Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Lipstadt in N.Y. Sun: C-SPAN Off Balance

Prof. Lipstadt has an Op-Ed in today's edition of the N.Y. Sun:

C-Span Off Balance
BY Deborah E. Lipstadt

April 6, 2005

C-Span and I must occupy different planets and speak different languages. But more on that in a moment. Let me start by saying that "Book TV" is a national treasure. The only thing wrong with "Book TV," the 48 hours that C-Span devotes to serious discussion of non-fiction books, is that it does not run all week. This is especially true today, as most TV news networks are more interested in infotainment. With wall-to-wall coverage of Martha Stewart, Michael Jackson, and Scott Peterson, we need C-Span more than ever.

I cannot, however, figure out what they were thinking when it came time to cover my book "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving." First of all, as readers of this page already know, after inviting me to appear on the show they insisted on giving Holocaust denier David Irving a slot parallel to mine, in order to "balance" my presentation. I told them that I did not debate deniers and that, by putting us back to back, they would be creating the debate I would not have. They then told me that they intended to put Irving on by himself. Where was the balance in that?

A storm ensued, prompted in part by a column by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post and my own thoughts on this page. C-Span received more than 3,000 e-mails criticizing their position, and they also were sent a petition signed by more than 500 historians and social scientists. They canceled their plans for the broadcast with Irving and placed a statement on their Web site, claiming that, though they wanted to cover my book, I had closed my talks to them. They never mentioned why I had done so and that I was always more than willing to talk with them and appear on their air without Irving.

Anxious to help them dig themselves out of this hole, I contacted them, but they never returned my calls. Then on Sunday morning, I received an e-mail notice from Connie Doebele, the executive producer of "Book TV," that they had "produced" a show on my trial, and it would be broadcast that afternoon. The e-mail arrived six hours before the broadcast.

The show began with something I have never seen on "Book TV": an interview with Ms. Doebele that was designed to allow her to give her version of events. In un-C-Span style, the interviewer remained nameless and unidentified. She said that they had originally planned to present my talk at Harvard and follow that up with a discussion with a journalist to contextualize the trial. The discussion, she explained, would include clips of David Irving.

At that point I almost fell off my chair. In the course of a series of conversations my publisher and I had with C-Span, no one had ever said that this was what they planned to do. They had always given us the distinct impression that they intended to juxtapose a talk by me with a talk by David Irving. This is, in fact, one of the few things upon which Irving and I agree. He had, he told a New York Sun reporter, the same impression.

If this had been what they planned all along, I would never have objected. In my talks I quote Irving all the time. There is nothing wrong with showing clips of him.

They then proceeded to have a discussion with the Washington Post's T.R. Reid in Denver, who, during the trial, had been chief of the Post's London bureau. Mr. Reid started out by calling Irving an amateur historian who had been "forum shopping" for a place to sue me. He noted that Deborah Lipstadt and her lawyers set out to "prove he was a liar and they proved it." The trial was a "disaster" for Irving. Mr. Reid said he did not understand why Irving brought this suit. He was "outgunned in legal terms. He was outgunned on the facts."

So far so good. But then things took a strange turn. There was no mention of the fact that Irving denies that there were gas chambers or that he denies the legitimacy of Anne Frank's Diary. He calls it a novel. Listeners would not have known that he denies that Auschwitz was a place where Jews were murdered. He denies that the Nazis intended to murder European Jewry. He denies that Hitler was intent on harming the Jews. He denies that survivors are telling the truth and has proclaimed his intention to create an organization called "Auschwitz Survivors, Survivors of the Holocaust, and Other Liars," which he will call Asshols.

Listening to the program, I suspected that Mr. Reid had not read the book, which, he subsequently told a New York Sun reporter, was indeed the case. He had told C-Span he had not read it. Despite that fact, on a show devoted to a new book, C-Span chose a reporter who had not read the book. It was at the end of the show that things took their most disturbing turn. Mr. Reid talked about the need to hear people such as Irving and cited Justice Louis Brandeis's famous dictum, that the antidote to bad speech is more speech. I think Brandeis was right. Though C-Span listeners would never have known that was the case. They might well have gotten the impression that I was trying to silence David Irving. I was not. It was Irving who tried to silence me. He wanted my book to be withdrawn from publication and pulped. On his Web site and in his speeches, Irving often stresses that he tried to settle with me before the trial for the sum of L500. That is indeed correct. However, that offer also stipulated that I apologize to him for calling him a Holocaust denier and agree that my book be withdrawn from circulation. Who tried to silence whom?

I wish C-Span had just admitted that they made a mistake instead of engaging in this revisionist history. I wish that they had given T.R. Reid, a talented journalist, a chance to read my book. And most of all, I wish they had correctly portrayed my position. I am against silencing people, even those with nefarious claims. While David Irving has the right to speak, C-Span does not have the obligation to broadcast him and I certainly have the right to decline to be forced into a debate with a man about whom five different judges have said that his "falsification of the historical record was deliberate and ... motivated by a desire to present events in a manner consistent with his own ideological beliefs even if that involved distortion and manipulation of historical evidence."

I reaffirm an offer I have made many times since this controversy began. I would be delighted to appear on C-Span to talk about my book. At the very least, I would like the opportunity to provide the network's viewers with a correct impression of what I believe. In the name of "balance," I think that this would only be fair.

Professor Lipstadt teaches Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and is the author of "History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving" (Ecco, 2005).

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