever achieve the widespread popularity of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

    posted by: Dan on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    “Limbaugh made his statements on ESPN, did not really apologize, and then refused to appear on Sportscenter to defend himself.”

    This might be slightly off topic, but I’m surprised to learn that Rush Limbaugh “refused to appear on Sportscenter to defend himself.” This changes everything as far as I’m concerned. ESPN should have been thoroughly upset with this refusal. I no longer consider Limbaugh as something of a victim of political correctness. One should always be willing to face the music in such circumstances. Limbaugh owed it to everybody to deal with the controversy in an adult manner. He unfortunately opted to run and hide.

    My tentative opinion regarding the Gregg Easterbrook flap is that his accusers might have indulged in rhetorical overkill. This man deserved to be gently taken to task. Instead, it appears that folks like Roger Simon may have initially responded in a hysterical manner. We must never forget that even hinting that somebody might be either a child molester or a bigot is enough to eternally damage them. Thus, it behooves one to think twice about how to publicly criticized somebody. And yes, ESPN is way out of line for doing an Orwell on Easterbrook. He must get his job back. This sends the wrong message to a society premised upon the First Amendment.

    posted by: David Thomson on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    If a journalist is good then he has to be thoughtful, no? Well in today's clime with all that is going on in the world why throw gasoline on the fire. All the anti-semitic stereotypes have been brought out of the closet by the Europeans, the Rop and others and here a supposed journalist of renown does not know how to phrase his "frustrations" in a creative fashion.
    He resorted to base retoric and as sure as "apples fall DOWN from the tree" ( have to be PC) something from the woodwork is going to use his utterings to bad effect against innocent folk.
    If the guy does not believe in what he wrote, why write it? If he does then just as well people know how he thinks.

    posted by: Barry on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Check the thread link that SamAm posts on Simon's comment board (from link in Dan's story)

    Instant Karma - again.

    And by the way, Executive Summary: What? Easterbrook is a brave hero for pointing out that Eisner is Jewish?

    Wow, now that IS journalism.

    posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    ESPN's erasure of Easterbrook is so complete that searching for his name on the site will return you to the home page as if you never searched for anything. He is officialy an unperson at ESPN. If they have any group photos, his face is being airbrushed out of them right now.

    posted by: renworm on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    If you want to review past TMQs that ESPN did a George Orwell on, just Google TMQ and find a cached version of it from Google.

    posted by: John B on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    I've read TMQ for a few years now (first on Slate, then on ESPN), and was excited when Easterbrook started his blog. If nothing else, he's so prolific that it would always provide something new to read. What I've noticed is that he's never afraid to talk out of his ass, which is at once interesting and exasperating. He fancies himself logical in the face of the world's absurdities, and he isn't afraid to say it. That produces some great writing, and some deeply stupid writing (he made fun of "rich white people" going to restaurants and eating pork belly. uh, ok.)

    But the "Kill Bill" post was deeply weird, and troubling. Is he an anti-semite in the KKK manner? No, of course not. But ESPN, after the Limbaugh controversy, probably did exactly the right thing by erring on the side of non-controversiality. They actually _listened_ to the criticisms of the Limbaugh controversy, and said "we're a sports network. period." So let Easterbrook continue to publish on TNR, in Slate, wherever. Don't put ESPN in the position of saying "Rush is bad, but Easterbrook is ok." I think writers are now on notice that ESPN is a forum for sports talk, not politics. I don't have a big problem with that.

    posted by: Fella on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    The Reynolds link points to Roger Simon

    posted by: JP on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Vincent also dies in Pulp Fiction. There's also a lot of maiming and raping going on in addition to the killing. (That said, I love the movie.)

    posted by: JP on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    My family has a useful catchphrase I hear all too often as I'm up on my soapbox, ranting about a film or tv show, product or fashion trend I find particularly revolting: YOU are not the target audience. Alas, they are right. Overeducated news junky stay at home moms of means, with strong opinions about everything under the sun are rarely, if ever, the demographic of a marketer's wetdream.

    I am, however, in my element in the bloggosphere, or at least the corner of it in which Roger, Dan and Andrew are one-name stars as big as Cher. I guess that makes Glenn Fabian or something (but he lacks the critical comment feature that make Roger and Dan my faves). What does this tell us about the bloggosphere relative to the general public?

