Going too far

Going too far
: I worry about the fate of free speech in this country — not because of governmental interference, not because of that most overused word, “censorship,” but because people in power are skittish about opinions, terrified of controversy, cowed by political correctness, and most of all driven to avoid at all costs the ultimate sin of the age: offending.

Gregg Easterbrook said something offensive, deeply offensive: In panning the movie Kill Bill, he criticized the studio heads who released the film as “Jewish executives” who “worship money above all else.” Webloggers everywhere — and his editor at The New Republic — castigated him publicly. Easterbrook apologized as abjectly and sincerely as he could, as well he should have. (Here are more links from Glenn Reynolds.)

Now Roger Simon tells us that Easterbrook was fired by ESPN for his sin.

Those who criticized Easterbrook say that ESPN went too far.

Says Simon: “I don

  • “We have to stop being afraid of strong–and wrong–opinions.”
    I don’t think that’s the issue here Jeff. The issue is this: Easterbrook said something stupid and in the process violated the First Rules of both business and media: 1) Don’t insult your boss (which he did by badmouthing Eisner) and 2) Don’t say anything anti-Semitic (which Easterbrook did by referring to Eisner’s Jewishness and going on and on about Christian values). In this case, it’s not about free speech, it’s about writing something stupid and paying the price. If I did the same thing to my own boss, I’d expect to get canned. That’s called life and Easterbrook will have to deal with it.

  • RiShawn Biddle

    Besides, I think Easterbrook’s opinions have gotten more than a strong working over by opposing critics.

  • Brian E. Moore

    I concur wholeheartedly with RiShawn Biddle’s remarks.

  • Jaybird

    Well, part of the problem can be traced back to the whole “Politically Incorrect” thing. If someone phrases something badly or says something monumentally stupid, sometimes the public responds by a boycott. Sometimes the boycott is official, sometimes it isn’t. It’s rarely good press, however.
    Perhaps the upper muckity-mucks saw a reaction similar to the reaction to that stupid thing that Bill Maher said and feared that the public would react the same way that they reacted to PI.
    Not to defend the firing (which I disagree with) but, the other side of the coin is that corporations are beginning to notice that blogs are leading indicators of uproar… and they wanted to nip this in the bud.
    Good news/bad news, I guess.

  • anon

    Curious coming from someone that deletes non-spamming posts on his blog on a regular basis merely for calling you wrong or stupid even.
    How is this a chilling of free speech? Last I heard, ESPN was not yet a government organization. Easterbrook and Limbaugh have lots of other ways to get their messages out, mostly venues that will pay them too. Jeez man, I long for the days that Limbaugh is forced to using a free blogspot account.
    How is it bad business for ESPN to desire presenting a uniform, on message, well branded program? That’s like saying McDonald’s should let each frycook determine how much mustard and onions to put on each burger.
    Anyway, I think you’re wrong. and…

  • Well, brave anon (why not stand behind your name? I do) I have killed fewer than 10 comments in the entire time I’ve had this blog. So I guess your comments violated one of my rules. I didn’t fire you. I didn’t kill comments. I didn’t stop you from coming back. But I did edit. That is my right, privilege, and responsiblity. You think I’m wrong and I think you’re wrong and I don’t fear having that discussion here and openly. ESPN should not fear it, either, even if it is just a sweatnet.

  • Brock

    I think ESPN was perfectly rational.
    1) He made racial slurs that included his own boss. I think anyone tolerant enough to put up with that would be the same kind of person who could find good things to say about Hitler or Stalin.
    2) ESPN lives in a world of boycotts, insta-protests and lawsuits. They are protecting themselves here.
    3) As anon pointed out, Easterbrook’s free speech rights haven’t been taken away any more than Martin Sheen’s were when Mr. Sheen was asked to stop using West Wing galas to proselytize about nuclear power and other stuff. They’ve just taken away his bully pulpit; one never his in the first place.
    I just want to point out that BuzzMachine is right … we need to stop being afraid of ideas. The insta-protesters and the boycotters shouldn’t react the way they do. They are the ones who are over-reacting. But in the face of reality, ESPN is just acting rationally to protect itself.
    And you have just seen the battle of ideas in action. ESPN is just one actor in it all.

  • cmonks

    Yeah, I think if ESPN doesn’t want someone working for them who is careless and ignorant it’s their prerogative. Let Easterbrook start-up his own blog where he can say whatever he pleases. Limbaugh, too, for that matter. (Heck, he already has his own radio show.) I don’t want to have someone working for who says racially offensive things. Guess, ESPN doesn’t either.

