The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Easterbrook affair: New Republic gives the Italian two-handed salute

[D'you know, I think I may have pandered to a stereotype of lack of Italian valour there, born of Sixth Army experience during World War 2. Tough.]

Two things need to be separated: the presence of Easterbrooks's original post on the TNR site; and the reaction of TNR to the furore.

On the first point, we're back with the company email problem. Any company has a valid interest in protecting itself: an email sent from its address is as good as if sent on the company's letter-heading on the very heaviest and best paper money can buy. No one should send any email that they would be unhappy having read out in open court. What employees send from their own addresses is their business: from the company's, not so much.

Same goes for newspaper blogs. They engage the responsibility - to borrow a nice French phrase - of the paper just as much as if they were set in hot metal and run out on a linotype machine, front page, above the fold. If the paper chooses not to edit the blog, it only has itself to blame [1].

Did TNR edit Easterbrook's piece? (It did edit the West Hollywood homosexuals piece that Mickey Kaus wore a hair shirt for (my piece yesterday).)

The TNR response to the Easterbrook furore - which we have today in the form of A Letter to our Readers bylined The Editors - is cringing and cringemaking.

Of course, Easterbrook had already apologised - my piece on October 17 - so leaving no real room for any Voltairean defending to the death on the part of TNR management.

Even so, one feels that an apology drafted by the ADL could not have been more abject than today's offering.

Those of a nervous disposition should look away now:
...Easterbrook referred to "Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else." Many readers found the remark offensive. They were right.

There's a quantification issue here, of course: letter writers and ranting bloggers do not a valid sample make. The piece refers to the many readers's emotional response - finding the remark offensive - and, in the next sentence, seems to offer an objective finding that it was.

Worst of all, it seems to conclude that, by being offensive, it ought not have to have been published.

It goes on to say that
...Easterbrook's comment is false and ugly...

Is the remark false at all? My knowledge of logic is not what it should be: but surely, of the variety of types of utterance human speech is capable of, only a statement is capable of falsification?

In that context, it seems to me that quotation in the TNR piece is thoroughly misleading: the original reads
Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?

The TNR grovel includes just a snippet::
In the course of his denunciation, Easterbrook referred to "Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else."

The square brackets are, of course, a giveaway that the quote has been adjusted. But it seems to me that, in the process, the sense has been altered, too: in the apology, Easterbrook is making an assertion that there are Jewish executives who worship money above all else.

In the original, he is asking a rhetorical question, to make an argument. And, from the original - though not the doctored extract in the TNR apology - it is clear that the point he is making is not an allegation that Jewish executives worship money but rather that they promote the adulation of violence. The omission seems - to go no further - apt seriously to mislead: Jews are not stereotypically adulators of violence.

And, be the argument false or not, what should the fact that it is ugly have to do with whether it should have been published. Many stories are ugly: a piece detailing the - alas - common practice of female genital mutilation is almost guaranteed to be ugly - does that mean that the TNR should ipso facto not publish it? The history of slavery in the United States is a mine of ugly stories - are those not to be told for fear of giving offence?

And, coming well within living memory, one knows well the offence taken by Americans, North as well as South, even college-educated, at the discussion of miscegenation, and the absurd laws once widely enforced to prevent it. The archives of the period are not, I believe, available online; but I suspect they would show that TNR was ridiculing and castigating the regime that cosseted such susceptibilities well before those laws ceased to have effect [2].

TNR clearly embraces self-censorship for the avoidance of giving offence. How will we know where it has trimmed - literally and metaphorically! Will only certain groups benefit from its indulgence, or will the sensibilities even of heterosexual, Caucasian males be given due allowance?

May one take some hint from the fact that, of the 670 or so words in the piece, around 270 are devoted to rebutting the argument that Easterbrook or TNR or both are antisemitic. (For which assertion the evidence - so far as I'm aware - has yet to be put before the public.) If the ADL could have drafted such assiduous self-abasement, then so might someone wishing to suggest the diametrically opposed bias.

It occurs to me to ask what complaints the TNR have received from Arab-Americans in the last year or two - in the period following 9/11, say. How many said that they found something they had read offensive? What replies were given to such allegations?

The final paragraph of the piece is, perhaps, the most nauseating:
But we know that reputations are, by their nature, fragile things. So, as we apologize to you today, we also rededicate ourselves to keeping the faith of our readers in our old and proven commitment to decency in American life, and in the critical discussion of it.

You can be critical in TNR - but you must be decent! TNR relocates to Pleasantville; Ronald Reagan is shilling for General Electric, Lucille Ball is messing up but always clean, and don't please mention the Guatemala coup because United Fruit would find it offensive.

Now we know.

  1. The TNR apology acknowledges the fact.

  2. Having thought of the example, I am now curious to know the date of the first TNR story on the anti-miscegenation laws. Perhaps there ought to be some sort of sweepstake? I think we might be surprised just how late it was...


I have now realised why, of an altogether shameful and depressing piece of prose, the final paragraph was the worst: its use of the D-word:
...we also rededicate ourselves...

In concocting this servile obeisance, the scribes at TNR have had the utter gall to allude to the Gettysburg Address!

(There are, of course, several versions of the speech. But in the generally accepted Bliss version there are no fewer than six uses of various forms of the verb to dedicate, each placed with precision for rhetorical effect.)

On second thoughts, it is only natural that the writers would seek to attempt to mask the taste of their vile effort with a seasoning of Lincoln.

Though, had Lincoln possessed their level of fortitude and commitment to the cause, one little doubts that Jefferson Davis would have been in residence in the White House long before November 1863!

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