Something’s Rotten in the Big Apple

The Inside Story of a NY Publisher’s Use of the Anti-Semitic Sword*



 John W. Cones, J.D.


            A publisher has an obligation to be fair and honest in its dealings with its authors. It is noteworthy when an established publisher like Peter Lang Publishing of New York fails to meet that standard. Peter Lang employees leveled serious but false allegations of biased (anti-Semitic) writing against me (one of their contracted authors), failed to back that false allegation with any credible evidence or discussion, then used the threat of non-publication of the book as an unethical attempt to intimidate the author into caving into their unreasonable and irrational demands. I have challenged these Peter Lang employees to demonstrate that any statement I’ve made is false. They have not even responded to that specific challenge. At its core, the rather bizarre Peter Lang threat and argument is: “We are going to refuse publication of this book because we mistakenly believe this author is saying something that he is not saying.”


          During the exchange of e-mails, I explained to the Peter Lang folks that:


“ . . . those who make accusations about the anti-Semitic beliefs or behavior of non-Jews, have an affirmative obligation to support such accusations with credible evidence, and not only use a reasonable definition of the term anti-Semitism but disclose what definition they are using. That evidence must at least show that the person accused either was ‘hostile’ toward Jews generally or was ‘hostile’ toward one or more Jews because they were Jewish. Otherwise, these accusers should be considered not credible, and even worse, someone who maliciously wields the sword of anti-Semitism, a blatantly dishonest debate and discussion tactic.”


          Here’s what happened. In October of 2006, Peter Lang contracted with me to publish a book entitled Motion Pictures: A Complete Guide to the Industry. The book was supposed to be part of the publisher’s Communication and Media Guide series. I have worked in the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry for nearly 20 years as a securities/entertainment attorney, author and lecturer. My area of concentration is film finance. Five of my other books about the film industry had already been published by three other publishers. My lectures relating to the film industry have been attended by 4,500 plus across the country. My independent producer clients produce feature and documentary films.


          The manuscript went through the usual year long editing process and several drafts including deleting a hundred plus pages to meet an arbitrary page limit. Numerous editorial suggestions from several editors including Acquisitions Editor Mary Savigar were accepted and incorporated into the book.


          Subsequently Ms. Savigar, and one or more of the book’s copy editors, determined that in their view, a passage in the book’s chapter discussing various problems with the film industry was “anti-Semitic”. The passage accurately identified the so-called Hollywood control group as “politically liberal, not very religious, Jewish males of European heritage” a conclusion based in part on my earlier work “Who Really Controls Hollywood”. Mary Savigar indicated if I was not willing to remove this language the book could not be published.


          I responded to Mary Savigar’s concerns by sending her an  excerpt from my book Hollywood Wars – How Insiders Gained and Maintain Illegitimate Control Over the Film Industry (Marquette Books, 2007). The excerpt appeared to be on point regarding what is and what is not anti-Semitic. I also expressed my disappointment over her arbitrary decision and threat of non-publication. The Hollywood Wars excerpt traced and combined several authoritative definitions of the term “anti-Semitic”supported by ten source citations, including Leonard Dinnerstein’s book Anti-Semitism in America, as well as The New Standard Jewish Encylopedia, 7th Edition.


          Ms. Savigar’s e-mails demonstrate no response to my research, a refusal to even discuss the question of what anti-Semitism actually is and basically that I either take out the factual information relating to who really controls Hollywood  or the book would not be published. Peter Lang’s Managing Director Chris Myers subsequently became involved and took Ms. Savigar off the project, but his position was the same as hers’ (i.e, take out the factual information or the book will not be published).


