Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Balance of the Absurd

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35346-2005Mar14.html

C-SPAN's Balance of the Absurd

By Richard Cohen

Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A23

You will not be seeing Deborah Lipstadt on C-SPAN. The Holocaust scholar at Emory University has a new book out ("History on Trial"), and an upcoming lecture of hers at Harvard was scheduled to be televised on the public affairs cable outlet. The book is about a libel case brought against her in Britain by David Irving, a Holocaust denier, trivializer and prevaricator who is, by solemn ruling of the very court that heard his lawsuit, "anti-Semitic and racist." No matter. C-SPAN wanted Irving to "balance" Lipstadt.

The word balance is not in quotes for emphasis. It was invoked repeatedly by C-SPAN producers who seemed convinced that they had chosen the most noble of all journalistic causes: fairness. "We want to balance it [Lipstadt's lecture] by covering him," said Amy Roach, a producer for C-SPAN's Book TV. Her boss, Connie Doebele, put it another way. "You know how important fairness and balance is at C-SPAN," she told me. "We work very, very hard at this. We ask ourselves, 'Is there an opposing view of this?' "

As luck would have it, there was. To Lipstadt's statements about the Holocaust, there was Irving's rebuttal that it never happened—no systematic killing of Jews, no Final Solution and, while many people died at Auschwitz of disease and the occasional act of brutality, there were no gas chambers there. "More women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz," Irving once said.

For obvious reasons, Lipstadt cited Irving in her 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust," which was also published in Britain. Irving sued her for libel. Under Britain's libel laws, Lipstadt had to prove the truth of what she wrote, which, after a lengthy trial, she did in spades. Her lawyer's opening statement—"My Lord, Mr. Irving calls himself a historian. The truth is, however, that he is not a historian at all, but a falsifier of history. To put it bluntly, he is a liar."—ultimately became the judgment of the court itself. In matters of intellectual integrity, Irving is an underachiever.

Once, this was not all that apparent. By dint of maniacal industry, Irving had turned himself into an admired writer on Nazi Germany. He mined the archives for material that others appeared to have overlooked. Some of it was genuine; some of it was false. Increasingly, though, his books gave off the whiff of anti-Semitism and a certain admiration of Hitler. When Richard J. Evans, a Cambridge University historian (and one of Lipstadt's expert witnesses), carefully examined Irving's work, he found it a stew of misrepresentations, falsifications and outright quackery. Irving was authoritatively exposed: a propagandist hiding behind seemingly scholarly footnotes.

This is the man C-SPAN turned to for "balance." It told Lipstadt that since it was going to air her lecture, it would do one of Irving's, too. As luck would have it, he was appearing March 12 at the Landmark Diner in Atlanta. C-SPAN was there for this momentous event—although Irving's advance warning that cameras would be present apparently held down attendance. (His people seem to prefer anonymity—or, in the old days, sheets.) Lipstadt was in effect being told that if she wanted to promote her book on C-SPAN (an important venue) she would also have to promote Irving. If she was to get a TV audience, then so would he.

C-SPAN's cockeyed version of fairness—it told Lipstadt that it had bent over backward to ensure its coverage of the presidential election was fair and balanced—is so mindless that I thought for a moment its producers and I could not be talking about the same thing. This is the "Crossfire" mentality reduced to absurdity, if that's possible. For a book on the evils of slavery, would it counter with someone who thinks it was a benign institution? Why does it feel there is another side to the Holocaust or to Irving's assertion that he was libeled? He was not. He was described to a T.

In the end, Lipstadt had to choose between promoting her own book—a terrific read, by the way—and giving Irving the audience of his dreams and a status equal to her own. C-SPAN said it was only seeking fairness, but it was asking Lipstadt to balance truth with a lie or history with fiction. On this occasion, at least, Irving did what he could not do with his libel suit: silence Lipstadt. He may still appear on C-SPAN, but Lipstadt will not—a victory for "balance" that only the truly unbalanced could applaud.

cohenr@washpost.com

13 comments:

David H Lippman said...

Well, when I write a book about how Archimedes proved the world was round back in ancient Egypt, I hope they invite a spokesman from the Flat-Earth Society for that opposing point of view.

David Thomson said...

This is outrageous. I am making sure that others within the blogging community know about it. The progeny of Jacques Derrida and Michael Foucault are obviously alive and well at C-Span.

WJ Phillips said...

My understanding of Irving's position is that although senior elements of the Nazi apparat did direct and conduct extensive pogroms of Jews (chiefly by shooting on the Eastern front) and caused many more to die of privation and disease, the forensic case for the existence and whereabouts of gas chambers, and unambiguous documentary evidence of Hitler's authorisation or prior knowledge of these persecutions, is lacking.

