Note to Anti-Defamation League: Stick To Dafamation

Everybody who watches baseball on TV knows that Fox color man Tim McCarver talks too much. He’s smart, sometimes perceptive, but his opinions during a broadcast constitute the sports equivalent of Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.” Last week, commenting on a Yankee Stadium game that was preceded by the team’s annual “Old Timer’s Day” parade of superannuated Yankee greats, McCarver chose to express his outrage at what he saw as the Yankees’ banishment of former manager Joe Torre (now managing the L.A. Dodgers after an acrimonious departure from New York, followed by a tell-all book) to relative obscurity:

“You remember some of those despotic leaders in World War II, primarily in Russia and Germany, where they used to take those pictures that they had … taken of former generals who were no longer alive, they had shot ’em?They would airbrush the pictures, and airbrushed the generals out of the pictures. In a sense, that’s what the Yankees have done with Joe Torre. They have airbrushed his legacy. I mean, there’s no sign of Joe Torre at the Stadium. And that’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it.”

Like much that McCarver says, this is overstated and overheated. Primarily it is inaccurate: as Rob Neyer of ESPN (among others) pointed out, Torre’s image has not been purged from Yankee-land, for there is a large photo of him in the new Yankee Stadium. What it isn’t, however, is defamation, or in any way an intentional offense to the victims of Hitler and Stalin. In the world of baseball, removing references of Torre—a bona fide Yankee great—from the team’s hallowed halls for displeasing management is a rough equivalent of what Stalin did with generals and others who fell out of favor, except that Stalin also had them shot. It’s hyperbole, to be sure, but hardly offensive unless one is looking to be offended.

Apparently the Anti-Defamation League was looking to be offended, because it reprimanded McCarver in a public release:

“No matter what one thinks of the Yankees’ treatment of Joe Torre, likening it to how Germany and Russia treated their generals who fell out of favor is an inappropriate comparison.”

To which the “appropriate” response would be, “Then why don’t you find your own baseball games to broadcast, you meddling speech bullies?” The Anti-Defamation League, which exists to combat bigotry, hate and anti-Semitism, has no business using its reputation, moral authority and publicity muscle to police inartful baseball color commentary. McCarver’s meaning was obvious, and he didn’t directly or by innuendo use his broadcast to promote hatred or ethnic strife, just contempt for the New York Yankees, which is as American as apple pie.  It is an abuse of power, unfair and irresponsible for the Anti-Defamation League to employ hair-trigger sensitivity and attack such a harmless metaphor. It isn’t only threats of government action that can chill free speech: groups like the Anti-Defamation League can do it to, and the Constitution won’t stop them.

McCarver, undoubtedly prodded by his bosses, apologized, but shouldn’t have. His comment was historically and factually wrong, but it was the Anti-Defamation League that acted inappropriately.

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