    It tells me that no one in the great beyond should make critical business decisions based on this small, but very very vocal segment of the populace. ESPN wanted to get out ahead of the curve this time, anticipating that Easter-gate would snowball into a big real-world phenomenon. I think they were wrong, as may be gathered from the chastened responses of so many bloggers to yesterday's news. Far from shouting "Simon gets results from ESPN" I think Roger rightly said, whoa, that is NOT what I wanted.

    I think professional writers need to be a bit more wary of the power of the blog than they have been to date. But above all, I think the good people at ESPN and elsewhere in the real world need to think long and hard about the wisdom of doing anything based on what they read here in blogworld. After all is said and done, we are STILL not the target audience. Sorry to break it to you.

    posted by: Kelli on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Some people I've talked to about "Pulp Fiction" seem to find the sequence about the Uma Thurman character's overdose and revival to be the hardest bit to take (it was the place where my wife stopped watching). It's pretty raw, but more by implication than by explicit gore.

    To me the most interesting thing about it is the Samuel Jackson character's moral evolution (and the way the time sequence of the movie is manipulated to emphasize it, and its contrast with Vincent's lack of same). This is one of the most adult storylines (in the best sense of the word) that I've seen in a movie. The redneck-rapist sequence is probably the least justifiable in terms of redeeming artistic quality, but it's something of a digression.

    I haven't seen "Kill Bill", but I did just see Julie Taymor's extravagant movie "Titus"-- a fairly complete adaptation of Shakespeare's "Titus Andronicus", a story so killerific it makes "Reservoir Dogs" look like the Teletubbies.

    posted by: Matt McIrvin on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Conservative Limbaugh said the press is racist. Liberal Easterbrook said Jews will do anything for money.

    The press (bigtime blogs included) seems to be siding with Easterbrook, and Limbaugh got what he deserved. Be still my heart; the surpise will pass.

    "Novice blogger"? What in the g*d-d*mn-h*ll does being a novice blogger, Mr Drezner, have to do with writing a paragraph that sounds just like it came out of a world Muslim conference's keynote speaker's mouth?

    posted by: John Mendenhall on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Mr. McIrvin;

    Trend Track: When did your wife stop watching RD? I think I can guess. Same place my wife did.

    posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    "I no longer consider Limbaugh as something of a victim of political correctness. One should always be willing to face the music in such circumstances."

    Consider that he may have resigned because of the impending drug charges as much as the flap over his remarks.

    posted by: xian on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Liberal Easterbrook said Jews will do anything for money.

    Not the way I read it at all. As far as I could determine, Easterbrook said that Hollywood executives will do anything for money. Because he was using Kill Bill as his jumping-off point, the executives responsible happen to be Jewish -- but it was clear to me that the group he was characterizing as 'doing anything for money' was Hollywood execs, not Jews. Had they been Catholics, he probably would have gone on to make the same point -- that portrarying violence as fun maybe isn't such a hot idea -- with some bizarre reference to the Roman Colosseum or something.

    Then again, given the size of this flap, I appear to be in the minority.

    posted by: cwp on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    I suspect we will hear more details about this, from Easterbrook if from no one else, over the next week or so. TMQ was always a questionable fit for ESPN; it was lengthy and touched on subjects unrelated to football. On the other hand Easterbrook did this when he wrote TMQ for Slate, too, so ESPN can't say it didn't know what it was getting.

    We all know there is a tradition that sports reports should only cover sports. ESPN itself routinely brushes wife-beating, illegal drug use, and the fathering of bastard children by athletes under the carpet called "off-field issues." And Easterbrook can write for someone else. He may write about this.

    But there is another aspect to this that people are not giving due consideration. ESPN is a sports network, but sports is a major industry and reporting about it is news. Every major network in the country is owned by a major corporation with major economic interests, and every such corporation is headed by powerful executives like Michael Eisner. The many posters complacently comfortable with Easterbrook's getting the ax for "criticizing his boss" are effectively embracing the principle that we should not object to news organizations censoring criticism of themselves.

