Disney vs. Thinking

Gregg Easterbrook just got fired from ESPN.com, for some poorly-phrased comments he made in a movie review for the New Republic.

Go figure.

Easterbrook is a Brookings Scholar and a wonderful writer. His wit and clarity of thought on politics, space policy, and football has been of great value to many. Better yet, he's not shilling for any agenda that I can identify, other than the truth. He is persuasive because he approaches topics like a true scholar, and reports on the facts that persuaded him.

You can get more on the circumstances of his dismissal at instapundit.com or his own blog at tnr.com.

He joins Bill Maher as independent thinkers fired by Disney/ABC/ESPN in recent years. Both had a witty, incisive and uncommonly independent voice. Both were actually fired for views that, with a little bit of polish on the delivery, were actually not controversial and quite defensible.

People will quickly compare Easterbrook to ESPN's recent Limbaugh firing, but the better comparison is to Maher. Limbaugh
was out of line, bringing his one-note social commentary into a sports show. Easterbrook's only error was to post an awkwardly-phrased indictment of Miramax and Disney leaders for the violence of Kill Bill, on TNR's website. Not ESPN.

It seems like an overreaction from ESPN, but they're probably conscious of the Limbaugh firing. Still, they're losing a great writer for what even the aggrieved parties are calling a minor gaffe. The principle guiding Disney here seems to be avoid controversy at all costs, even if, in the case of Maher and Easterbrook, there is no bigotry or malevolence behind the comments.

Intelligent, nuanced commentary cannot survive when your boss has one finger on the trap-door button, and another finger looking to see which way the wind is blowing.

Actions like this push blog writers to be more polished and more simplistic in their posts. They may have to take on editors (like Daniel Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee). The immediacy and intimacy of the writing will be replaced with more canned, party-line commentary -- noncontroversial but not particularly insightful. The readers lose.