Spontaneous brain farts

Spontaneous brain farts
: On the continuing Easterbrook brouhaha, Sean Hackworth reminds all of us instapublishers of something important:

Part of weblogging that makes it interesting is the spontaneous nature of it. A writer gets an idea, types it, and hits the publish button. Just like we accept a certain amount of spelling and grammatical errors in e-mail and instant messages so should we accept some brain farts if we want the maintain weblogs’ spontaneity.

For those who wonder about bigger institutions wanting to edit weblogs, this is why. A good editor would have called Easterbrook on his bad choice of words; I’ll bet he would have thanked that editor; nobody would have been offended or fired; end of it.

But in weblogs, we don’t want editing because it gets in the way of spontaneity.

OK, then, as Hackworth says, we have to accept that people will misspeak and can think better of it later. So perhaps before jumping on them, we should try to act more like editors by (a) calling them on a bad choice and giving them half a chance to reconsider, then (b) accepting their reconsideration when they make it.

We will all want that favor. For when we fart, the whole world smells it.

: In the comments, Jeremy adds this:

Yeah, you definitely have to watch what you write in your blog. I got dumped by a prospective girlfriend because she read my blog, and was offended by what I said about the French.

And it wasn’t like I insulted them just because they were french, but because I disagree with how they were acting (and their anti-americanism). Some of my favorite authors are french…

You’re better off without her, pal.

: UPDATE: I just got email from a writer, Steven Weiss, asking why an anti-Semite should not be fired. Here is my answer:

I think it was an anti-Semetic allusion but I do accept Easterbrook’s contention that his intent was not anti-Semetic.

What he was trying to say, when reading his quote in full context (as opposed to the highly truncated version that appeared on weblogs and in the NY Times) was that he was appalled by the violence in these movies and — rightly or wrongly — he held Jewish entertainment executives to a higher standard because he would have thought that they would be more sensitive to senseless violence given 20th century history. He was appalled at this violence supported by entertainment executives of any background. But he made a distinction here, an unwise one, as it turns out, holding some to a higher standard — and he expressed that terribly..

Now, having given him that benefit of that doubt, he was incredibly insensitive in his allusion. He played into horribly offensive stereotypes and bigotry by making reference to Jews and money. That was stupid, incredibly stupid and insensitive and offensive. He should not have said that. Any editor worth his salt would have stopped that. But in the heat or foolishness of the moment, he said it and there apparently was no editor to stop him.

If he meant to make that connection as a slap at Jews, then it is anti-Semetic; and that’s what I thought it was at first, especially seeing just the truncated quote. But seeing the fuller version, in which he attacked all entertainment executives but held Jewish executives to a higher standard, I do wonder whether he was simply stupid rather than venal, whether he got carried away and didn’t realize what he was saying. Again, that is no excuse. But the motive does, clearly, matter for motive is at the heart of an accusation of anti-Semetism. (If you don’t like someone because of what he does, that’s dislike; if you don’t like him because of who he is, that’s bigotry; if you don’t like him because he’s Jewish, that’s anti-Semetism.)

Now read his apology and see that he is sincerely concerned about the connection (many, including me, would say lost connection) between Christianity and Judiaism (see also my post about this, below). He doesn’t appear to be one to lightly throw off an offensive insult.

So… Can smart people say stupid things? Absolutely. Many bloggers attacked Easterbrook when they saw that he said something stupid. But they also reacted strongly when ESPN fired him (for something he did not write there) because they saw that as an overreaction. Also, I think, they saw that saying something stupid is something any of us could do and that could become the cosmic gotcha moment from which there is no return. Many of us have written about that today. I did. I quoted another blogger who said we can all have brain farts. Look, too, at Andrew Sullivan saying that we all walk a tightrope.

So the question, in the end, is whether there is forgiveness in media. Do media forgive? Can media be forgiven? Easterbrook said something wrong. Was he trying to say something wrong or did he try to say something right and say it terribly wrongly? Again, motive matters. In any case, he apologized with what seemed to be to be sincerity and remorse. Should he — and his writing — be discarded or should he be forgiven or at least given another chance?

Why don’t we try a little forgiveness?

  • Mike G

    Very true. I don’t think Easterbrook was being anti-Semitic. His “but some of my best friends are” defense was unusually persuasive, if you read it. What I think is true is that he reflected a Jewish stereotype, for the purpose of rhetorically dismissing it, in a way that suggests that maybe his own process of getting rid of that stereotype isn’t as complete as he thinks it is. But his conscious actions certainly suggest good faith efforts.
    And for this a number of people ran him out of Blogtown on a rail. They jumped (and still do; watch the comments fill up with people saying there’s no debate that his comments were rankly anti-Semitic) to pillory him absolutely. They called him asshole and insensitive to the Holocaust, they got him fired (or gave Disney the excuse to show employees that there’s no Blog exception for not talking back to the mouse, take your pick). It was their fury that got him canned– and ensured that the next 10 professional journalists to think about doing a blog think about what happened to Easterbrook, and decide not to.

  • George Peery

    Mike is right. Jeff wants readers to exercise more prudence than writers. That’s truly wishful thinking.

  • Jeremy

    Yeah, you definitely have to watch what you write in your blog. I got dumped by a prospective girlfriend because she read my blog, and was offended by what I said about the French.
    And it wasn’t like I insulted them just because they were french, but because I disagree with how they were acting (and their anti-americanism). Some of my favorite authors are french – Voltaire, Dumas, Camus, Sartre, Jacques Vallee.
    It’s germans I have an irrational hatred of.

  • “Why don’t we try a little forgiveness?” Well, I wish people would, but I think there’s a sad/broken dynamic in the political part of the blogosphere (mostly warbloggers) where everyone wants to participate in groupthink. There’s a lot of reasons, ranging from the human and understandable want to participate in a larger trend, to the ego-driven (and also understandable) hope that talking about the topic du jour will result in a link from Instapundit.
    The unfortunate result of such things, and I’ve been on Easterbrook’s side of it, though fortunately never to the extent of having it cost me my job, is that people pile on before they’ve thought critically about something without realizing the repercussions of all their ranting. I worry about Easterbrook, not for his career, but for the personal impact it has to have a lot of people impugning his motives even before they’ve even stopped to really read his words and understood them.
    Warbloggers, heal thyselves!

  • Uh, shouldn’t that be “Bloggers, heal thyselves”? After all, “warbloggers” are hardly the only group of bloggers to go off half-cocked about something.

  • Anil: You’re dabbling in a bit of blogger bigotry yourself. You’re lumping people together under a label for more convenient attack. That’s lazy and rather unsophisticated.
    I started as a warblogger. But I write about many other things now. And I did not jump on the Easterbrook pile-on until it was time to comment on ESPN’s action. Many other webwarbloggers had nothing to say about this. But you’re attacking everyone as if we were a lock-step army, though you know better: We’re hardly that. And I think you should be happy about all these “warbloggers,” for they are what made the whole of the blogosphere much bigger — and a much better business.

  • Jeff, it’s Hackbarth not Hackworth. Oh, well. You were nice to me at BloggerCon.