Rick Sanchez and the Right to Be Wrong

Rick Sanchez' regrettable and hurtful statement about Jews, elitists and the media probably helped get him fired from CNN. On a satellite radio show hosted by Pete Domincik earlier this week, the CNN host made the following comment:

I'm telling you that everyone who runs CNN is a lot like Stewart, and a lot of people who run all the other networks are a lot like Stewart, and to imply that somehow they, the people in this country who are Jewish, are an oppressed minority?....Yeah

He also said, Jon Stewart is a bigot "toward anybody who doesn't agree with his point of view, which is very much a white liberal establishment point of view," though he later moderated bigot to the word "prejudical." Sanchez had made occasional gaffes over recent months, for which Jon Stewart was biting in his ribbing including calling the anchor "a total meathead."

Sanchez' probable point about perceived left leaning bias in much of the newsmedia as well as right leaning bias at Fox was lost in a self-inflicted blast of personal anger and religious stereotyping. Buried in his rant :"...[Y]ou know we have a tendency to only look at one side. I'm saying we ought to be able to look at both sides. That's all I'm saying." Sanchez is a Cuban immigrant who rose from humble beginnings to cable network anchor. He spoke how an executive said that Sanchez, like Mexican-American ABC reporter John Quinones was more like a correspondent than an anchor. He said that because he is Latino executives "see a guy automatically who belongs in the second tier and not the top tier."

Sanchez, who sincerely and possibly quite reasonably contends, that he had to overcome subtle bias to get to his just lost position may have conflated some things that undermined his strongest point about the frequent closed-mindedness within small homogenous groups. First, Stewart picked on Sanchez for one primary reason, and it wasn't his ethnicity--it was because he could get quick laughs. Another point that Sanchez muddled is that the liberal leaning of many reporters (lucky for someone like me who devotes his life to eradicating hate crime!) is far more of a socio-cultural issue than a religious one. Bill Kristol, Dennis Praeger, Michael Savage, Charles Krauthammer, and Michael Medved illustrate that there are
right wing and conservative Jewish voices that are quite noteworthy and sometimes even embarrassingly so, in media. The inartful way he made his points, left Sanchez vulnerable to accusations of being sympathetic to a more egregious form of bigotry that I sincerely doubt he really believes anyway--that of some kind of coordinated Jewish control of the media that is designed to undermine stories against "Jewish" interests.

Perhaps the point he should have made (not one I necessarily want to pursue myself by the way), is that the majority of Jewish people vote reliably and decidedly Democratic. Some of these left leaning folks, both Jewish and non-Jewish may become more inflexible to other viewpoints when they reside in closed social and employment circles as is often found in media and academia. A similar charge is frequently made about FoxNews as well. Perhaps Jon Stewart is one of those folks who resides in those closed social circles, although from what I know about stand-up comedians is that they would sacrifice their grandmother's reputation for a good belly laugh. The funny thing is some years ago after winning an award Stewart himself jokingly pointed out that he relied on a group of homogenous Jewish Ivy-educated writers.

The second point that Sanchez missed is that Jewish achievement and even access to high levels of society, at least historically has not shielded Jews from violent bursts of estrangement and mass slaughter from the overall societies where they live. While, obviously unlikely to ever happen here, it is a fear that many Jews, particularly older ones with European roots feel at a very deep level. In his comments Sanchez had greater empathy for the bias faced by the parents of his Jewish childhood friends, but not for them, because he probably viewed their parents struggles through his own immigrant prism, rather than that of centuries of religious persecution. Interestingly, these older Jewish people probably faced bigotry in the form of the Jewish canard of domination that Sanchez clumsily employed.

The irony of all this is that Rick Sanchez as a major cable news anchor lost the very platform he had to make his most notable, non-prejudiced intelligent point about the need for objectivity and diversity in journalism. He not only lost his show, but he also lost the moral authority to condemn stereotyping by employing it to make his point about how Jews and white bosses simply can not relate to the plight of women, immigrants and minorities. Moreover, Sanchez' gaffe offered a great opportunity for him to host a show that could examine a real problem that our society is facing--the lack of civil discourse across intergroup lines. As someone who has been a guest of his on various occasions I feel sad, because I think Sanchez is a decent, though angry and mistaken guy, who has more to offer now since learning the hard way the error of his own prejudices.

Others have recovered from similar gaffes. Jesse Jackson mockingly referred to New York as " hymietown," and then initially blamed the reporting of it on conspiratorial Jews. Jackson, who also said "he was sick and tired of hearing of the Holocaust," made one of his best speeches, at least to those of us who actually believe him, at the Democratic National Convention in 1984:

If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head -- so limited in its finitude; my heart, which is boundless in its love for the human family. I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.

This campaign has taught me much; that leaders must be tough enough to fight, tender enough to cry, human enough to make mistakes, humble enough to admit them, strong enough to absorb the pain, and resilient enough to bounce back and keep on moving.

If Sanchez makes a meaningful post gaffe statement, I honestly hope he gets another shot somewhere. On a broad level, we need in this society the right to be wrong. We need to encourage honest discourse, even when it is hurtful and wrong-- because it is only through honest exchange and the testing of viewpoints that true learning actually takes place. Moreover, even within seemingly wrongheaded arguments, are often doses of truth that deserve examination, once they can be isolated from prejudice and inaccuracy. To do otherwise will encourage a fake veneer of civility under which a cauldron of unanswered fears and false stereotypes are left unsaid, and untested among the public. As the U.S. Supreme Court said:

A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Terminello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 4 (1949)

Sometimes, the best teachers are those who have endured experience--the hard life lessons that sometimes come partly of one's own doing, from which they emerge better people: more humble, less angry and a dose more knowledgeable of others they once mistrusted.