Easterbrook's blunder.

Media criticism.
Oct. 20 2003 7:23 PM

Blogosmear

Gregg Easterbrook and the perils of writing before you think.

Gregg Easterbrook's hyper-logical journalism has a way of seeing around corners. For instance, as the first space shuttle queued up for its maiden launch, he depicted it as a death ship in the Washington Monthly; later, Easterbrook's detailed exposé of the Pentagon's DIVAD anti-missile system in the Atlantic led to the weapon's cancellation; and in 1996, his book A Moment on the Earth made the persuasive case for environmental optimism.

But Easterbrook isn't all Spock and no play. As "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" readers know, he can write using just his funny bone. Sometimes Hyper-Logical Gregg agrees to collaborate with Funny Bone Gregg, as they did in "Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense" for Slate, and the results are smashing.

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But the Easterbrook I'm not familiar with is Easterbrook the Scold. In the 20 years he's been my friend, I've never known him to froth. The Easterbrook I know slays his foes (and some of his friends!) with the flick of an X-Acto or tickles them to death. So when I read his New Republic blog item last week, I was flummoxed by the vehemence of Easterbrook's attack on Quentin Tarantino for the ultraviolence of Kill Bill, and then stupefied by his denunciations of Michael Eisner and Harvey Weinstein for backing the movie. Easterbrook wrote:

Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. 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? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.

The moral posturing and witless embrace of loathsome cultural stereotypes found in these 84 words seemed so un-Easterbrook that I hoped that someone would e-mail me the news that somebody had hacked Gregg's blog and inserted this bogus copy. Alas, it's not the case, as readers know from accounts in the New York Timesand Los Angeles Times. After apologizing for the blog item, Easterbrook still finds himself accused of anti-Semitism by the ADL's Abraham H. Foxman and sacked from his "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" gig at the Disney's ESPN.com. (Disclosure: "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" started at Slate in the fall of 2000.)

I refuse to accept that my friend is an anti-Semite based on one paragraph in one ass-backward column and his less-than-abject apology. In defending the man and not the piece, I follow New Republic Literary Editor Leon Wieseltier, who exonerates Easterbrook of anti-Semitism but calls his blog comments "objectively anti-Semitic … insofar as [they] impute Jewish motives for everything that Jews do, insofar as they suggest that everything any Jew does is intrinsically a Jewish thing."

How could such a thoughtful, deliberate, and precise journalist have gone so stupendously wrong? Having edited Easterbrook numerous times over the years, I know him to be a polymath and a quick study, as well as a good critic of his own work. But this is the first Easterbrook piece that appears to be written from a position of ignorance. His career has been about rigor, originality, and sincerity. That said, perhaps he's not the guy who should write without the safety net of an editor.

My first inkling that Easterbrook didn't know much about the subject of movie violence came in the opening sentences as I realized that he was sermonizing against it rather than documenting its dangers. My second inkling came when I realized his argument was mostly emotional, something that I'd never encountered in his nonfiction work that I can remember. Relying on his limbic system instead of his cerebral cortex, Easterbrook dismisses movie violence as unimaginative, hackneyed, and trite with an argument that is as unimaginative, hackneyed, and trite as you'll ever read. I have no doubt that the Rev. Donald Wildmon could write better on the same subject.

By the time Easterbrook gets to the item's last paragraph, in which he slags Eisner and Weinstein, he's embraced so many clichés and stereotypes about movies, violence, and the people who make them that it's only a small wonder that he stoops also to pick up a few about Hollywood executives and money worship. But Easterbrook's appreciation of Eisner and Weinstein's careers is no more savvy than his treatment of movie violence.

Do Disney, Eisner, and Weinstein really purvey the sort of immoral bloody cinema that so outrages Easterbrook? A brief review of Weinstein's credits proves otherwise. If Weinstein worships anything, he worships uplifting and somewhat arty movies. His genius has been finding ways to make money on them. Joe Bob Briggs would have a hard time curating an Ultraviolent Film Festival from the Weinstein filmography if you factored out the Tarantino films and a few Scream-type pics.The real Harvey Weinstein resides in this selective list of films in which he served as executive producer: The Human Stain; The Lord of the Rings Trilogy; Kate & Leopold; The Shipping News; The Others; Chocolat; Love's Labour's Lost; The Cider House Rules; Mansfield Park; She's All That; Shakespeare in Love; Good Will Hunting; The Wings of the Dove; Air Bud; The English Patient; Emma; Flirting with Disaster; Jane Eyre;etc.

Composer and bandleader Charles Mingus was known to dismiss his musicians from the stage whenever their performance displeased him, accusing them of "mental tardiness." By blogging so recklessly, Easterbrook deserves a day's damnation for mental tardiness, but anybody who wants to convict him of anti-Semitism will have to cross pens with me.

******

Cross your pen with mine with e-mail to pressbox@hotmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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