LATE IN JULY, a Hollywood honcho uncorks a blast of anti-Semitic bile, the sort of malignant stereotype about Jews one might expect from David Duke or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Is that newsworthy?
It certainly was in 2006, when Mel Gibson, arrested in Malibu for drunken driving, demanded to know whether the arresting deputy was Jewish, and then launched into an anti-Semitic rant: "F-----g Jews," he raged. "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."
What happened next was a Category 4 media hurricane.
Within a week, according to the Nexis news database, the number of articles mentioning "Mel Gibson" and "Jews" had soared to 1,077. The New York Times reported the incident in a Page 1 story on July 30, and followed it up with much longer stories on Aug. 1 and 2. The coverage in the Los Angeles Times was even more extensive, with three front-page stories and another half-dozen inside. Numerous other papers gave heavy play to Gibson's tirade and its aftermath, including the Houston Chronicle, the New York Post, and USA Today. The network and cable news shows were all over the story, broadcasting scores of segments about it in that first week.
Pervading much of the media's coverage and commentary was a tone of unforgiving revulsion.
"Let's not cut Mel Gibson even the tiniest bit of slack," began Eugene Robinson's op-ed column in The Washington Post. Talent agent Ari Emanuel's call for Gibson to be blacklisted was widely noted: "People in the entertainment business, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him," Emanuel wrote in an open letter on the Huffington Post.
On "The View," Barbara Walters announced that she wouldn't see any more of Gibson's movies, while Slate explained "How To Boycott Mel Gibson." CNN's Brooke Anderson, the co-host of "Showbiz Tonight," described "a sudden explosion of outrage with some of the most influential people in Hollywood now saying they will never work with Mel Gibson again." As if to confirm the point, ABC cancelled a Holocaust-themed mini-series it had been developing with Gibson.
To repeat: All this occurred within seven days of Gibson's arrest on July 28.
But when, almost exactly four years later, another Hollywood bigfoot uttered an anti-Semitic rant, the reaction couldn't have been more different. In a July 25 interview with the Sunday Times of London, filmmaker Oliver Stone complained that "Jewish domination of the media" focuses too much attention on the Holocaust, and prevents Americans from understanding Hitler (and Stalin) "in context" -- a wrong he intends to right in a documentary he is making for Showtime. Stone described these media-controlling Jews as "the most powerful lobby in Washington" -- "hard workers" who "stay on top of every comment," and are responsible for the fact that "Israel has f---ed up United States foreign policy for years."
Like Gibson blaming Jews for the planet's wars, Stone's lament about Jewish control of the media is classic anti-Semitism, straight out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Henry Ford's The International Jew. Unlike Gibson, however, Stone gave vent to his bigotry while perfectly sober.
Yet far from triggering a media storm, Stone's anti-Semitic conspiracy-mongering barely stirred a breeze.
Seven days after his words first appeared, Nexis had logged fewer than 150 items mentioning Stone's toxic rhetoric. On ABC, CBS, and NBC, the news shows completely ignored the story. The New York Times restricted its coverage to two short items in its "Arts, Briefly" section -- and few other papers ran even that much.
Media mogul Haim Saban urged Showtime to cancel Stone's documentary, and posted a brief Huffington Post message calling on Hollywood to give Stone "a vigorous shove into the land of forced retirement." But few if any media voices seconded Saban's call -- not a word from Slate, for example -- and some went out of their way to pooh-pooh it: Los Angeles Times blogger Patrick Goldstein pronounced the idea "not so different" from "the infamous 1950s Hollywood blacklist."
Gibson and Stone are both guilty of indulging in rank anti-Semitism (for which both promptly "apologized"), but only Gibson was buried under a newsroom avalanche of outrage and disgust. What explains that glaring difference? Surely the media don't think Jew-baiting is intolerable only when it comes from a right-wing Christian like Gibson. Surely they wouldn't overlook Stone's noxious rant just because he is a pluperfect left-wing activist.
Surely that can't be the explanation for so disgraceful a double standard.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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