TIMOTHY NOAH APRIL 9, 2012
[Guest Post by Isaac Chotiner]
When Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was released eight years ago, a vigorous debate ensued in newspapers and magazines over whether the film was anti-Semitic. A couple years later, an intoxicated Gibson was pulled over by the police, and took the opportunity to go on an anti-Semitic rant. I remember thinking that those who defended Gibson's movie must be strong believers in coincidence. After all, if the film was not anti-Semitic, then the fact was that the wrongly accused director of an unobjectionable film just happened to have the prejudices he was accused of harboring. But hey, coincidences do occur.
Now to John Derbyshire, the racist who National Review magazine has just canned for one of his racist rants. It's true that this particular rant did not appear on National Review's website, but the magazine decided to fire him for obvious reasons. Derbyshire has been with National Review for a long, long time, and he has been defended over the years by several of National Review's writers when he went on other very slightly less disgusting rants. My question is as follows: if Derbyshire's previous mutterings did not qualify him as a bigot, isn't it a strange coincidence that this innocent man so often accused of bigotry just happened to be...a bigot?
Perhaps part of the answer can be found in Rich Lowry's blog post on the subject. Lowry, the magazine's editor, writes as follows:
Derb has long danced around the line on these issues, but this column is so outlandish it constitutes a kind of letter of resignation.
I've read this several times and can't quite decipher what Lowry is trying to say. There are several possibilities. The first is that Lowry knew "Derb" was a bigot, but chose to keep him around because he never went over the line—or at least NR's line—in public. The second is that people who "dance around the line" are much more likely to be racist, but are not always racist. And the third is that the whole thing is a terrible coincidence, wherein a non-bigoted writer, frequently accused of racism, happened to develop bigoted views that got him sacked. The first possibility does not speak highly of Lowry. The second possibility speaks only marginally better of the NR decision-makers, who might take this moment to do some soul-searching about hiring more "line dancers." (If I had a friend who "danced on the line" of illegal behavior, I might reconsider my friendship, even if the friend did not deserve jail time.) And the third possibility—well, as we know, coincidences happen.