    If Easterbrook can get fired for his Easterblogg item, why should anyone complain if networks decide their reporters shouldn't do critical stories about parent companies' corporate acquisitions? Parent companies' corporate accounting? How about news reporters having their articles adjusted to conform to a newspaper's editorial line? Granted that none of these involve emotive issues like anti-Semitism (though I wonder how people who genuinely believe firing Easterbrook is a blow against that expect their outrage not to diminish sensitivity to the real thing), but you wouldn't expect a private company to want to censor only items that might lead to hurt feelings.

    We like to think of sports as something apart from the real world. It isn't. Sports is news, ABC/ESPN though a private company uses public airwaves, and censoring commentary or reporting it finds inconvenient is not an acceptable practice. We can't forbid it, but we should at least call it by its proper name.

    posted by: Zathras on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Regarding "Complacent Comfortability", Mr. Zathras; Can we get a little shout out to the fact that people are constantly trying to eliminate the Jews?

    Can we? I mean, do you think that maybe, just maybe, that this is what colors this particular personnel decision? Just a little bit?

    I mean seriously, I like the profession of journalism and all, but I'm trying to think of the last time somebody asked us to stop the world wide WASP conspiracy by killing all of the protestants.

    And for Chrissakes, man - you're talking about sport. Are you watching the world series right now? Do you really mean us to believe that these people live the same as middle America?

    Sir, be serious.

    posted by: Art Wellesley on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    ESPN's action to halt public discourse illustrates why the huge media monopolies should be destroyed --along with the political whores in Congress and the Executive Branch who allow then.

    FCC Commissioner Powell is the one who should be fired, not Easterbrook.

    How can a democracy survive when reporters and commentators have to severely censor the facts they discuss for fear of being fired? Why should a few wealthy assholes totally control what's discussed on the PUBLIC airwaves? Why should network anchors be bribed with multi-million dollar salaries to ensure they will only report the corporate sanctioned bullshit?

    ESPN should be severely punished by the American people for their dictatorial censorship. I , for one, am taking note of who their advertisers are.

    posted by: Don Williams on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    On the other hand, this November 2001 article by the World Socialist Web Site suggests that
    Easterbrook might not have the moral high ground
    when it comes to advocating free speech:
    " ...A November 5 comment in the Wall Street Journal by Gregg Easterbrook, senior editor of the New Republic, supports the witch-hunting of academics critical of US foreign policy. The piece, titled “Free speech doesn’t come without a cost,” cites the case of Robert Jensen, a professor at the University of Texas, who has faced attacks by the press and the campus administration for his antiwar views. Easterbrook advances a twisted concept of freedom of speech to try to make the case that calls for the firing of Jensen and other left-wing academics are just and legitimate expressions of free speech.

    In a brief supporting the blacklisting of such anti-war academics, Easterbrook writes, “When the Bill of Rights was enacted the First Amendment was construed mainly to shield speakers from imprisonment for antigovernment views. That expression could have other costs—denunciation, ostracism, loss of employment—was assumed.” ..."


    posted by: Don Williams on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    I think I found the November 5 Wall Street Journal article --see

    I wonder if Glenn Reynolds is pulling our leg??

    posted by: Don Williams on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    "Limbaugh owed it to everybody to deal with the controversy in an adult manner. He unfortunately opted to run and hide."

    "Running and hiding" apparently includes going on for days on his show defending his remarks, taking calls, pro and con, about it, and appearing at the NAB conference to discuss it and take questions about it. If I understand correctly, Limbaugh's invite to Sportscenter did not necessarily precede his decision to resign.

    posted by: HH on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Mainstream Public Tired of Israel's "Games"
    This from

    Rivero responds to a reader letter and claims:

    the public at large is fed up with Israel's games. Decades of frustration and anger are about to blow into the open (as they have 80 times in history). The Zionists, in hiding their crimes behind the entire Jewish people, have once again set the Jewish people up as targets.

    What's Rivero's proof of this? "The comments by the Malaysian Prime Minister and the Editor at the New Republic."

