King Kaufman's Sports Daily

ESPN's firing of football columnist Gregg Easterbrook for anti-Semitism only looks honorable if you don't look too closely. Plus: Fox ignores the Jeffrey Loria story.

Published October 21, 2003 7:00PM (EDT)

When is the high road the low road? Ask

The Web site dumped Gregg Easterbrook's "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" column because of an anti-Jewish statement he made in his blog on the Web site of the New Republic, where he's an editor. Sounds OK if you don't look any deeper, which I'm guessing ESPN is hoping you won't do.

Here's what happened: Easterbrook attacked Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" as a glamorization of violence. He wondered how movie executives could live with themselves for profiting from such a film, "oblivious to the psychological studies showing that positive depiction of violence in entertainment causes actual violence in children," he wrote in his apology. The company that put out "Kill Bill" is Disney, which Easterbrook characterizes as an outfit "whose work is mainly good."

Here's most of the offending paragraph: "Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. 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."

In his apology, Easterbrook writes, "It was terrible that I implied that the Jewishness of studio executives has anything whatsoever to do with awful movies like 'Kill Bill,'" adding, "What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize."

But he stands by his point, writing that he's "ready to defend all the thoughts in that paragraph," the idea that people of faith, any faith, shouldn't be glorifying violence. That was probably a mistake. He wanted to keep his legitimate argument about the morality of violent entertainment from being swallowed up in the controversy. He'd have been wiser to cut his losses, because standing ready to defend the paragraph lent an air of defiance that doesn't work when you're supposed to be apologizing.

The Anti-Defamation League refused to accept the apology, calling it "insufficient" and "a rationalization." "Sadly, instead of making a clear apology and a rejection of anti-Semitic stereotypes, Mr. Easterbrook says he 'wrote poorly' and was misunderstood," read an ADL press release.

Here's the meat of Easterbrook's apology: "Where I failed most is in the two sentences about adoration of money. I noted that many Christian executives adore money above all else, and in the 20-minute reality of blog composition, that seemed to me, writing it, fairness and fair spreading of blame. But accusing a Christian of adoring money above all else does not engage any history of ugly stereotypes. Accuse a Jewish person of this and you invoke a thousand years of stereotypes about that which Jews have specific historical reasons to fear. What I wrote here was simply wrong, and for being wrong, I apologize."

I don't see how you can read that and not find both "a clear apology" and "a rejection of anti-Semitic stereotypes" -- unless of course you were trying to get a little mileage out of the situation.

A few days later the New Republic published an editorial also apologizing, saying pretty much the same thing Easterbrook had said but without defending his arguments about the movie, and the ADL accepted.

Not good enough for ESPN, though. The network that hired Rush Limbaugh to make offensive remarks, and rightly did not fire him when he made racially offensive comments about Donovan McNabb -- he quit, remember? -- dropped Easterbrook like he was on fire.

And he's not just gone. He's, like, gone. In the Stalinist sense. There's no trace of him on the Web site. USA Today media columnist Peter Johnson writes, "Sunday night, called his comments 'offensive and intolerable.'" He has quicker eyes than I do. I never saw those words, and on Monday there was no notice on the site about the column being discontinued. When I wrote this paragraph, his column archive was still available, though not linked to. By the time I went to check links, perhaps 30 minutes later, someone had gotten wise and removed it.

Although ESPN declared itself satisfied that Limbaugh had done the right thing by resigning, the network had appeared ready to stand behind him as the controversy played out. Easterbrook, who by the way offered readers a lot more useful insights into football than ESPN's other moonlighting political commentator, was given no such courtesy. That's because ESPN is owned by Disney, the company Easterbrook hammered in the blog entry that started all this, the one in which he called out Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

ESPN would have you believe it's standing up for the Jewish people. It's really just standing up for the company.

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Fox misses a great story [PERMALINK]

The presence of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria at World Series games has raised an interesting question about Fox's journalistic responsibility. That is, Does Fox have any? Does the network that broadcasts baseball have a duty to the fans to give them the whole story, or is its responsibility solely to Major League Baseball, the company it pays billions to for the rights to the games?

