|View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Monday, October 20, 2003
Gregg Easterbrook and Abe Foxman
Mr. Easterbrook has apologized. The New Republic has apologized. It'll be a cold day in hell before we hear Abe Foxman apologize.
Easterbrook looked at what he had written, saw where it was a problem, and tried to be an adult about it, saying that he was truly sorry, truly wrong, understood what the specific objections were and agreed with them. To turn that into "absolute ignorance" or "total bigotry" is not a judgment on the writing, but on the man, and that is wrong. Mr. Foxman had no idea, no idea, was what in Easterbrook's head when he wrote that stuff.
Wieseltier may be right that editing is part of the writing process, but blogging is more immediate, less edited, and more subject to regret. Every blogger I know and read has had this problem, and it's part of the medium. The notion that there might actually be a legitimate point behind such a mistake, that maybe there really was a basis in thought for the comment that Jews should know better than to promote senseless violence, and that, at some level, studio execs are actually responsible for the products their companies create, is an idea that ought to be open to discussion. (I do not believe that Jewish studio execs are any more or less guilty in this regard than their non-Jewish counterparts. So, to that extent, Easterbrook is wrong.) But for Foxman to jump down the guy's throat with both feet was way out of line.
It's crucial that certain types of stereotyping and attitudes not become accepted in public debate, and what Easterbrook wrote falls outside the limits, as far as I'm concerned. But the guy immediately backtracked, didn't issue some mealy-mouthed "if I offended anyone, I'm sorry" kind of apology, didn't try to justify what he had written, and has a long personal history of philo-semitism. Not to mention that the Jews he worked with at the New Republic probably would have picked up something on their antennae long ago if it were there to be picked up.
Foxman has been head of the ADL for too long, and has become too identified with its cause. He's too quick to judge individuals rather than their work, and too quick to demand ritual observance of his totems. The ADL is a tremendously valuable organization, but I've seen his cry wolf too often at this point. It's time for some new blood, leadership that has a sense of perspective about people, while still calling attention to public speech that's out of line.