From: Edward Queen
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2005 10:45 AM
Subject: History on Trial
I honestly must admit that my imagination could not conceive that Book TV on C-Span2 could have acted even more irresponsibly, ignorantly, and cowardly regarding its handling of Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s book History on Trial than it did with its initial planning for the program. As a textbook case of management and institutional response driven by a “cover yourself” mentality this event soon will find its way into my teaching, ranking with the Japanese government’s handling of the the country’s banking collapse and the Nixon White House’s handling of Watergate. This, however, will feature as an even more as pointed example of the idiocy of such behavior, since the stakes for Book TV were so low.
The entire event would be that laughable, if it weren’t for the seriousness of the issues. From the beginning Book TV has acted in a manner that demeaned, degraded, and denied the importance of Prof. Lipstadt’s work, from its initial desire to place video David Irving and Prof. Lipstadt back to back, not to provide some illustration of Irving and his work as Book TV later claimed (a point on which both Prof. Lipstadt and Irving agree), but to provide, in Connie Doebele’s own words “balance.” (And I shall avoid undue tangent’s but why did Book TV’s program with Ward Churchill not require balance?) Book TV did this when the entire premise of Prof. Lipstadt’s book and her career is that there is nothing to balance. Irving, as the British court determined, is a liar. There is nothing to balance between truth and falsehood.
When Ms. Lipstadt pointed out this fact, Book TV did not acknowledge the idiocy of its initial perspective, but threatened Prof. Lipstadt claiming it would run Irving’s talk without her. In doing so it moved from mere idiocy to immorality. Fortunately, the appropriately pointed column of Richard Cohen in the Washington Post embarrassed Book TV sufficiently to save it from itself, albeit just barely. Rather than such a stupid undertaking, Book TV went on the offensive, putting together a program that appears to have been nothing other than a hatchet job on Prof. Lipstadt. It began by interviewing itself in the person of Connie Doebele with the simple of goal of completely misleading anyone who might be watching the program about the previous events and then featuring as their main speaker, T. R. Reid, someone who had never read the book under discussion. Every excerpt it used of Prof. Lipstadt was designed to place her in a most unfavorable light, subtly trying to imply she is a difficult person, thereby validating Book TV’s refusal to deal with her.
After receiving significant fallout from this bit of offensive persona vendetta, Book TV reverted to the tactic of every tin-horn despot that exercised control over information, it proceeded to deny it ever happened. It did this by completely pulling the programming from its website. I guess we might offer one cheer to Book TV for finally acknowledging, albeit obliquely, the egregiousness of its errors, but how about a simple apology to Prof. Lipstadt, Book TV’s viewers, and, most importantly, the victims of the Holocaust whose suffering and pain Irving has done so much to dismiss. It is time for Book TV to stop denying its errors of judgment and history. Atonement must follow, however. Invite Prof. Lipstadt on to the program apologize publicly and then let her talk about her most important book and the trial. It is never too late to rectify one’s mistakes and to learn from them.
Edward L. Queen Ph.D., J.D.
Center for Ethics