Obligations of the Press

Why publishing Tuesday’s advertisement was inappropriate

In Tuesday’s Crimson, an advertisement was published that questioned the occurrence of the Holocaust. Understandably, the advertisement offended large segments of the campus.

While the damage has most certainly been done, and hopefully minimized, it should be said that The Crimson did not intend to run the advertisement and that its appearance was nothing more than a communication mistake. We appreciate Crimson President Maxwell L. Child ’10’s letter to our readership in yesterday’s paper. May his words make clear that the advertisement in no way reflects the views of The Crimson Staff. And moreover, that we believe this item should never be found in the pages of a college newspaper.

Although newspapers command the right to publish whatever they see fit—a right that should not be infringed upon—it remains a journalistic responsibility to carefully evaluate what is actually appropriate to print. Officially, a college newspaper such as ours retains the legal right to print whatever it so chooses, with the understanding, of course, that anyone might be sued for defamation. But whether incendiary material of this sort should actually appear in print is a different question altogether, albeit with a simple answer in this case. Can The Crimson publish an advertisement like Tuesday’s?

Absolutely. But should it? Absolutely not.

The reason that an advertisement promoting Holocaust denial was inappropriate is not merely that it offended many on campus but rather that it contradicted our values in serving a diverse and welcoming university community. After all, content that some find offensive is often acceptable, and the angry reader is an inevitable element in the production and consumption of journalism. As a newspaper devoted to the highest standards of journalistic integrity, The Crimson does not often shy away from offending readers who take umbrage at its content. But Tuesday’s advertisement was a different story. It was more than just “offensive” to some readers—it was wrong.

Instead of simply offending, Holocaust denial has much graver effects. It promotes hate and could actually jeopardize the psychological and emotional well being of others in the Harvard community.

While Holocaust survivors are often traumatized for life as a result of the horrors they have endured, it is a well-known fact that their children and even their grandchildren also frequently suffer bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. Denial of the Holocaust can trigger such terrible episodes in those who must deal with its memory on a daily basis. Tuesday’s advertisement, though the result of a mistake, was inappropriate for its potential to reopen the wounds of the past for the victims of the present.

We hope to see The Crimson and other college newspapers refrain from printing similar content going forward.