          I responded with a modest number of final edits and a list of 30 sources which either supported my view or could be distinguished while saying:


“It is my contention that no person who is intellectually honest can read Terry Pristin’s “Hollywood Family Ways”, Neal Gabler’s An Empire of their Own – How the Jews Invented Hollywood, Leonard Dinnerstein’s Anti-Semitism in America, Paul Rosenfield’s The Club Rules – Power, Sex and Fear – How It Works in Hollywood, Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews, Howard Sachar’s A History of the Jews in America, Michael Medved’s Hollywood vs. America – Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values, Pierce O'Donnell and Dennis McDougal’s Fatal Subtraction--How Hollywood Really Does Business, David F. Prindle’s Risky Business – The Political Economy of Hollywood and Joel Kotkin’s Tribes – How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Economy (and I have read and digested the contents of each of these important books) without concluding exactly what I have concluded for purposes of accurately describing the Hollywood control group. I am also not aware that the writing of any of these authors has been labeled anti-Semitic. My writing simply melds together the already published views of these able scholars to provide an accurate description of the inevitable facts on the ground in Hollywood. I am merely a reporter of the facts as they exist and these facts were created by someone other than me. If you want to change the facts, feel free. If you want to molest the truth, please don’t. I would think it would be embarrassing to know that all of these authors have written so much about this subject (and their publishers have published their books and articles), but that Peter Lang does not have the courage to participate in this discussion – that the Peter Lang editors are afraid of offending somebody by being honest. Leaving out the particular information of concern to you creates an obvious intellectual vacuum in the literature where a reasonable conclusion ought to appear.”


“Further, there is a big difference between falsely proclaiming that a specific piece of writing is anti-Semitic and stepping up to actually demonstrate that certain specifically identified words meet a reasonable standard. You have failed to even attempt to set out any standard for making a judgment about what is anti-Semitic writing. Your rush to judgment reflects a lack of integrity or a lack of understanding of the subject. So, let me help you briefly. Anti-Semitism, as noted in my chapter “The Anti-Semitic Sword” (and based on the multiple and authoritative sources cited there) can best be defined as “hatred or hostility directed toward Jews generally or one or more Jews because they are Jewish”. First, I challenge your implied finding that there is any “hatred” or “hostility” directed toward either possible subject in my book. There is criticism of the business practices, yes. But that is different from “hatred” or “hostility”. Criticism is fair. Hatred and hostility is not. Further, even though you and Chris continue in your e-mails to make the false claim that I have said anything about Jews in general, that is simply false on its face. And, you have made no attempt to show specifically where you think that occurs. You have instead, mis-quoted and mis-interpreted my writing, ostensibly because of your own prejudice which may be over-riding your ability to think clearly on this issue. Finally, no where in my book is there any evidence of language that can reasonably be interpreted as stating, suggesting or implying that I believe this small group of individuals in Hollywood behave the way they do because they are Jewish. In fact, I explicitly state just the opposite. How can you argue in good faith that I believe just the opposite of what I state in writing that I believe?”


          The Peter Lang Savigar/Myers team continued their stonewalling tactics. About the only additional information regarding their motives offered by Chris Myers was the e-mailed statement: “To be blunt, I primarily need to concern myself with the ability of Peter Lang to have its books stand up to peer review and, ultimately, to be able to sell a sufficient quantity of each book that we publish to maintain our Media and Communication list.” Thus, at minimum, Peter Lang’s Chris Myers appears to be more concerned about selling books and making money than taking reasonable steps to insure that the contents of those books are accurate.


          Even though some portions of the book criticized the practices of the rather disorganized independent producers, the Film Independent group, the activities of some film finance consultants, telemarketers, the Producers Guild and others, the Peter Lang editors threatened not to publish the book solely because of criticism of the top level Hollywood studio executives. Peter Lang has chosen to get into bed with and  protect the Hollywood studio executives and permit them to continue their unfair, unethical, unconscionable, anti-competitive, predatory and in some cases illegal business practices (see “337 Business Reported Business Practices of the Major Studio/Distributors” as incorporated into my Dictionary of Film Finance and Distribution). Peter Lang’s representatives seem to be trying to protect the Hollywood establishment from honest criticism and, in all fairness, the Hollywood establishment does not need their protection.


