Monday, April 4, 2005

N.Y. Sun on BookTV's Coverage of History on Trial

Here are some excerpts from an article in today's issue of the N.Y. Sun:

C-SPAN's Attempt To 'Balance' Views On Holocaust Deemed an 'Absurdity'

BY JOSH GERSTEIN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
April 4, 2005

In the face of protests from historians and Jewish groups, C-SPAN yesterday backed down from plans to air a lengthy speech from an author whom critics and a British court have labeled as a holocaust denier.

Instead, the network's popular "Book TV" program included only two brief video clips from David Irving, the British historian who in 2000 lost a highly publicized libel case against an American professor, Deborah Lipstadt. The professor had accused Mr. Irving of being an anti-Semite and of grossly distorting evidence in order to prove that the Holocaust was largely a myth.


The compromise program C-SPAN aired yesterday left both Ms. Lipstadt and Mr. Irving sharply critical of the network.

The broadcast was prefaced with an unusual five-minute interview, in which the executive producer of "Book TV", Constance Doebele, defended the network.

"Our programming plan was to show Deborah Lipstadt at her Harvard event, to bring in a journalist who could bring - put some context into this and explain it to an American audience and to show a few clips of David Irving," Ms. Doebele said.

In arranging the program, C-SPAN producers said they hoped to "balance" Ms. Lipstadt's views with those of Mr. Irving. This drew fire from a Washington Post columnist, Richard Cohen, who called the approach "mindless" and branded it as "the 'Crossfire' mentality reduced to absurdity."

Ms. Doebele said yesterday C-SPAN received nearly 3,000 e-mails about the planned program, most of them strongly discouraging the network from featuring Mr. Irving. She said yesterday that her use of the term "balance" was unfortunate.

"We never intended to balance the Holocaust," Ms. Doebele said. "Using that word balance is kind of an internal jargon that we use here in the newsroom. What it means really is looking for another voice out there. ... I really regret using the word 'balance.'"


The bulk of the 65-minute program that followed was devoted to an interview with a Washington Post reporter who covered the libel trial, T.R. Reid. The program included two video clips from Mr. Irving's talk at Atlanta, and four clips of Ms. Lipstadt: three on video and one from a radio show.

In an interview with The New York Sun, Ms. Lipstadt said the network was engaged in some historical revisionism of its own.

"I thought C-SPAN was disingenuous," she said. "They never told me they wanted to use clips of Irving. I would have said, 'Absolutely.' What I was told from the outset was they were going to balance me. What I was sad about was that they couldn't say they made a mistake. I was disappointed."


A spokeswoman for C-SPAN, Jennifer Moore, declined to answer questions about the broadcast and said the network stands by Ms. Doebele's on-air statement.

Ms. Lipstadt said the program misled viewers by suggesting that the libel trial at London did not deal squarely with Mr. Irving's views on the Holocaust. "The case was not about whether Hitler knew about the Holocaust or not," she said.

Ms. Lipstadt also said she found it bizarre that the "Book TV" program involved little discussion of her new book, "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving." The professor said she did not believe Mr. Reid had even read the volume. "There was an hour on my trial but it wasn't about my book," she said.

In an interview with the Sun last night, Mr. Reid said Ms. Lipstadt was correct. "I haven't read her book. I told them that. I told C-SPAN I hadn't read the book," the reporter said. "They asked me to come and talk about a trial."

Mr. Reid said he believes his comments captured the gist of the trial. He said he was a bit baffled by Ms. Lipstadt's criticism. "I agree with Professor Lipstadt about David Irving's view of the Holocaust. I don't think her policy of not appearing with him is right," Mr. Reid said.

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