Late last week, ESPN's MMA writer Franklin McNeil appeared on an ESPN.com video previewing the big UFC pay-per-view fight between Jon Jones and Rashad Evans. In the video, McNeil talked about the bout while sitting in front of his bookshelf at his home. Clever D.I.Y. stagecraft! (Just a few weeks ago, an ESPN anchor called him "studious" right after he appeared in front of that bookshelf.)
And what does McNeil have in his bookshelf? In the screencap above, we can see The Politics of Law ("An excellent collection"—Library Journal) and The Death and Life of Malcolm X ("An ambitious study"—Kirkus). And there's a blue-and-white book spine that reads The Protocols of Zion, which may or may not be a version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion ("A classic in paranoid, racist literature, and the most notorious forgery of modern times"—Anti-Defamation League).
As a quick refresher: The Protocols is an early 20th century text that supposedly describes a secret meeting of Jews who are planning on Jewish world domination. The book was a big hit among people like Henry Ford, Kaiser Wilhelm II, and—oh right—Hitler, the latter of whom aspired to be a very different kind of Worldwide Leader. The Protocols is the pre-eminent anti-Semitic text. The contents of the book were made up.
Now, the presence of a book called Protocols of Zion on McNeil's shelf—and it is his shelf, according to an ESPN spokesman—could have any number of innocent explanations. Perhaps McNeil just has an interest in the subject. After all, he has a book on his shelf called The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing And The Psychology Of Genocide ("Ranks with the most insightful books on the Holocaust"—Publishers Weekly). In this video, it's in the lower left-hand corner of the screen. Maybe the book, which we couldn't locate anywhere and which the ADL was not familiar with when we asked, is a little-known scholarly treatise on 20th century anti-Semitic sentiment. We reached out to McNeil on Facebook, to no avail. But whatever the explanation, there's nothing quite like a bit of television stagecraft that tries to convey erudition but winds up giving prominent display to the hoax that helped spawn a genocide.
Not long after the video was pointed out to us by a couple of readers, we noticed it had been pulled. The ESPN spokesman said that it's "standard operating procedure" to take down preview videos before a big fight since it "becomes old news."
Beyond that, the spokesman would say only: "As technology makes more living rooms video backdrops, we will need to be ever mindful of what may appear on the screen."