Wednesday, March 23, 2005

S.F. Chronicle on C-Span Controversy

Jon Carroll in The San Francisco Chronicle weighs in.

So in this corner we have Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University. In the other corner we have author and lecturer David Irving, who once remarked, "I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the backseat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."

Lipstadt called Irving a "Holocaust denier," and, remarkably, Irving sued her for libel. A British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed Irving's lawsuit, saying, in effect, "Are you kidding?"

So now Lipstadt has written a book about the libel case and is seeking to promote it, like every author west of the international date line, on C-SPAN. C-SPAN decided that it would follow Lipstadt's remarks with a speech by Irving. This is called "fairness," which is one of those ideas that seem wonderful and reasonable until they run up against reality. I, for instance, became incensed when I read "What Color Is My Foot? No, Seriously, What Color Is It?" by Lockman Rodwall, a retired advertising executive. In it, Rodwall maintains that it is a bad idea to attack advertising executives with poisoned stilettos. "I categorically reject the idea," wrote Rodwall, "that any group of individuals, no matter how wealthy or influential, should have the power to pierce the flesh of advertising executives with curare-tipped needles."

A controversial idea? I should say so. I myself hold that one of the great freedoms our Founding Fathers preserved for us was the right to maim advertising executives in any manner we choose. That's Amendment 2.5, and I hold it sacred.

Well, this Rodwall fellow got a slot on C-SPAN to promote his book as part of the panel discussion called "No One Is Watching Anyway; Talk in French if You Want." I immediately called C-SPAN to demand time to rebut Rodwall and, in accordance with my constitutional rights, to impale an advertising executive on a bed of cyanide-tipped nails.

Well, of course, all those namby-pamby civil rights people got involved, saying, "Oh no, you can't kill anyone on television," conveniently forgetting the daily footage of people being killed in Iraq by nice American boys just doing their jobs. I'd be doing my job, too. I'd be defending the Constitution and, not incidentally, reducing the world population of advertising executives by one.

I could go on like this all day, but I'll stop now. There is no "fairness" in society. There is no "fairness" in the media. No one is going to print an opinion piece called "Incest Is Really Cool" or "Let's Make a Car Bomb!" or "Hunger No More! We'll Eat Our Babies." So we're all involved in making judgments about what is an acceptable opinion and what is an unacceptable opinion.

Of course, everyone is still free to express any opinion. But society is going to suppress some opinions, free speech or no, because there is good in the world and there is evil in the world and somewhere along the road to madness we have to acknowledge that. Slavery was real; the Holocaust was real; the massacre of Armenians by Turks was real; the massacre of American Indians by European invaders was real. Those realities are inconvenient, but not so inconvenient that we get to play "wishing makes it so" games.

The lesson of all these realities is the same: Within each of us lies a monster. That monster can be aroused. It takes ideology, circumstances, fear - - whatever. We do not understand the monster within us. It is useful for us to face the monster, and give it a name, and inquire as to its nature. Fairness is of no use in this quest.

The problem comes in the areas in which society has not formed a consensus. Sometimes the consensus changes over time. In 1958, less than 50 years ago, only 4 percent of Americans thought that interracial marriage should be permitted. A plurality of Americans -- 48 percent -- did not accept interracial marriage until 1991. There may be a great conservative wave in this country, but there is a great undercurrent of tolerance too. That's why I think history is on the side of gay marriage.

That's what makes this information business so hard. Everything is a judgment call; there are no rules -- or rather, what is a rule today will not be a rule tomorrow. I'll give you an example: This paper and the New York Times both ban the term "pro-life" to describe the anti-abortion movement. I think that's a terrible idea because it is the only term that gives you a real sense of what the fight looks like from the anti-choice side. That's what they think the stakes are, like it or not.

I think that C-SPAN's decision was wrong, but I can sure see how it happened.

Some ideas are good and some ideas are not good, and it is useful to distinguish between the two, even if it makes some people angry.
Gentle bows and glasses raised, to the charity of

No comments: