October 18, 2003

ROGER SIMON has a disturbing report: He spoke with Gregg Easterbrook on the phone and Easterbrook has been fired from ESPN. I think that's an overreaction, as does Roger:

I, as one of his harshest critics, believe that ESPN has vastly overreacted. I urge them to reconsider their decision. I donít think anybody who attacked Easterbrook wanted to see him fired. I certainly didnít.

I suspect that there's blowback from the Limbaugh matter here. (Read this post for my thoughts on the subject, and why Easterbrook isn't really the issue.)

UPDATE: ESPN seems to have gone Stalinist on us -- now Gregg Easterbrook never wrote for them at all! Reader Gautam Mukunda emails:

ESPN (I have just discovered) has actually done something much creepier than just firing Easterbrook, or even just removing his columns. If you go to their home page and use the "Search ESPN" function for the words Easterbrook or TMQ, it just returns you to the home page without result - it's as if the search just vanishes. If you use a word that only Easterbrook has ever used on (I used haiku) then you will get results from his columns - although they have been removed. But if someone tries to find his column through the obvious ways, they seem to have rigged the search engine to act as if the search never happened.

This is a real pity, and not just for Easterbrook. Almost every football fan I know - myself included - thought of TMQ as the best football column anywhere. I hope that Slate picks it up again.

Creepy is right. And especially bizarre given that the whole flap was about something that wasn't even published at ESPN.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Rishawn Biddle and Jonah Goldberg think that it was as much because Easterbrook dissed a Disney film as because of antisemitism charges per se.

MORE: Josh Chafetz says that it's "outrageous," and offers a link for people to email ESPN.

STILL MORE: Jeff Jarvis weighs in, and observes:

We have to stop being afraid of strong -- and wrong -- opinions. We have to stop being afraid of mere speech. We have to learn again to fight fire with fire -- words, that is -- rather than with nuclear weapons such as this.
When someone says something stupid, call it stupid. When they say something wrong, call it wrong. When they shout, shout back. That is the free marketplace of ideas and speech. That is democracy. Nothing to be afraid of there.
But if we try to cut off that free discussion, even when it is offensive, we cut off the marketplace of ideas, we cut off our own freedom.
What ESPN did is essentially insulting to its audience. They think we can't take care of ourselves, that we can't make our own judgments about Easterbrook and what he said and how he apologized; they are condescending to us when they think they are protecting us from offense.

Read the whole thing.

MORE STILL: Meryl Yourish, perhaps Easterbrook's fiercest critic, thinks that ESPN is totally wrong, and encourages people to email in Easterbrook's support. So does Andrew Sullivan.

Reader Paul Stinchfield emails:

Harlan Ellison wrote in "The Glass Teat" (his collected essays on TV and movies) that Hollywood has a longstanding history of dehumanizing behaviors. You leave work Friday after a friendly conversation with your boss who praises your work and thanks you for your dedication, and come to work Monday morning to discover that you have been fired. Not only that, but your cubicle has disappeared. And people are afraid to talk to you. And the whispering campaign to destroy your professional reputation has begun. A project you worked on might be killed, even if it means much money lost, just to bolster the claim that you and your work were no good. In comparison to all that, erasing somebody from a website is so much easier.

Mickey Mouse has long been a rat.

Are rats prone to silly overreactions? Another reader with Disney experience smells a Disney hand in this and comments:

You can get fired for anything over there. And they treat you like shit while you work for them. They specialize in creative sadism towards the poor schmuck on the rung below. I kid you not. They're really terrible people. Like most picture people.

(Several readers also emailed that working conditions at Disney are so bad that it's nicknamed "Mouseschwitz," ironically enough, and a Google search indicates that this is an actual nickname for the place. Ugh.) Glad I'm not in that business. Is Eisner really after Easterbrook? That would be petty, and silly, and entirely beneath him. I guess it's possible. . . .

AND YET MORE: Kevin Drum:

Was this instead a reaction to the fact that Easterbrook took a shot at Disney and Michael Eisner, which owns ESPN? I sure hope not. Sure, normally you expect employees not to criticize the boss, but journalism is different. If Easterbrook got fired for that, it's not much different than firing Peter Jennings for airing a news story critical of Disney.

He thinks ESPN owes an explanation, and wonders why it hasn't produced one. Maybe ESPN can't explain the decision, because the decision wasn't made at ESPN?

It seems to me that this calls for a much closer look at the dangers of media consolidation. When a guy who works for ESPN can't criticize Disney in The New Republic without being fired for dissing his "boss," which is quite possibly what's happened here, then something is seriously rotten.

Congressional hearings anyone? Maybe we should ask Eisner to testify. . . . Under oath.

STILL MORE: Dan Gillmor wonders about the Disney connection, too, and says it isn't much of a surprise. Meanwhile Meryl Yourish points out some real antisemitism, by way of comparison. What's Eisner doing about this? Trying to pretend it isn't there, one suspects.

And read these cogent thoughts from Sean Hackbarth. Colby Cosh has comments, too.

Virginia Postrel: "Obviously I'm not a fan of his recent remarks. . . . But this is a bizarre overreaction to what should have been a one-day story."

Eugene Volokh: "I thought Easterbrook's comments were unsound and quite unpersuasive, but I don't think they were anti-Semitic." He calls the firing a "massive overreaction."

Daniel Drezner: "This situation is not analagous to Rush Limbaugh's. Easterbrook's gaffe does not appear to have been on ESPN, and he's apologized."

Several readers note that they're eagerly awaiting the firestorm of Big Media complaint about the "crushing of dissent" that appeared after radio stations stopped playing the Dixie Chicks for a while.

Dean Esmay is upset. To be fair, I think that Easterbrook is in no small way the author of his own misfortunes, but I think that the ESPN firing is an overreaction, and that Michael Eisner should take it like a man.

D.F. Moore, on the other hand, says that Eugene and I are wrong.

Laurence Simon:

The number one rule of Disney is NEVER INSULT KING MICHAEL. If it could be coded into the DNA of cast members, you'd see band-aids on th backs of their necks from the needle-pricks the next day.

Easterbrook broke that rule in calling him a mere supervisor.

Justice is swift, but injustice is doubly-so. The axe fell.

Laurence, as far as I know, is no relation to Roger.

Mathew Yglesias: "This raises the very real possibility that alleged anti-semitism is being used as a pretext for firing him for criticizing his bosses, which stinks."

Atrios: "This likely had more to do with the fact that he criticized Eisner specifically than anything else, so if any good can come of this it'll be Easterbrook writing a column on the dangers of big media consolidation."

Me and Atrios -- on the same page as usual. You notice you never see us photographed together.

Mark Byron: "I don't think he should have been canned at ESPN, but when you call your erstwhile boss a greedy Jew, you can't guarantee too many more paychecks."