          It further appears that no one at Peter Lang actually knows the difference between anti-Semitic writing and bona fide criticism of the business practices of a small group of Hollywood studio executives who happen to be Jewish. There is no-anti-Semitic writing in the book, rather what we are actually seeing is how the excessive philo-Semitism being exhibited by Mary Savigar and Chris Myers has led them to over-compensate and over-react to the point of being irrational. It would not be unreasonable to raise questions about their  real motivation.


          No one at Peter Lang has been willing to even discuss the relevant issue even though Mary Savigar, with Chris Myer’s approval, considers the question of alleged anti-Semitic writing to be “a very complex and serious issue”. On the other hand, it is much more serious to falsely accuse someone of biased (anti-Semitic) writing and to use that false allegation to destroy a book and waste not only the efforts of the author but the efforts of all of the Peter Lang staff involved in helping to produce the book. The only people involved in this transaction who are biased and/or prejudiced appear to be Mary Savigar, Chris Myers, et al. They are appear to be willing to risk their reputations for honesty and fair dealing to protect a dishonest portrayal of Hollywood.


          I pointed out to Peter Lang that there is a fairly extensive body of literature about Hollywood (cited in my e-mails and in the bibliography to the Hollywood Wars book) that explores some of the very issues of concern in this situation. In my view, it would appear to any informed reader as a material omission not to discuss the issue of the existing and long-standing lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood (see my manuscript Who Really Controls Hollywood) in a book that purports to be “A Complete Guide to the Industry”. In other words, some authors are falsely claiming that “Jews control Hollywood”. I’ve explained why that is inappropriate and misleading. Other authors claim that Hollywood is controlled by “white men”. I’ve also explained why that is not entirely accurate. So Peter Lang is actually taking the position that we should allow the American film community and others who might read this book to continue to believe false information because Peter Lang does not have the courage to allow one of its authors to tell the truth. Maybe the subtitle for the book should have been changed to “An Incomplete Guide to the Industry”, or “A Guide to Selected Aspects of the Industry” or maybe even “A Damnable Hoax on America”.


          Knowledge about a topic like the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry continually advances and is reflected in the literature of the industry (as per my extensive bibliography). Each of the authors of those publications  have contributed to that ever expanding knowledge, and my own writing has also continued the advance of that knowledge. An uninformed publisher cannot prevent the advance of knowledge or coverup that knowledge by creating a vacuum where the information ought to be. Thus, these Peter Lang employees and the publisher itself are appearing to be anti-knowledge. They are in fact attempting to retard the progress of knowledge. A publisher and an honest author cannot allow other authors to misstate the facts. We must allow the free marketplace of ideas to move forward. Peter Lang has in effect just stuck its head in the sand.


          The most incredibly embarrassing muddy thinking with which I have had to deal in this episode was set forth in the Mary Savigar e-mail of March 19, 2008 in which she stated: “Even if you are not saying anything about Jewish character in general you most definitely are saying something about the Jews in general. Why? Because you are saying that some Jews conspire ‘to gain and maintain control over Hollywood’.” Keep in mind that Mary Savigar’s supervisor Chris Myers has been following her correspondence with me and indicated he approves of this “muddy thinking” (my words). In these two sentences, she claims I am saying something about “Jews in general” because I said something about “some Jews”. And that is the crux of the problem. Here are editors and a publishing executive who cannot distinguish between “some” and “all”. So, not only am I being asked to deal with an editor of a big-time New York publisher who cannot think clearly, but cannot even put her thoughts down on paper and step back to ask: “Does that make sense?” Of course it doesn’t make sense. It’s nonsense! It’s the same kind of bizarre thinking exhibited in Alice in Wonderland.


