When ‘Bigotry’ Backfires: The Rick Sanchez Affair



So now CNN host Rick Sanchez has added his name to the long list of public figures, here and abroad, who accuse the Jews of control, in this case of control of the television news business. Others gear the accusation to the media in general or the entertainment world or government or the international economy.


For those of you who may have missed his remarks, which nearly overnight turned the popular, pugnacious host of CNN’s “Rick’s List” into the ranks of the unemployed, here’s a quick recap: In a Sept. 30 interview with the comedian Pete Dominick on satellite radio, Sanchez suggested that as a Cuban-American, he had experienced subtle forms of discrimination in his career as a television reporter and anchor. He then accused Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” of being “a bigot.”

When pressed on that characterization by one of the show’s hosts, who pointed out that Stewart was Jewish and like Sanchez a member of a minority group, Sanchez’s response was to suggest that, “Everybody that 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.” CNN fired Sanchez on Friday, a day after the interview.

As often is the case with these situations, it took an unguarded moment for Sanchez to reveal his own bigotry, ironically, in awkwardly fashioning the same accusation against another media type. And there it was again: the age-old conspiracy theory about Jewish control of the news media, this time brought to the fore by a well-known television personality with a loyal audience following on CNN.

What’s interesting about a person like Sanchez making this claim is that he is not an extremist, not a religious fanatic and not an ideologue.

Jewish conspiracy theories coming from extreme anti-Semites are par for the course and a recurring theme in the history of the Jewish people. In the Middle Ages it took the form of blood libel charges or accusations that Jews were responsible for the Black Plague because it was said that they were poisoning the wells. In modern times, the infamous phony document “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” allegedly the secret plan of Jewish leaders to take over the world, resonated and still resonates with millions.

It is true that there are many Jewish executives and owners of news outlets and entertainment vehicles. There is nothing wrong with saying that — indeed, Jewish accomplishments in these areas are something to be proud of. But to say that Jews control these areas is a whole other thing. That reflects the age-old canard because it doesn’t focus on individual Jews who may have a talent for these fields (like non-Jewish Americans who have talents in their fields), but suggests Jews working in conspiracy to serve their narrow interests. Anti-Semites never sees Jews as individuals but rather as a coordinated group to serve Jewish interests against the interests of others.

The fact that individuals who are not usually associated with extremism feel comfortable making similar charges shows how deeply embedded such ideas are in Western civilization, even in America, where by any standard anti-Semitism is not as powerful a force as it has been historically and as it continues to be in other parts of the world.

Some of the more well-known examples of this kind of thing include filmmaker Oliver Stone’s recent reference to “Jewish domination of the media;” Mel Gibson’s notorious comment in 2006 that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world;” and Ralph Nader’s statement in 2004 that the “Israeli puppeteer travels to Washington, meets with the puppet in the White House and goes down Pennsylvania Avenue and meets with the puppets in Congress.”

Others in the mainstream who have voiced similar themes were Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, who in 2003 suggested that we are at war in Iraq because of American Jews, and country singer and entertainer Dolly Parton, who in a 1994 Vogue interview blamed Jews in Hollywood for not getting her pet project produced.

There is a tendency to want to shrug off these sad cases as not typical of what America is about. And surely, we should keep such statements, no matter how disturbing, in perspective. However, they do speak to what is unique about anti-Semitism and what urges all of us not to be complacent about the subject even when and where things are a lot better than they used to be.

Anti-Semitism shares with other forms of hatred a number of well-documented elements such as stereotyping, discrimination and fear of difference.

What has been the special characteristic of anti-Semitism and what goes a long way to explain why it has lasted so long, why it has been so lethal and why it exists in so many contradictory settings is the idea that Jews are not what they appear to be, that they are, in fact, secretive, poisonous, all-powerful and acting as a cabal.

As a result, since according to this view, reality is not what it seems to be, Jews can be and frequently are conjured up for all kinds of ills of mankind.

Is the Rick Sanchez episode important? Yes — not because of his influence, which I would hope will be in decline, but because this dangerous notion has shown a resiliency and life of its own, even in very surprising places. n

Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. His books include “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control” and the forthcoming “Jews and Money: The Story of a Stereotype” (Palgrave Macmillan, November 2010).