The common wisdom is that CNN’s Rick Sanchez was fired because he made anti-Semitic remarks. That’s an understandable assumption, but it’s also untrue. Sanchez was fired because he attacked a celebrity more liberal and more popular than he is. That he did it with racial overtones made it easy for CNN to pull the plug on him. But his real crime was that he had become an embarrassment, from a liberal perspective, and that’s the only perspective in the media that counts.
Let’s imagine that Sanchez was a trendy liberal comedian with his own influential show and Jon Stewart, the subject of his remarks, was just another CNN talking head. In that case, Sanchez could have said the same thing about the Jews and it would have been a laugh line. He would have kept his job and Stewart would have been at risk of losing his, despite being the goat. Because this isn’t about Jews, it’s about liberals controlling the license to be bigots.
Absent in the media after the firing of Sanchez were the defensive reactions of the sort that followed the earlier termination of CNN’s Octavia Nasr or the disgrace of Helen Thomas. There was little ambiguity in the reporting. Sanchez was bad and had to go. But Sanchez’s remarks were certainly not unique. The director Oliver Stone said much worse things not too long ago, suggesting the “Jewish dominated media”overemphasizes the Holocaust. And for that he wasn’t removed from any projects or otherwise inconvenienced. What’s the difference between Oliver Stone and Rick Sanchez? Stone’s liberal credentials are unimpeachable.
If you’re a liberal, you’re allowed to be racist toward people less liberal than you. Had Sanchez accused Jews of running the media and of suppressing negative stories about Israel or promoting a negative view of Obama because they’re racists, there would have been talk of how courageous he was in tackling controversial issues. Those comments are completely false, of course, but they would have played into a liberal worldview.
Instead, Sanchez talked about the Jews controlling the media in relation to himself. Which might have been acceptable if he had some serious liberal credentials and if he hadn’t been blasting Jon Stewart, whose own liberal credentials far exceed his. Liberal media personalities routinely make racist and sexist remarks and get away with it. They only get in trouble when they target someone more liberal than them or when their own liberal creds are wanting.
Sanchez’s mistake was overestimating his place in the liberal ecosystem. He assumed that because he had blasted the Tea Party movement, and called Hispanics who work for Fox News sellouts, he had the same status as Stewart. That was a mistake, one he paid for dearly. Stewart outdraws Sanchez as a liberal opinion-maker by a factor of 10 to 1. Picking between Sanchez and Stewart was a no-brainer for CNN. Not because Sanchez was bigoted, but because he wasn’t liberal enough.
The reaction to Sanchez had nothing to do with Jews and everything to do with liberalism. Had he gone after The New Republic’s Martin Peretz, who has been critical of Obama, he would have been fine. Had he claimed Jews pushed America into the war in Iraq, he would have been expressing a sentiment common among liberals. He had plenty of victims to choose from, but he picked someone with a higher liberal status than his. And so he got creamed.
Liberalism is a form of privilege. It means you belong to the political and cultural elite. It means you’re one of the gang. And it comes with its perks. One of those perks is the power to proclaim what behavior is culturally acceptable. By pretending to be warriors against racism, liberals have been able to define what racism is (thoughts or statements attributed to people less liberal than they are) and what it isn’t (thoughts or statements attributed to people as liberal as – or even moreliberal than – they are).
Rick Sanchez falsely attributed Jon Stewart’s sense of privilege to Stewart’s Jewishness rather than his liberalism. And as stupid as that was, it was the smarter thing to do. Sanchez was fired, but he’s still employable. Had he talked about liberal control of the media the way Bernard Goldberg has, he would be unemployable on any major news network outside of Fox News.