          One of the few arguments put forth on behalf of the publisher was that several people agreed that some language in the book was offensive or anti-Semitic and had to be removed. In other words, the publisher determined that the writing was offensive by popular vote of a small insular group of people some of whom might either be prejudiced themselves or whose self-interest may be at stake, and was willing to kill the book based on that flawed and defective survey. There was no need here, they implicitly claimed, to actually analyze the writing so that it can be compared with some authoritative definition of the concept of anti-Semitism and to further determine if specific language in the book actually meets all of the required elements of such a definition. No that’s not necessary at Peter Lang, their reasoning continued, apparently, the tried and true “lynch mob” mentality works best here. 


          Part of the problem is that practices of nepotism, cronyism, favoritism and other forms of discrimination have been occurring at the highest levels of the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry for more than 100 years, resulting in a long-standing and well-documented lack of diversity at the top (see Terry Pristin’s article “Hollywood’s Family Ways”). Yet this publisher has unreasonably demanded that the author avoid precisely stating who is engaging in the discrimination. If the discrimination was being perpetrated by anybody else, I submit there would be no threat of non-publication.


          The fact of a significant and obvious lack of diversity at the top at the Hollywood major studios provides convincing evidence that reverse discrimination has been ongoing for more than 100 years and continues to occur in the Hollywood-based film industry. Now, we find that a New York publisher is willing to destroy one of its own books to coverup that “secret” and defraud the public. Apparently a segment of our population including some in the film industry and others at Peter Lang seem to be believe that in this country we cannot write or talk about what anti-Semitism actually is or is not, and certainly we cannot talk about reverse discrimination in Hollywood. Unfortunately, I did not get that memo.  


          Our country is supposedly a democracy offering free speech rights to its citizens. The concept of free speech is based on the idea of a free marketplace of ideas. In other words, as a society, we feel we are much more likely to come up with the truth on any given issue, if the marketplace of ideas is open to discussion of a variety of views on any given question. To the extent that the American reading public, other book publishers, book sellers, film schools all across the country and all of academia stands by and allows this Peter Lang violation of those fundamental concepts to occur, America’s democracy is significantly diminished. If that happens, the United States is not the wonderful country it often claims to be. It is merely a hollow shell of itself. We no longer seek the truth. 



*    *     *


              It is appropriate to inquire as to why Peter Lang’s Chris Myers would side with the rather notorious Hollywood studio executives against the well-informed and documented research of an author who is right on target with his observations about the lack of diversity at the top in Hollywood.


          Another of the implied arguments being made by Peter Lang is that the potential readers of this book including that first wave of film school professors who would have determined whether the book was to be used in their classrooms are too stupid to recognize that the writing in this book is not anti-Semitic. After all, the word “Jewish” is used and the business practices of the top Hollywood studio executives (who as a matter of fact for 100 years have been mostly politically liberal, not very religious Jewish males of European heritage) are being criticized, and that according to Peter Lang is all it takes to characterize this writing as anti-Semitic. On the other hand Peter Lang has yet to come forth with an authoritative definition of anti-Semitism that supports their position. Such a strained definition would have to read something like: “Any language that criticizes the business practices of some people who happen to be Jewish is anti-Semitic.” Of course, no one has ever put forth such a overly broad and ridiculous definition. But, no matter, Peter Lang can just make one up and keep it secret.


            As I told Ms. Savigar, based on such research, it appeared to me that the most accurate and authoritative definition of anti-Semitism was: “Hatred or hostility expressed toward Jews generally or toward one or more Jews because they are Jewish”. I ended the e-mail with the above quote, slightly edited for purposes of this article.


