Wednesday, April 6, 2005

David Neiwert: "C-SPAN Plays the Fool"

In his April 3 post, journalist David Neiwert promised his readers he would watch the program and report back. He has now done so. Some excerpts from his review of the program:

C-SPAN plays the fool

Though it no doubt would like to have put the controversy behind it, C-SPAN's Sunday broadcast of its BookTV program on Deborah Lipstadt's book on her ordeal by libel trial with Holocaust denier David Irving wound up only demonstrating that the concerns over its highly questionable approach were indeed well grounded.

The chief guest on the program was Washington Post reporter T.R. Reid, who, as noted earlier, was probably not the best-informed "expert" the program could have featured. As Reid himself told the New York Sun, he has not read Lipstadt's book.


Why, one must ask, did a program about books ask Reid to come talk about a trial?

Moreover, he did not actually cover the trial, at least not in the traditional sense. Usually, covering a trial requires being there for most if not every session; he resisted reporting on it at all, did no pre-reporting on the case, and appears not to have been in court for many (if not most) of the days the trial was in session. He did not even file a story on the case until after the judge began deliberating, and then filed only one further report after the verdict was announced.


C-SPAN has since issued a statement saying it regrets using the word "balance" to describe its plans, calling the term just "internal jargon" referring to the use of other voices.

Right. That would explain why no other book has ever been handled by either BookTV or its predecessor, BookNotes, in this fashion. In every previous broadcast of both shows, it has simply let the author come on and talk about his or her book. Why not Lipstadt?

Regrets about terminology notwithstanding, C-SPAN's approach to this subject makes clear that it has a great deal to learn about how extremists like Holocaust deniers operate. They count on the ignorance of those unfamiliar with their tactics to handle them "fairly" -- which is to say, to treat their lies as though they merely represent another viewpoint, and thereby spread their vicious falsifications into the mainstream,. Sunday's broadcast was a classic case of this.

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