Reactions to the firing of CNN’s Cuban-American anchor Rick Sanchez

The internet is abuzz with reactions to the firing of CNN anchor Rick Sanchez after an interview in which he bitterly criticized his bosses and accused Jon Stewart of being a bigot. In the one reproduced below, Jeffrey Weiss, writing for Politics Daily, argues that it is “hard to see Rick Sanchez as a victim of discrimination.”  Sanchez is no stranger to controversy, having once been forced to apologize on the air after having called President Obama “our cotton picking president.” Or to embarrassment, as he once confidently located Hawaii on a map while pointing to the Galapagos Islands.

Some commentators have defended Sanchez, arguing he was just being honest about his experiences of discrimination [see, for example,  CNN Fires Rick Sanchez for Speaking Out Against Racism]. Like Weiss below, however, most commentators agree that Sanchez shot himself in the foot . . .

With all due respect to my boss, Melinda Henneberger, I’m not going to see the fall of Rick Sanchez as anything more than one guy who finally tripped one too many times on his own words.
To recap: CNN anchor Sanchez was promoting his new book last week (titled — and who could make this up?– “Conventional Idiocy”) on a Sirius/XM radio show. In the process he managed to insult “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and suggest that the media — including his bosses — are controlled by Jews who have no sensitivity to the pains that someone like Sanchez has had to endure.
Less than a day later, Sanchez suddenly had a lot more time to sell that book because he was summarily canned by the very bosses he’d attacked. (Lesson for the rest of us: Unless you’ve got whistleblower’s goods, biting the hand that feeds you is generally high risk/low gain.)
Here’s the quote that surely got him fired (You can read a lot more of the interview here.) :
“I’m telling you that everybody 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.”
And what does it mean to be a “lot like Stewart?”
“He can’t relate to a guy like me. He can’t relate to a guy whose dad worked all his life. He can’t relate to somebody who grew up poor…I think he looks at the world through his mom, who was a school teacher, and his dad, who was a physicist or something like that. Great, I’m so happy that he grew up in a suburban middle class New Jersey home with everything you could ever imagine.”
Actually, Maureen Dowd reported in a 2006 Rolling Stone profile that “Stewart, whose parents went through a difficult divorce when he was ten, grew up in Lawrence Township, New Jersey, where he said he was bullied as a rare Jewish kid in his neighborhood.”
Does that make Stewart sensitive enough to empathize with the pain of others? On the other hand, does Sanchez know what it’s like to be taunted as a “Christ-killer?” Are those even questions we should be asking?
Sanchez’s attack may have had more sting if he hadn’t been holding a job that thousands of people — Jews, Hispanics, Uzbekistanis — would have killed to have. How many major anchors are there on national news shows, even in these days when cable networks proliferate like mushrooms?
If he was viewed by CNN executives as “second tier,” as he put it, I know a lot of folks who would settle for that tier. It’s just possible that he wasn’t viewed as “first tier” for factors that have nothing to do with his ethnic heritage, y’know.
And in that radio interview where he self-immolated, he was promoting a book that was published by Celebra, an imprint under the Penguin banner. How many unpublished authors envy Sanchez the chance to see his name on the spine of an actual book distributed by a major publishing house?
What’s Celebra? A Penguin 2008 news release explained it: “The first imprint to exclusively publish mainstream Hispanic personalities.”
Remind me again what Sanchez was complaining about? That the media is controlled by Jews (or other fellow travelers of the “liberal elite”) who are impeding his success? Seriously?
Is it even worth pointing out that the CEO of Time/Warner, the company that owns CNN, isn’t Jewish? Or worth acknowledging that Jews have been disproportionately represented in the entertainment and news businesses since the dawn of media? But it’s not hard for Jews to hit that disproportional level, since they represent only two percent of the U.S. population.
Like Sanchez, I grew up in South Florida. The Miami I grew up in became an amazing testament to the success of Cuban immigrants who rose within a generation to become leaders in politics, business, and yes, media. That doesn’t mean there is not discrimination against Hispanics in this country. Of course there is. But Sanchez seems to be an odd exemplar for the effects of discrimination. If he were doling out café cubano from a restaurant window on Calle Ocho, I’d be able to take him more seriously.
I don’t know Sanchez. Or Stewart. But I do know this: When a highly successful public figure does stuff that can be easily ridiculed on a program like “The Daily Show,” he’s not a target because he’s Cuban. He’s a target because it’s funny. And if he can’t handle the barbs, that’s his problem.
In her post, Melinida says that Sanchez represents “a sad, circular pattern to the bigotry that Sanchez obviously experienced and was scarred by, embittered to the point that even as a successful cable anchor, it escaped his lips one day and blew up his career.”
Sanchez, Melinda says, represents “why racism, and every form of discrimination, is so insidious: It can make you crazy, and is very, very hard to make a clean break from.”
But I have met far too many people who suffered hugely, had far less success than Sanchez, and yet view the world without the kind of bitterness he expressed during that radio interview. Based on the public record, what has happened to Sanchez was simply his own fault.
Melinda ends her post: “Afterwards, I saw some of my fave friends on Facebook and Twitter laughing that he’d have more time to hand-sell his book now. But really, people, what happened here isn’t funny.”
Here’s a truth about humor: There’s a butt to every joke. And most jokes can be reduced to the high-and-mighty walking themselves into a pratfall. I wish no undeserved ill to anyone, but if I smirk a little at the fall of Sanchez, I’m not going to feel guilty.
Frankly, I can see only one appropriate way for this episode to conclude: With a Sanchez appearance on “The Daily Show.”

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