Nor do we have any authentic films or photographs of gas chambers in operation. Our knowledge of them arises largely from the recollections of inmates who by definition were not fatally gassed, or of guards who were making confessions to their captors, and by way of contemporary claims by units such as the propaganda department of the Red Army, which had started the Katyn Forest canard.

Irving has besmirched the impulse towards judicious revisonism in our time by his exhibitionist tendencies and exaggerations. He is more a provocateur than a historian. But tarring all who have any doubts about what, by ordinary standards, is a startlingly ill-documented episode, will in time be counter-productive. After all, impeccably philosemitic primary researchers such as Pressac and Meyer have also queried the mainstream account of Auschwitz. Is Raul Hilberg, who calculated total Jewish losses in WW2 at 5.1m rather than 6m, a "denier"? Was Yehuda Bauer, the Israeli prof who dismissed the Wannsee Conference as a minor planning meeting, a 'self-hater' undermining a foundation stone?

As the remaining survivors die and the Second World War fades into surrogate memory, perhaps the exact degree and extent of German culpability will be re-examined more coolly. But as long as the Shoah remains the exclusive preserve of activists such as Prof. Lipstadt, financed by rich men of the same temper, historical objectivity will be somewhat cribbed, and censorship laws will strive (at length, doubtless, vainly) to enforce the True Believer's version.

david gehrig said...

In general, C-SPAN is a wonderful resource, and they do include many voices who otherwise don't make their way into the media. But in this case I think that someone just didn't do his/her research. I'd be more inclined to see this episode as an exceptional and singular case rather than the latest episode of "C-SPAN Presents Hate Freak of the Week." I hope that C-SPAN isn't being innundated with overgeneralizing hate mail over an admittedly stupid decision.

On the other hand, it's reassuring to have a reminder of just how radioactive Irving -- and Holocaust denial -- remains, thanks in large part to the Irving/Lipstadt case. When was the last time the Washington Post even _noticed_ C-SPAN? But let them merely suggest treating Irving as if he were an honest man rather than an antisemitic liar, and IMPLY that the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz is somehow more controversial than any other fact of WWII, and see what happens?

Meanwhile, as the previous post shows, there will always be those who want to exhume the various canards -- "no gas chamber at Krema II," "no written order from Hitler" etc. -- that were put to rest so comprehensively in 2000, and then fulminate in barely coded language about The Jew's Iron Grip.

@%<

Anonymous said...

Someone wrote:

"Is Raul Hilberg, who calculated total Jewish losses in WW2 at 5.1m rather than 6m, a "denier"?"

Obviously, not, and nobody said otherwise. Why the stupid question?

You, sir, are a hatefully dishonest, dissimulating, self-defeating, self-denying sad sack o'! said...

"But as long as the Shoah remains the exclusive preserve of activists such as Prof. Lipstadt, financed by rich men of the same temper, historical objectivity will be somewhat cribbed..."

-well, clearly, the Holocaust is no one’s exclusive preserve. It is a central historical event that everyone and his dog wants a piece of. As I wrote to C-Span:

“...I would like to point out that your position is inherently antisemitic. While it is plausible that there are problems with Lipstadt's book, and that you might well seek someone to present these, the idea of giving a voice to Irving (instead of to one of Lipstadt’s academic or intellectual peers) is surely motivated by a desire to question/show someone questioning the Jews' "status" as the archetypal victims in a model of victimization that laid the ground for the postmodern age of recognizing and defending victims.

We live in a time when every claim on victim status seeks, implicitly or explicitly, to re-present the currency of the revelation provided by the Nazi/Jew relationship of unquestionable, totally one-sided victimization. This leads some to resent the model and seek to undermine its (Jewish) centrality, e.g. by "balancing" it with others' (e.g. Holocaust deniers’) claims on the victim status. This competition for attracting public attention and sympathy towards sacrificial figures, which tends to become confused with due historical consideration of the nature of any specific victimary event, or of any purported equivalence between one murderous event and another, is why political correctness, when taken to competitive extremes, turns Judeophobic...”

WJ Phillips said...

"...'no gas chamber at Krema II,' 'no written order from Hitler' etc. -- that were put to rest so comprehensively in 2000."

But were they? Dr Meyer has argued for a different site for most gassings (in 'Osteuropa', 2002) and has not been prosecuted in his native Germany. Jean-Claude Pressac, workig for the Klarsfeld Foundation, had calculated far lower Auschwitz death totals than Piper et al. and was not prosecuted in France. If a written order from Hitler has appeared, I and many other students of the period would like to see it. In truth the invisibility of such an order, first mentioned by Irving in 'Hitler's War' (1977), has been sullenly and obliquely conceded by mainstream historians such as Hilberg and Kershaw, who now talk of subordinates inferring Hitler's intentions and trying to anticipate them to please him.

Thus these questions remain susceptible to discussion, no matter how much they have become an orthodoxy in Zionist circles. Perhaps unambiguous proof of mass gassings and of Hitler's central organising role will emerge. But not yet. All the fuming, cursing and imputation of unworthy motives in the world do not fill those forensic vacuums.

Prof. Lipstadt does not appear to have done any primary research on the Holocaust. She limits herself to writing about what others thought, said and wrote about it. She is a historian of opinion, not occurrence. Others have to get dirt under their nails so that the Lipstadts can draw moral lessons.

david gehrig said...

Oh, I see, it's not The Jew's Iron Grip, it's The Zionists' *wink* *wink* Iron Grip. Of course. How silly of me. No coded antisemitism there.

@%<

Anonymous said...

"But were they? Dr Meyer has argued for a different site for most gassings (in 'Osteuropa', 2002) and has not been prosecuted in his native Germany."

His articles have been analysed and found incompetent.

"Jean-Claude Pressac, workig for the Klarsfeld Foundation, had calculated far lower Auschwitz death totals than Piper et al. and was not prosecuted in France."

His methodology has been found largely unsatisfactory. And while Piper's toll will be revised eventually (probably downwards), what exactly would that mean?

"If a written order from Hitler has appeared, I and many other students of the period would like to see it. In truth the invisibility of such an order, first mentioned by Irving in 'Hitler's War' (1977), has been sullenly and obliquely conceded by mainstream historians such as Hilberg and Kershaw, who now talk of subordinates inferring Hitler's intentions and trying to anticipate them to please him."

"Conceded"? Who ever claimed that there was a written order? And oral order is still an order. An order to kill Trotsky has never been found. So?

"Thus these questions remain susceptible to discussion, no matter how much they have become an orthodoxy in Zionist circles. Perhaps unambiguous proof of mass gassings and of Hitler's central organising role will emerge. But not yet. All the fuming, cursing and imputation of unworthy motives in the world do not fill those forensic vacuums."

Your statement implies that mass gassings have not been proven yet, which is quite obviously false.

WJ Phillips said...

Gehrig: "How silly of me."

Silly indeed, to think that gratuitously invoking a conspiracy theory suffices to refute a factual critique. All I asserted was that questioning the received account of the Holocaust is anathema to Zionists. I said nothing about iron grips.

Anonymous: "His [Meyer] articles have been analysed and found incompetent."

By whom? Apart from by Piper, the communist functionary who kept a plaque displayed at Auschwitz proclaiming 4m deaths until Lech Walesa ordered it to be replaced by a new figure which most historians still think is too high?

You seem to believe that historical truth is handed down by oracles, not arrived at by argument based on citations, and then only provisonally.

"His [Pressac's] methodology has been found largely unsatisfactory..."

Again, by whom? Why were his findings circulated by a Jewish foundation? Your sourcing is as opaque as your identity. I suspect you, like so many last-ditch defenders of the orthodoxy, are blustering because you have not followed the debate. Like Deborah L. you think it beneath your dignity to engage with those who are unconvinced. But this lets the opposition make the running. If they are absurd and/or malicious flat earthers, why not blow them out of the water by merciless confrontation? Bring 'em on!

"Who ever claimed that there was a written order?"

Many historians still say it will turn up one day, like Saddam's WMDs.

"An order to kill Trotsky has never been found. So?"

So... many historians now doubt that Trotsky was killed on Stalin's direct orders. It might have been done by underlings trying to please him. Similarly some historians (no, not 'deniers') think the Shoah might have evolved without Hitler's previous authorisation or knowledge, or at least without detailed orders from him. Recent studies of the Third Reich paint a much more chaotic picture of the chain of command than the regime's own publicity admitted.

"...while Piper's toll will be revised eventually (probably downwards), what exactly would that mean?"

I don't necessarily agree that it will. It could be adjusted upward, or stand still. New evidence of gassing could be forthcoming-- for instance, from ex-Soviet archives. OK by me, as long as there's a bedrock of fact behind the new figure, not a recital of atrocity stories protected by elaborate attempts to silence doubters.

My mind remains open, but a crime as appalling as genocide ought to require a higher burden of proof than garbled, mutually contradictory or orchestrated eyewitness reports: some deposed years after the events and others extracted by Abu Ghraib-style techniques. It was a Jewish historian, Mayer, who remarked 17 years ago how tenuous tenuous the physical proofs of mass gassing are.