          Peter Lang’s editor and managing director appear to have accepted the views of so-called Hollywood peer reviewers, who in all likelihood may be part of one of the groups being criticized in the book. In other words, it may be in the self-interest of the Hollywood peer reviewers to squelch such criticism if they can, and Peter Lang’s folks seem willing to go along. Peter Lang’s editor and managing director appear all too eager to accept the views of people who have not studied the subject of reverse discrimination in the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry over that of one of their authors who has actually studied the issue and developed an accurate description of the phenomenon. In other words, this Peter Lang editor and executive are giving too much sway to the opinions of one or more peer reviewers, people who, if actively working in the Hollywood film community may clearly be in a conflict of interest position with respect to some of the criticism contained in the book and directed toward the Hollywood establishment. That means the Peter Lang peer review process is flawed, at least with respect to a book like this that provides honest criticism of various problem areas in the film industry. You would think that the Savigar/Myers team would not be so naive as to overlook this possible conflict of interest and be more inclined to go with the judgment of their own author who has researched this subject matter for years, unless they are in fact prejudice themselves and are willing to put their own prejudice ahead of the interests of their own publishing company and the author. 


          In fact, it appears that Peter Lang’s Mary Savigar and Chris Myers, one or more unnamed copy editors, and one or more unnamed peer reviewers have conspired to defraud (i.e., withhold the truth from) the American public, the film industry and film school students all across the country. Chris Myer’s own  e-mails imply that the conspiracy to withhold information about the lack of diversity at the top in the Hollywood-based U.S. film industry, extends beyond Hollywood, into New York publishing houses and our film schools. At minimum, Peter Lang’s editor and managing director appear to be behaving like school yard bullies, trotting out the threat of non-publication of the book instead of any well-reasoned argument.


          It appears that one reasonable interpretation of the Peter Lang position is that a certain segment of our diverse society (the so-called Jewish community) consists of a special class of people who are above criticism. In other words, this publisher seems to be making the argument that not only can it not be written in a book that the Hollywood control group can most accurately be described as politically liberal, not very religious Jewish males of European heritage (even though the statement is factually and demonstrably correct), but as the prospective publisher of such a book, they have no obligation whatsoever to even discuss the matter with the author or comment on the author’s research regarding the question. That position, in turn, appears to mean that Peter Lang is arguing that the business practices of one or more Jews cannot be criticized by anyone. I do not think their position is credible, nor do I believe that it is the position of most Jews (if it can be discussed openly). The larger issue for the Jewish community is “Do we want to continue and exacerbate  the risk of resentment from thousands of people arbitrarily denied opportunities in the U.S. film industry by dishonestly denying an author the right to openly discuss the issue of reverse discrimination in Hollywood?” I can only hope that one or more responsible Jewish leaders will step forward and set the record straight, because not to do so could potentially be harmful to Jewish interests everywhere. They need to advise Myers/Savigar and Peter Lang that they have made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons. 


          It further appears that Peter Lang’s editor and managing director have resorted to the same practice used from time to time in Hollywood during its 100 year history (i.e., the anti-Semitic Sword – the affirmative use of the false allegation of anti-Semitism to distract attention from the truth) to chill the free speech of one of their authors (see Hollywood Wars).


          I suppose Peter Lang would like for observers to view this dispute as a conflict between the rights of publishers and the rights of authors, but it is more than that. The conduct of these two Peter Lang employees rises to a level of corruption since they refused to even engage in a minimal discussion on the merits relating to the issue of concern (i.e., the false allegation of anti-Semitic writing) and they used the threat of non-publication without considering the author’s views or research. Peter Lang is not defending publishers’ rights, rather they are abusing those rights. I submit that it is not even in the best interests of Peter Lang to trample on the rights of authors.

The ENTIRE TRANSCRIPT OF E-MAILS exchanged between Cones and Peter Lang's Savigar and Myers showing what Cones believes is a consistent pattern of irresponsible behavior on the part of the publisher and its employees has been posted on the Internet at:

The BOOK in its final draft stages, with the final editorial corrections provided by Cones, is also available to reporters (and other publishers) upon request.

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* The term “anti-Semitic sword” is defined as the affirmative use of the false allegation of anti-Semitism to distract attention from the truth.