How Jeffrey Katzenberg responds to being bullied

The most telling anecdote in Andy Kroll's prolific piece on Jeffrey Katzenberg's “Kingmaker” status in Democratic politics actually comes from Kim Masters's book on Michael Eisner, “The Keys to the Kingdom” and took place long, long ago when Katzenberg was just 26.

Back then he was working as an assistant to the then-president of Paramount Pictures, Barry Diller.

One day, Diller gave the young and green Katzenberg a verbal beating for some offense he committed (though it is never made clear what it was) when Katzenberg instantly retaliated.

According to Kroll: Katzenberg… stormed into Diller's office, slammed his hands on the desk, and said, “This is the first time and the last time that you will ever talk to me that way while I work for you. If you do not want me here, I will leave. If you ever do this again, either start with 'You're fired' or end with 'You're fired.'”

Obviously, Katzenberg did not take well to being bullied (perhaps residual resentment at being nicknamed “Squirt” as a teen). Though Kroll did not interview Katzenberg, he later includes an unattributed quote in which Katzenberg apparently explains his mode of attack: “If someone poked me in the chest, I would hit them with a baseball bat. And if they hit me with a bat, I would blast them with a bazooka.”

A friend reminded me that this logic echoes that of the 1987 gangster film “The Untouchables,” where the rule of law “eye for an eye” is considered generous.  

If you want to win the gangster war, Irish-American officer Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery) explains, you have to fight disproportionately: “You wanna get Capone? Here's how you get him. He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue! That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!”

So Katzenberg, life imitating art — or the other way around?