"Your statement implies that mass gassings have not been proven yet, which is quite obviously false."

I daresay that "quite obviously", in some true believers' minds, the complete *absence* of what would be considered hard evidence in a murder trial-- no photographs, no films, no Ultra intercepts, no official documents which state plainly that gassing occurred-- furnishes, for this historical episode and this alone, 'proof'. ('They must have done it, they covered it up so completely.') But such Wonderland logic will not persuade the world for ever, despite being buttressed by sackings, fines, prison time and beatings-up by vigilantes.

I don't suggest that Prof. L approves of such methods: I'm sure she's a good First Amendment gal, and all credit to America for not stifling controversy in this touchy area. But in history there are no last words, not even at Coca-Cola University.

Anonymous said...

"By whom?"

1) F. Piper.
2) A. Kolthoff.
3) J. Zimmermann.
4) C. Mattogno.

The last one is a leading denier, by the way.

I trust you are intelligent enough to use Google.

"Apart from by Piper, the communist functionary who kept a plaque displayed at Auschwitz proclaiming 4m deaths until Lech Walesa ordered it to be replaced by a new figure which most historians still think is too high?"

Oh gee, instead of answering his arguments you make false claims about him. How typical.

"You seem to believe that historical truth is handed down by oracles, not arrived at by argument based on citations, and then only provisonally."

As there is no such indication in any of my comments, you're now making false claims about me.

"Again, by whom?"

By Prof. van Pelt in his expert report and in his book, based in the report. Will you now throw ad hominems around, or will you try to address his arguments? I won't hold my breath.

"Why were his findings circulated by a Jewish foundation?"

How is this in any way relevant?

"Your sourcing is as opaque as your identity."

You've been given a source. What will you do now? Pour in more empty rhetoric?

"I suspect you, like so many last-ditch defenders of the orthodoxy, are blustering because you have not followed the debate. Like Deborah L. you think it beneath your dignity to engage with those who are unconvinced."

Quite the opposite. And since I spoon-feed the info to you, not vice versa, it is you who has not been following the debate.

"Many historians still say it will turn up one day, like Saddam's WMDs."

Har har har! Such a silly shot in the foot. OK, let's see at least 5 such quotes by different historians.

"So... many historians now doubt that Trotsky was killed on Stalin's direct orders."

Really? Who doubts it?

"It might have been done by underlings trying to please him. Similarly some historians (no, not 'deniers') think the Shoah might have evolved without Hitler's previous authorisation or knowledge, or at least without detailed orders from him. Recent studies of the Third Reich paint a much more chaotic picture of the chain of command than the regime's own publicity admitted."

But it's all a matter of definition. Sure, Hitler never made any detailed, point-by-point gas-em-all order. He gave the general guidelines and implementation was left to his underlings. I am justified in calling such guidelines an order.

"I don't necessarily agree that it will. It could be adjusted upward, or stand still."

With some new finds about the Hungarian Jews will probably be revised downwards. But that is a rather minor point.

"My mind remains open, but a crime as appalling as genocide ought to require a higher burden of proof than garbled, mutually contradictory or orchestrated eyewitness reports"

Sure. But you must be talking about some other genocide. What you say does not apply to the Holocaust in the least.

"others extracted by Abu Ghraib-style techniques"

Gee. Haven't heard of any Abu-Ghraib testimonies about WMDs.

"I daresay that "quite obviously", in some true believers' minds, the complete *absence* of what would be considered hard evidence in a murder trial-- no photographs, no films, no Ultra intercepts, no official documents which state plainly that gassing occurred-- furnishes, for this historical episode and this alone, 'proof'."

"Dare" as much as you wish, and make a fool of yourself in the process. Convergence of all kinds of evidence proves mass gassings beyond the reasonable doubt. There is simply no need for one and only kind of evidence ("hard", "direct"), this restriction is artificial and is used specifically to rig the game from the start.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but you don't have convergence of evidence. You have convergenge of non-evidence. A plan of a morgue doesn't doesn't become a plan of a gas-chamber because someone later claims that the building described was used for mass executions. You are using conclusions to validate premises. This is 100% bogus.

debunking the idiots said...

"Yes, but you don't have convergence of evidence."

But we do.

"You have convergenge of non-evidence."

What is that supposed to mean?

"A plan of a morgue doesn't doesn't become a plan of a gas-chamber because someone later claims that the building described was used for mass executions."

No, it doesn't. Did anybody claim that it does?

"You are using conclusions to validate premises."

No, we are not. Care to cite examples?

"This is 100% bogus."

Agreed, if you were talking about your posting.