    So now thanks to thoughtless "Instant blogging" there is now an extra to the Protocols!

    posted by: Barry on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Not so sure why you would be so charitable. Last week he wrote a column on rape, basically arguing that women should better communicate to men when they are being raped (that is: scream RAPE), because hapless men are so overwhelmed by hormones that they can't possibly tell a real NO from a no that really means yes. The guy should stick to sportswriting.

    posted by: zaoem on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Vincent also dies in Pulp Fiction. There's also a lot of maiming and raping going on in addition to the killing.

    I can't believe I forgot Vincent -- but yeah, that raises the body count to eight.

    I'm not sure what you mean by "a lot of maiming and raping going on" -- there's one instance of each, to my recollection.

    posted by: Dan on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    There's another issue here that nobody's raised: fabrication in editorials.

    Easterbrook writes that "Scream was the favorite movie of the Columbine killers." This is an assertion that has, as far as I can tell, NEVER been made before. Natural Born Killers and The Basketball Diaries are the two movies regarded as the killers' favorites. Easterbrook, it appears, wanted to stay on the topic of Miramax and so reached out for Scream.

    At the risk of conflating blogs and editorials (which, when the blog is affiliated with a major paper or magazine, I feel justified in doing), this is the sort of statement that should be FACT-CHECKED. Easterbrook seems to be stating a fact; that fact is untrue.

    Editorials center on opinions, not facts; they present facts to support these opinions. Far too often they create facts that "might as well be true" when the actual ones don't fit their theses. While this particular example is fairly minor, you don't need to look far to find others, of far more significance, and you can find them in any publication, be it the NYTimes or the Weekly Standard.

    What I want to know is, do publications employ a different standard for fact-checking editorials from that they use on news-reporting? When editorialists can't come up with the perfect fact quickly enough, and resort to grand-standing on a fabrication, who's looking out for it?

    posted by: Jeff on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    I don't even care about the deeply social and philosophical ramifications of it all. I miss Tuesday Morning Quarterback, and yes, it's an incredibly self-indulgent and limited perspective.

    And yes, the guy accusing Easterbrook of being against free speech misread the subtleties of GE's argument. My students similarly confuse the constitutional protection of believing anything you want with the idea that one ought to accept and/or reject ideas on the basis of, oh I don't know, a fair appreciation of different positions and some critical analysis, maybe?

    posted by: Ann on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Despite the fact that I disagreed with his political positions more than I agreed with them, Easterbrook's Tuesday Morning Quarterback was my favorite football column, too. While ESPN was fully within its rights to can him, and on its own this poses no free speech concerns, the Disney/Miramax/ABC/Espn connection certainly does. Mega-coroporations are threatening enough in their business implications, but this is starting to make me queasy.

    posted by: Josh on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Wait - Easterbrook got fired? Wow - go to Hawaii for a week and the world turns upside down. I loved TMQ too, but truth be told, it was getting a bit redundant ("It's a Blitz!" etc., etc.), and in general, as a poster noted earlier, GE talks out of his ass as often as he's right on. Either way, he's the verbose, know-it-all loudmouth who spouts off in the local bar, and I think it was just a matter of time before someone punched him in the face just to shut him up. Though I've not seen the offending blog, it seems as though that's exactly what happened in the bar known as Shame, but think about it - we all knew that the GE/ESPN marriage wasn't going to last. Just a shame this is how it happened, regardless of whose side you're on.

    posted by: Tim on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    Gregg Easterbrook should now write: This time, I'll "C U Next Tuesday."

    C U: See you

    posted by: test one on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

    I was as surprised as many loyal TMQ readers were to see Easterbrook was fired from ESPN's "Page 2" a few weeks ago. A quick internet search helped me find out what happened and I find ESPN's decison to fire him as preposterous as many others have. But If ESPN should be sports specific and leave politics to other media outlets as some have suggested, then it would be nice to see some consistency. Hunter Thompson also writes for ESPN and pens many a column consisting of a leftist rant and then a few sentences about gambling, all under the guise of a sports column. If Easterbrook was fired for controversial statements written in a column outside his capacity as a writer for ESPN, then why the leeway for Thompson's cliche ramblings against the President, Ashcroft, Rumsfeld and other favorite liberal targets?

    PS If anyone is interested, Gregg's TMQ column will be returning sometime soon, updates as to when and where appear on

    posted by: Dan on 10.18.03 at 10:06 PM [permalink]

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