Web/Tech

Gregg Easterbrook fired by ESPN – which raises the question: are weblogs unsafe?

By October 21, 2003 16 Comments

For the few people who don’t know, Gregg Easterbrook (brother of well-known and well-respected federal judge Frank Easterbrook) was fired by ESPN for the supposedly anti-semitic remarks he made on his New Republic blog. Easterbrook was lamenting the gratuitous violence exhibited by Quentin Tarantino in his recent movie: Kill Bill. Easterbrook took issue with Tarantino’s supposed skill as a script writer and movie director, saying that the relentless display of graphic violence is the only skill that Tarantino possesses. He then questioned why Disney, which owns ESPN, would back a violent movie like this, especially since Michael Eisner is Jewish. The implication of Easterbrook’s post was that a Jewish person might be less likely to want to glorify gratuitous violence. Why would Eisner and studio executives at Miramax want to give his backing to a violent Tarantino film? It’s so obvious that it doesn’t merit discussion.

Anyway, most of you already know what Easterbrook said. If you don’t then go read Bill Dyer’s post which has all of the important links relevant to this story. Incidentally, I agree with Bill Dyer. But I’ll add this: Easterbrook is being fired for speaking his mind. He admits that he should have made his point about violence in Hollywood films (which was clearly not anti-semitic) more explicitly. He screwed up, and he apologized for not making his point clearer.

I always find it interesting when a large media congolmorate, which never fails to make full and extensive use of its First Amendment rights (e.g. to make grotesquely violent movies with little artistic merit), fires an employee for exercising their 1st Amendment rights. Rush Limbaugh made some goofy off-the-wall comments recently and had 3 days to pack his bags, and then he resigned. Easterbrook clumsily discussed the connection between profits and violence in movie-making and was gone like a puff of smoke. Gone as in fired, not resigned. And Easterbrook didn’t even make his comments in his ESPN column; he made them in his own private space.

Coincidentally, I have been reading William Goldman’s book Which Lie Did I Tell? which, while mostly about the craft of script writing, is also an excellent –and depressing– description of the movie industry. I wonder what William Goldman –whom I have to believe would agree with the claim that Tarantino’s skill is completely false– would think of this flap? He certainly doesn’t think highly of most Hollywood moviemakers.

Frankly, I don’t either. But the Hollywood elite have a lot of power and it doesn’t matter much what I –or even William Goldman– think. Their power, and arrogance, will reign on. Jim Croce, whom Bill Dyer aptly quoted, said it best: “You don’t tug on Superman’s cape…”

Lastly, there is another lesson here that I hate to mention. Blogs are dangerous. I didn’t used to think that, but now I’m not sure. After all, if professional writers are getting in trouble for what they say on their weblogs, then what are the implications for amatuers?

Are you a young professional, excited that your blog gives you the freedom to speak out to a large audience? Well consider what a smaller and more powerful audience (i.e. your employer) might think about what you say, and how well you say it. And of course remember that while you blogging your innermost thoughts you are also creating the world’s most accessible databank of “stuff that can be used against you later.” By whom? By your opponent in an election; and –of course– by the press who will gladly publish anything sensational that your opponent happens to pass on to them. Your weblog will save your opponents so much time when they start doing their “negative research” that they will be giddy with joy.

I don’t plan on seeking a federal judgeship or running for political office, but if I thought I might then I wouldn’t blog. In fact, I’m not sure it is such a good idea even though I don’t plan to do those things. I’ve seen how words get twisted and used against people. Hell, even E-mail is dangerous. Weblogs? I don’t know anymore. Maybe they are –to use Ralph Nader’s term– “unsafe at any speed.”

Update: Micky Kaus discusses the Easterbrook matter and the case against editors. And TalkLeft has a worthwhile post with some nice comments.

More Update Easterbrook is going to return. Good news!

16 Comments

  • lk says:

    kdI am going to say “Uncle”, as I do not know what disengenuous means, nor can I spell it.

  • lk says:

    Easterbrook referred to “Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else.” That’s a comment I expect to hear from a drunk in a bar, not a writer. He deserved to lose a job. If my employee made a similar remark for public consumption I would want to fire him/her, and might do so despite the almost certainty of a lawsuit.

  • “Warning: This Technology May Endanger Your Career — Loose Words Can Sink Yours!”

    Your message is an important one for every weblogger, especially in the legal community. Much of what I’ve been saying about the legal profession for the past two decades put my relationship with the legal community at risk, and thus had the potential to put my employer, firm, partners, clients, and career at risk. I could not have started a venture like ethicalEsq? — where I truly spoke what was on my mind — if I were not retired and therefore free to speak my mind without fear of the consequences for myself and for others to whom I have obligations.

    Of course, throughout human existence, those with something to lose have had to watch what they say. Weblogging — with its potential for a large audience, and especially with the easy accessibility of the record it creates — calls for prudence and wisdom, for all who have something to lose or merely want to continue to work within the system.

    There’s no solution. We all use self-censorship every day. Your warning needs to be heeded, especially by webloggers who aren’t sure what path they want to follow for their career. Still, I hope that we see more honesty than timidity in weblog commentary on important issues.

  • Steve Covell says:

    Good post. There are many, many times that I have to bite my lip and not say what I really want to say. Since I have the luxury of not having anyone who can fire me, it is more a matter of self-preservation and stopping to think twice as to what may not sound right at the other end. There are times you think you are saying one thing, but it comes out wrong on the other side of the computer screen. Funny how that can happen.

  • Russ says:

    Good points, as others have pointed out. The fact of the matter is that there are two ways to approach this: You use your name and stand behind your words, or you do it quasi-anonymously such as Atrios.