  • anon

    Actually Jeff, in fact you have banned me and deleted my comments on many occasions for criticizing you.
    And yes, yes, I agree, anonymity is a terrible thing. (Jeez, man, if you don’t want anonymous posters, turn the damn thing off, it’s your site.)
    “Anonymous speech is part of a vaunted American tradition that goes back to the Founders, who often published unsigned political pamphlets,” said Megan Gray, Senior Counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “Yet on the Internet, citizens are forced to depend on Web sites or ISPs to protect their anonymity.”

  • No, Anon, it is not for criticizing me. It is for using bad words in a site my child reads. Please feel free to go elsewhere. PLEASE…. Jerry….

  • Murray

    Jeff, I can’t. I’m a victim here. I see you cited in all sorts of blogs and then clicking over here I find another Ted Baxter like post.
    Like Publius, like Thomas Jefferson, like Mark Twain, I have lurnt that sometimes anonymity is the most effective form of free speech there is:
    I want to leave it alone, with truly lots of respect you really aren’t worth it, but then I do think of your audience, and I feel the need to refute a bogus argument, to correct a common ignorance. And yet, anonymity. Sucks yeh, but like I said, for some unfathomable reason you’re well read, and I just don’t want others in the workplace to associate me with you. Sucks yeh. So does democracy and secret ballots.
    Anyway, I probably would leave it alone, but like I said, I’m the victim here. It just tickles me no end when you delete my post one day for saying the f word and then you use it twice the very next day.
    That and all your other Ted Baxterisms. You’re a hoot dude!
    Who could resist that Jeff? I’m asking ya?

  • Murray

    That said, I completely understand the issues you have regarding your son reading this. And I apologize, as I don’t have anyway to combat the obnoxious things in society your kids and mind are confronted with before they should be.
    SO I wrote the f-word out in full, and you killed the post. And then I found many occasions you said f’ing or effing, in posts and titles, before then and since then so man, well that’s annoying, ’cause there seems to be a word for that behavior, and to be very honest, well, when I write the f’word and get banninated and then you turn around and write f’this and effing that, well gosh darn, I’m such a jerk, I think you’re hiding behind your son. And again, I apologize for those thoughts, I don’t think that does you justice.
    And then when I posted a very innocuous post a few days later, you chose to highlight it O’Reilly style and call me “stupid” by name. And you never did explain the irony of the repurposing synagogue turned mosque (later found to have originally been a church even) when I asked. (Admittedly, I’m such a jerk that I am always suspicious when non-jews find more anti-semitism than I, it leaves me fearing I am being used.)
    So truly, ban me, unban me, encourage me to leave, welcome me in, whatever, I want to let you know that I sincerely apologize for writing the “f word” out in full on a site that your son reads.

  • Murry/Jerry/Mark: There are far more important and interesting issues in the world to discuss than whether you spell out the f’ word. Enough already. Let’s move on, shall we?

  • Jeff, you’re absolutely right on this one. Though ESPN didn’t in fact fire Rush, they did blast him on the air after the fact, which was out of bounds considering that the others on the air when he said his piece didn’t argue with him at the time. Michael Irvin even agreed with him. ESPN is a coward’s network. I won’t watch them anymore. And lots of bloggers have become their own little threats to free speech.

  • Wow, it is so sad that everyone is a victim here today. Personally, I think ESPN should have reprimanded him and kept him. Completely erasing every thing he has ever written from their site is a bit of overkill, in my opinion.
    There is no doubt that Easterbrook messed up. But everyone fails from time to time…everyone gets to be the fool once in a while. A company has to find a way to let people recover from their mistakes…lest they run out of employees.

  • diana

    Jeff, that was very misleading, selective quotation. Easterbrook said that Christian movie executives worship money too. What he wrote was clumsy. It wasn’t anti-Semitic.
    This whole non-issue is nuts! When you’ve got real anti-Semites like Mahathir running around, why waste time on this non-issue?

  • Good point, Diana. It was a bit of dowdification, eh? And considering the point Easterbrook was trying to make, it’s obviously relevant.
    For all, here is the fuller context.

  • Richard Aubrey

    We are not afraid of strong and wrong opinions.
    What happens is that the fear of being hammered by those who find your opinion inconvenient.
    They use the feigned offense (racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, etc) as a tool with which to manipulate others into self-censorship.
    They know the speaker didn’t say what he or she is accused of. But they know that if they make enough of a fuss, misrepresenting what was said, the third party, the audience, may get all upset.
    IMO, we ought to all say we know what is going on.
    We know it’s a manipulative scam. Even the folks in the audience know it’s bogus.
    Once we convince the scammers that everybody knows the emperor has no clothes, they lose.