All a viewer unfamiliar with recent baseball history would know about Loria from watching Fox's coverage is that he's an art dealer, he used to own the Montreal Expos, and he now owns the Marlins. The only story Fox's broadcasters have told about him is one that portrayed him as gracious and generous to a fault. During Game 2 Joe Buck told of how the Marlins had lost eight of nine -- actually it was five of six -- when Loria decided to fly the players, at his expense, to Las Vegas for a few hours of fun on an off-day, loosen everybody up a little. "Then they flew to Pittsburgh and got swept by the Pirates," Buck said dryly.

So, OK, funny story with a nice little twist ending. And how 'bout that old Jeff, splurging on the boys like that.

You'd never know that aside from commissioner Bud Selig, Loria is the most controversial figure in baseball, a man widely despised by people who care deeply about the game, especially, but not exclusively, if they live in Montreal. (You'd also never know from watching Fox that Selig is controversial, or generally hated by baseball fans.)

I won't bore you with too many details about Loria's ignominious tenure owning the Expos. He bought into the club in 1999, promising that he would open the checkbook, improve the team and get a new ballpark built. He did loosen the purse strings enough to sign Graeme Lloyd and Hideki Irabu, not wise signings, but otherwise failed so spectacularly that he's been accused, in court, of actively sabotaging baseball in Montreal to clear the way for the franchise to move to Washington.

His former partners, who became limited partners when Loria maneuvered himself into majority ownership, have sued him and Selig under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. A federal judge told the parties to go first to arbitration, and they'll meet early next year.

Loria became the owner of the Marlins in a deal brokered by Selig. Major League Baseball bought the Expos, setting up an extreme conflict of interest that has lasted two seasons so far, and loaned Loria the money above that purchase price that he needed to buy the Marlins from John Henry, who was allowed to buy the Red Sox after having failed in his efforts to get a stadium built in Miami.

Fox is constantly looking for story lines in its presentation of the games, and here's one staring the network in the face and being ignored: The Jeffrey Loria question. Many longtime Yankee-haters have been stopped short in their reflex rooting against the "Evil Empire" because it puts them on the side of a man who ran a viable franchise into the ground, hardly a sympathetic figure.

But wait a minute. Perhaps Loria's not so bad. Maybe he's turned over a new leaf in South Florida. He went out and signed Ivan Rodriguez in the off-season and then approved a large marketing budget for the Marlins -- contrast that with pulling the Expos off of TV and radio in Montreal.

Ever since then-owner Wayne Huizenga broke up the Fish following their 1997 championship, Marlins fans expect all good players to be sent packing as soon as they develop. The reason so few prognosticators, including me, expected much out of the Marlins this year wasn't because the team lacked talent. We all just figured the talent would be sold off in June and July. "It's hard to be sanguine about a team when one suspects the owner of being ready to commit roster hara-kiri at the drop of a hat," wrote Don Malcolm in a spring forecast of the Marlins' season on Baseball Primer.

After all, just the year before, in the first major move of the Loria era, the Marlins had traded starter Matt Clement and closer Antonio Alfonseca to the Cubs for pitcher Julian Tavares and some prospects in a salary dump.

But the hara-kiri didn't happen this year. Mike Lowell, the most coveted slugger on the team, was taken off the trading block as the Marlins hung around the wild card race. And the Marlins even went out and got closer Ugueth Urbina and outfielder Jeff Conine for the stretch drive. Oh, and one of those prospects in the Alfonseca deal turned out to be Dontrelle Willis, who energized the franchise and sold a lot of tickets before tailing off in the second half of his rookie year.

So maybe Loria's a new man.

On the other hand -- how many hands are we up to now? -- maybe Loria's spending money on payroll and promotion and trying to win with the Marlins for the purposes of his RICO lawsuit. It might look pretty good for him to sit on the witness stand and say, "I didn't sabotage baseball in Montreal, it's just a lousy baseball town. I'm the same guy now as I was then, and look what's happened in Miami, where the conditions were better."

Then as soon as the suit is dismissed, he can break up the team and go back to making money by fielding a low-budget loser and cashing revenue-sharing checks.

It's such an intriguing situation, so much more interesting than the fact that Rodriguez threw seven no-hitters in Little League, which Fox has reported no less than three times this postseason.

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