Wednesday, October 22, 2003

An update to the Easterbrook story: Easterbrook has apologized, and The New Republic has also apologized to its readers, excoriating Easterbrook's comments, but accepting his apology and defending him against charges of anti-Semitism. Meanwhile, ESPN has summarily fired Easterbrook, who used to write an excellent weekly football column for them. (It's unclear, though, whether Easterbrook's crime in their eyes was singling out Jews, or merely singling out Disney CEO Michael Eisner, whose empire includes ESPN.)

Many pixels have since been rendered on this matter, including by Meryl Yourish (who accepts Easterbrook's apology) and Roger Simon (who accepts it with reservations). Perhaps the most interesting take is Mickey Kaus'--he thinks that Easterbrook simply got carried away with his rhetoric, recklessly casting about for any argument that came to mind, and stumbled on an offensive one. (Kaus who is a former journalistic colleague of Easterbrook's, also recalls once making a similar blunder himself.)

My own best guess as to Easterbrook's thinking (not that it necessarily matters) is that he appears to be something of an "Old Testament Christian" who thinks of his stern religiously-derived morality as common to both the Christian and Jewish traditions. (He writes in his apology of belonging to a joint Jewish-Christian congregation, of emphasizing the Jewish roots of Christianity, and of berating the Jewish producers of violent movies in exactly the same way as he did the Catholic Mel Gibson for the same transgression.) He therefore felt entitled to address the two Jewish film producers, not just as fellow Americans, but also as quasi-co-religionists.

His key error, then, was to forget that he's not Jewish, and hence that if he tries to tell certain Jews how they should behave as Jews (rather than simply as people), he's walking straight onto a moral minefield. A Jew haranguing other Jews who make violent films by invoking the lessons of the Holocaust would merely be engaging in incoherent sophistry. But a Christian scolding Jews for failing to learn the lessons of the Holocaust cannot but sound suspiciously as though he's threatening a future refresher course.

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