Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Harvard Crimson prints Holocaust Denier ad

The Harvard Crimson is, supposedly, run by undergraduates (although I've heard that they have paid adult staffers who make the real decisions).

In any case, it looks like they ran an ad for a Holocaust denier.

Now, newspapers from time to time get ads from crackpots that are either grossly unprofessional or borderline offensive / racist. Some people have money and axes to grind.

So the decision to run this ad makes me think of a few things:

1. Perhaps the students really do run the day-to-day operations, because no adult professional would run this ad - it's horrible publicity for the paper, encourages intellectually dishonest conversation, would piss off Jewish donors / readers, and this isn't worth the few hundred dollars in ad money. The apology then, came from an adult - the folks with the real power.

2. It doesn't surprise me that students would choose to run it - most college folk see things in moral absolutes, and Israel / Judaism is no longer the cause celebre it once was. Maybe they thought they were doing a favor to an underdog / upholding free speech. The decision by a paper to run / not run ads, however, has little to do with free speech in my opinion.


shesthesheriff said...

Even though the Harvard spokesperson claimed it was accidental, it does kind of give you pause-

You start thinking, 'well, is this free speech that should be protected', and 'does the paper as an academic entity have a right to exclude opinions, however far fetched they may be?'.

What concerns me is that excluding the KKK and Holocaust deniers sets precedent where you can also exclude anti consumer culture groups like Adbusters from broadcasting a message that is also outside the mainstream, but unlike the HD/racist stuff is truly provocative and not so easily refutable.

But then how do you quantify the validity/offensiveness of a position in a way that translates into 'do we run this or not'. In the end there are going to be a lot of accidents, and a lot of intentionally run ads that piss people off.

I guess one issue here is, in 30 years when no one alive remembers the holocaust, will these jokers still be at it, and will the passing of time somehow give their argument credibility simply because it has persisted.

shesthesheriff said...

Or, I should say, no one alive experienced it.

Jonathan Rubin said...

Almost certainly, the reason I put Holocaust Denial into a different category than most "hate speech" is because I'm Jewish. Then again, is it fundamentally different from KKK anti-black speech? I'm tempted to say yes. "Blacks are bad / Jews are bad" is different from saying "The Holocaust didn't happen / slavery in the U.S. never happened." One is an opinion, the other is a lie.
From a first ammendment standpoint, is there a difference? I still believe that the ads in a newspaper don't count as "free speech" - it's not editorial content but paid advertising content. It's a business decision, and it's bad business to print something that will reflect badly on you or your readers.
That said, would I object to someone printing an editorial containing Holocaust denial? I also would in most cases, because it trivializes the credibility of the publication. It's not really hate speech - it's anti-historical nonsense. We wouldn't expect a serious publication to print Hollow Earth articles, or "facts" about Lizardmen controlling U.S. government. So is there a difference?
Wow.... I argued that better than I thought.... :)

shesthesheriff said...

Ya, I pretty much agree with you, its an interesting subtext of the free speech argument I guess is what I'm saying, which is somewhat self regulating when someone is obviously beyond the pale with the lizard people etc.