Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Ventura County Star on C-SPAN Controversy

In the April 18 issue of the Ventura County Star, columnist Beverly Kelley comments on the C-SPAN controversy. Here are some excerpts:
Some opinions don't have intellectual merit

Think about a historian specializing in slavery who, because of his ability to cite journals, transcripts and other legal documents, has acquired renown as a painstaking researcher and eminent scholar. Now imagine he reaches the conclusion that slavery never really existed and that anyone who believes otherwise is perpetrating a massive fraud.

Eventually, another historian takes a look at the first historian's research. In fact, she submits every citation to intense scrutiny. What she finds is a consistent pattern of misquotation, misinterpretation and fabrication. The second historian accuses the first, in print, of manipulating evidence "in order to reach historically untenable conclusions."

The first historian, who sues the second historian for libel, loses big time. In fact, the judge's verdict not only calls the first historian a "racist" but finds that his "falsification of the 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."

Hmm -- is all this just some sort of ethical "what if" game? No, Virginia, these events actually transpired -- all you have to do is substitute "the Holocaust" for "slavery." The name of the first historian is David Irving and the second is Deborah Lipstadt.

Now you have all the information you need to understand the raft of outraged phone calls, letters, and e-mail battering C-SPAN last month. It seems a producer thought she needed to "balance" Deborah Lipstadt's book interview with an appearance by the debunked Holocaust denier.


It's about time we realized that not every cockamamie opinion should be accorded equal intellectual merit. The C-SPAN debacle raises legitimate concerns -- has a journalist sought the truth if he merely cites opposing authorities? What factual backing is required for a viewpoint to make it to a "letters to the editor" page?

In a 1990 speech, Irving declared, "The holocaust of Germans in Dresden really happened. That of the Jews in the gas chambers of Auschwitz is an invention." In 1991, he pontificated, "More women died on the back seat of Senator Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz." Irving also maintained that Adolf Hitler played no role in the Final Solution.

Holocaust deniers would have you believe that "The Diary of Anne Frank" was actually a forgery and that concentration camp gas chambers were used for delousing. With respect to genocide statistics, these folks have whittled down the generally accepted 6 million Jews to 200,000, claiming many succumbed to disease or perished at the hands of the Allies. Despite the existence of contrary evidence galore (Germans kept impeccable accounts) they allege Zionists perpetrated the Holocaust hoax to bilk Germany out of heavy-duty reparation dollars.


On his Web site, Irving argues the C-SPAN dispute is "blind censorship, that is what this country now has to fear." It might be worth noting that in "History on Trial," Lipstadt, who is Jewish, likewise opposes censorship, not just from a freedom of speech standpoint but because it might give Holocaust deniers' nonfact based vision of history a platform. She has no objection to Irving making an appearance on C-SPAN. As a matter of principle, however, she won't debate him.

"You can convince anyone of anything if you just push it at them 100 percent of the time. They may not believe it completely, but they will still use it to form opinions, especially if they have nothing else to draw on." Do you know who said that?

Charles Manson. Think about it.

-- Beverly Kelley, who writes every other Monday for The Star, is an author ("Reelpolitik" and "Reelpolitik II") and professor in the Communication Department at California Lutheran University. Her e-mail address is kelley@clunet.edu. Visit her blog spot at beverlykelley.typepad.com/my_weblog.

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