Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Gregg Easterbrook's Jewish problem. I've been watching Gregg Easterbrook's ongoing implosion with some distress over the past few days. This is one of those weird, inexplicable stories that is difficult to comment on intelligently.

Easterbrook, if you don't know, is a journalist -- a very good one -- who recently began writing a blog on the New Republic website, and who almost immediately used it to blast Jewish film executives such as Harvey Weinstein and Michael Eisner for producing violent films such as Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. Here's the offending paragraph:

Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice. But history is hardly the only concern. Films made in Hollywood are now shown all over the world, to audiences that may not understand the dialogue or even look at the subtitles, but can't possibly miss the message -- now Disney's message -- that hearing the screams of the innocent is a really fun way to express yourself.

It's hard to figure out exactly what point Easterbrook is trying to make, but his item reeks with the language of those who loathe money-grubbing Jews. There's nothing in Easterbrook's background to suggest that he's an anti-Semite, but he clearly has some unhealthy thoughts rattling around his head that find expression when he's not being edited.

Here is Easterbrook's original item; here is his apology, which to my mind makes it worse by wallowing in self-pity; and here is an apology from TNR's editors, who observe, "The spectacle of this magazine defending itself against the charge of anti-Semitism would be funny if it were not so sad."

Because of his outburst, Easterbrook has lost a gig writing about sports for ESPN.com. Josh Marshall thinks it's because ESPN is owned by Michael Eisner's Disney, but I doubt it. Rather, ESPN, having just dumped Rush Limbaugh for making remarks more defensible than Easterbrook's, couldn't afford to be seen coddling a liberal -- or, at least, someone we had all thought was a liberal.

Jack Shafer has a smart take on all this in Slate, although he seems not to know that Easterbrook is so obsessed with movie violence that, a few years ago, TNR film critic Stanley Kauffmann felt obliged to devote an entire column to an earlier Easterbrook screed against Natural Born Killers.

So this is not a new subject for Easterbrook. The only new twist is his dark mutterings about Jewish businessmen. This is ugly and unexpected, and I suspect he's not done having to explain himself.

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