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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Thursday, January 08, 2004

Gregg Easterbrook and the speech permafrost - Columbia Journalism Review marks the hacks' cards

He's baa-ack!

The whole sorry Kill Bill business [1] has been revisited in a piece by one Douglas McCollam in the current issue of the Review under the head
A Fall from Grace
A Slip into Stereotype, and a Writer Learns the Fragility of Reputation

So right, one might think, that a cautionary tale, after the Victorian model, should have a sub-title!

As a piece of journalism, it leaves something to be desired [2]. But as a warning to hacks to think long and hard whether what they're writing might, in some light, by determined chisellers, be characterised as anti-semitic, it does pretty well.

Easterbrook, as interpreted by McCollam, is left humiliated and a fair bit the poorer for his transgressions; the process whereby
  • he failed (in conjunction, it seems, with TNR editor Peter Beinart) to pull the piece as soon as the exposure was realised; and

  • he sought to abase himself sufficiently to satisfy the attack-dogs [3] that he had suffered enough
is explained at some length.

The final graf is pathetic, ending
Harvey Weinstein, head of Miramax, had written to accept Easterbrook's apology. Eisner, though, had yet to respond, which clearly troubles Easterbrook. "If he wants me to engage in a public discussion of the dangers of stereotyping and how I learned about them I would be willing to do that," Easterbrook told me. "If it happened, that would be a Disney happy ending, I suppose. Since it is Disney there should be a happy ending, right?"

Throughout, there's a tut-tuting, head-shaking tone of moralistic disapproval as the tragedy unfolds. Easterbrook is allowed to condemn himself in a similar spirit:
I felt that, because I had acknowledged that Christians are guilty of the same thing, I had counterweighted the argument properly. But when you criticize a Christian, you don't invoke a thousand years of persecution.

That last is surely a sentence that ought to be on the wall of every newsroom in foot-high letters!

Interesting is the fact (if it is one) that Beinart had his chance to yank the piece, but failed to do so. It wouldn't be to suggest the most bizarre theory ever invented [4] to suppose that Beinart (perhaps in conjunction with TNR owner Martin Peretz) refrained deliberately from so doing, in the expectation of just such a furore as in fact erupted, with the purpose of deriving just such an object-lesson for journalists as in fact was provided.

Not a theory I'd subscribe to, lacking as it does any cogent evidence. The point - as stated by Easterbrook himself (the very model of a Winston Smith, post-Room 101) - is that, in some cases, cogent evidence is not enough: the journalist must also place in the balance those
thousand years of persecution

Or, rather, he should, if he knows what's good for him.

  1. Treated here at some length in pieces on October 17, October 19, October 20 and October 21.

  2. For example, it says that Easterbrook
    contacted Roger Simon and other influential bloggers who had ripped him earlier in the week to ask their advice about responding to the controversy.
    Atrios - who was one of them, fingers the email purportedly from Easterbrook as a phoney.

  3. Most of them acting sua sponte, I suspect. No need for any sort of conspiracy at all!

  4. No more absurd that creationism or the JFK assassination conspiracy that around half of Americans apparently believe in.

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