    The fact of the matter is that even when the economy is running well and we are at good employment levels, bosses simply have a disproportionate amount of power over the employees. Of course, ultimately, it is their business and reputation that is on the line, so if someone makes a comment that can be perceived as being anti-semetic (such as the association of jews being greedy and wanting money), or racist (such as if the comment had instead been something about blacks and the only food satisfactory to them is chicken and watermelon), then its possible that the association with the person can travel all the way back to the employer.

    I don’t blame people for doing the anonymous thing. I fully realize that if someone connected my “handle” (Russ – I am very creative) with me, that my words could reflect upon me in a job interview. I understand that when I blast the insurance companies, that if I apply to an associate position at an insurance defense firm and they pick up on that, its not going to be very helpful (just like my affiliation with SOLAR – Students Of Law for Animal Rights – didn’t help me in an interview with a firm that defended pharmaceuticals).

    Its sad that exercise of speech results in this type of response, but the reality is, that an unfortunate association (even if wrongly) with anti-semetism on the part of the employee (a fairly public one at that) will reflect ultimately on the employer.

    The reality is, because people can’t tell the difference between employees and employers (and don’t always realize that employees do not always speak for their employers), it amounts to forced speech on behalf of the employer.

    And for those of us who are attorneys, we have to watch ourselves even more carefully. Not only can we be dogged by employers, and can this influence higher office (if you desire to seek it), but it can also conceivably impact us with the bar.

    Just some thoughts.

    RussLegal Memo-Random

  • Karl says:

    LK’s comment is emblematic of the problem. Not one of the many I’ve seen decry his statement seems to have read Mr. Easterbrook’s comment in context. I’m afraid this is becoming a pattern, as just days before Rush Limbaugh appeared to be the victim of a similar incident.

    Personally I’ve discerned, from comments I’ve received from an HR department, that I’ve been denied at least one job I was in serious contention for as a result of something I said on my blog. And, I wasn’t nearly as upset as I was about the Easterbrook situation, because for the most part those passing judgment upon him are doing so upon a basis which involves a misunderstanding of the facts.

    I have no problem being perfectly accountable for the words I put into cyberspace, so long as those who are going to use them against me quote them properly.

    -kd (First time poster…great blog you have here)

  • Ernie says:

    Eugene Volokh has a few key thoughts on the 1st Amendment aspect of this situation. I agree with his irrefutable observation that ESPN is perfectly within its legal right to fire Easterbrook. He also observes that he believes that ESPN is wrong to do so. And if you want to send ESPN a comment on this matter click here.

  • lk says:

    Everytime things like this come up (Lott, Easterbrook, Malaysian guy), it is always “taken out of context”. Putting “Jewish executives” and “worship money” in the same sentence is anti-semetic regardless of the other language.

  • Karl says:

    LK, you must be joking. Do you realize that your comment implies that saying, “Jewish executives don’t worship money,” is anti-semetic? Sensativity to potential stereotype just reached a new level.

    -kd

  • Ernie says:

    Okay guys, I think we are losing the tone of civility here. Let’s try to see each other’s point of view and if we get the sense that there is a point of intractable disagreement then let’s just let the debate go for awhile. Thanks.

  • Karl says:

    Here’s the response I got from ESPN to my comments over the Easterbrook firing.

  • lk says:

    kdEasterbrook did not say “don’t” between those 2 phrases. I may have mispoke, but I think you are playing English major games with a poor math major here. I never been 2 good with wurds. The quote I used (“Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else.”) was from the New Republic. Easterbrook apologized (“[w]hat I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize.”), so maybe he agrees with me? Is Easterbrook anti-semetic? I have no opinion. His words were.

  • John Addis says:

    I found this website trying to look up a kinda unrelatedissue. Maybe you’ve seen/read something about this? 🙂

    I have a new blog at http://ludicrosity.com/ and archives of an older blog that it is not presently online. If I were to publish a printed collection of articles and stories from these websites, would I be allowed to publish the comments I received, as well? Surely someone who posts a public comment intends for the comment to be seen, though presumably not as part of a for-profit book (though I guess websites are “for-profit” too, at least in theory). I’ve noticed that a lot of bookwriters post emails they’ve received (though not with a name/etc., though in a way that seems like a WORSE violation). But what do you think? Would you be legally allowed to publish this comment in a book without asking me? 🙂 (I think you should be able to, but I don’t know where the law is on this.)

  • Karl says:

    LK,

    Here is a verbatim quote of the passage that was shortened to the one you quote:

    “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?”

    Yes, this too is a potentially controversial statement, but can we agree that to condense this thought down to the terse, “Jewish executives [who] worship money above all else,” is, at the very least, disingenuous?

    -kd

    Easterbrook’s original piece is here: http://tnr.com/easterbrook.mhtml?pid=844His apology is here: http://tnr.com/easterbrook.mhtml?pid=868

  • Dan From Queens says:

    Krauthammer has a piece entitled L’Affaire Easterbrook which ends on this note: “Easterbrook has apologized. Leave him alone,” but also contains this obesrvation: “it is certainly true that a single anti-Semitic statement can be the slip that reveals the real heart of a person who has simply been careful in public about his prejudices.” Both are true.

  • Herod Antippas says:

    I, like most, had been exposed only to the shortened line about “Jewish executives who…” which, as it turns out is not correct. When the Easterbrook apologists showed the longer phrase “Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other …” I wondered if I had been unfair. Maybe he was stereotyping Jews, but in a well-meaning way, expressing suprise that they did not abhor violence. A striking level of ignorance for someone who writes for the New Republic, but forgiveable. Then I read the whole piece. Read it from the beginning of the 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.” It’s all there, straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Jewish/Hollywood conspiracy to debase our culture. I say Easterbrook is a Jew-hating bastard and his intellectual defenders aren’t looking so good either.

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