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To the Editors of The Crimson:
I applaud The Crimson's recent decision not to accept a full-page advertisement from the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, a Holocaust revisionist group run by Bradley R. Smith. However, I seriously question the Wisdom of placing a story on that decision on the front page of the April 16 Crimson. In doing so, The Crimson has given Smith what he most desires: publicity for himself, his organization and his views.
At the present time, Holocaust revisionism is a growing movement. One of its basic goals is to convince people that the Holocaust was a myth advanced by a worldwide Jewish conspiracy hoping to channel international sympathy into support for the establishment of the state of Israel. (It is beyond me how this Jewish conspiracy found the time to do this while at the same time conspiring to take over Hollywood, the world's newspapers and international banking.)
The recency of the Holocaust and the existence of so many first-hand eyewitnesses to it may make the goal of the revisionists seem almost laughable. However, if the purpose of studying history is to gain lessons for the future, one such lesson is that no idea is too ridiculous to be taken seriously. After all, the Nazi ideology which resulted in world war and the extermination of millions was once considered by German intellectuals to be too ridiculous to be taken seriously. With that in mind, Holocaust revisionism should not be discounted as too far-fetched an idea to ever gain popular support.
Of course the vast majority of people who would come in contact with a revisionist advertisement in The Crimson would probably be disgusted by it. But this would not matter to Smith. Holocaust revisionists are not aspiring to sway majorities right now. Instead, Holocaust revisionists are thinking in the long term, primarily concerned with reaching individuals intrigued by Holocaust revisionism, people who will from the intellectual and financial support for the movement in the future.
Taking advantage of the natural desire of people to see themselves as open-minded, revisionists also aim to plant a kernel of doubt within minds today so that future generations will question the unquestionable, creating an issue where one had never existed.
The fact that Holocaust survivors are generally in their later years and in the process of dying out will make it easier for Smith's organization and similar ones to transform the main "issue" of the Holocaust from its shocking details and the circumstances which made it possible to the question of fact versus myth. In revisionist goals, a future history textbook, in the effort to be unbiased, would have to contain "both sides of the story" on this matter.
The Crimson is relevant here, as Smith, for all we know, may have sent his advertisements to college newspapers with the expectation that they would not be published. His strategy many have well been as follows:
Let ever-so-argumentative newspaper editors receive the ads and debate the relative merits of freedom of speech and avoiding offensiveness. Subsequently, the editors would decide not to run the advertisement, in the interests of sensitivity toward Jewish students. Finally, the newspaper editors would run articles and editorials on their brilliant, courageous decision.
In the process, Smith would be quoted extensively (see the April 16 Crimson), permitting his ideas to be heard by the tiny fraction of the student body whom he is trying to reach. Of course, because the newspapers would decide not to carry the ads, the only costs for this publicity would be those for printing, envelopes and stamps.
It is possible that Smith reached more people this way than way than he could have if The Crimson had merely placed the ad on some interior page without any story (not that I advocate The Crimson Printing the ad). The simple fact is that people tend to read front-page articles. On the other hand, ads, particularly non-pictorial ones, tend to be ignored.
If experience is any guide, for groups trying to gain attention for their views, particularly radical or generally offensive views, publicity is crucial. David Duke's presidential aspirations suffered tremendously when he was ignored by a national press wary of how extensive coverage of his previous campaigns in Louisiana resulted in national recognition and national funding for him.
Without the constant attention Leonard Jeffries received from the press during the last year, he would still be an unknown Afro-American studies professor from City University of New York--not someone who spoke to a packed Sanders Theatre and certainly not a household name. This same rationale seems to explain why fringe political groups and bigots always seem so enthusiastic to appear on shows like "Geraldo" or "Donahue," despite the fact that they know that they will, practically without exception, be deplored and ridiculed by the audience.
The freedom of speech issue has arisen and should be briefly mentioned. Smith has every right to speak his opinions, but freedom of speech does not in any way mean that a newspaper is obligated to print every advertisement it receives. Peninsula is not obligated to run an advertisement for Planned Parenthood. The Rag could rightfully refuse an ad for a go-go bar. Similarly, The Crimson is perfectly within its rights to refuse certain political advertisements, or any advertisements, for that matter.
Though I am well aware that, in writing this letter, I am giving further publicity to Smith and his organization, I feel that there is an important point to be made. In the future, there will probably be more cases involving Holocaust revisionists, or other revisionists with a political agenda. I hope that The Crimson will realize that running front-page stories on decisions to refuse Holocaust and other revisionists ads tends to do more harm than good. After all, for fringe political groups hoping to gain an audience, any publicity is good publicity. Nothing is more painful than being ignored. Adam D. Taxin
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