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No Room for `Revisionists' in The Tech

Column by Josh Hartmann


Over the last year, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust has submitted full-page advertisements to college newspapers across the country entitled, "The Holocaust Controversy: The Case for Open Debate." The ads essentially claim that the Holocaust perpetrated in Germany during World War II did not occur. Roughly half the newspapers who received it, including those from Northwestern, Duke, Cornell, and the University of Michigan, ran the ad, while newspapers at Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other schools refused it.

CODOH, led by a gentleman named Bradley R. Smith, is a historical revision organization. The advertisement, which is also distributed as a leaflet, makes extensive arguments about how claims of the Holocaust come from a Zionist conspiracy. Smith quotes "noted" historians, all of whom claim that gas chambers and organized plans for killing Jews never existed.

Smith probably figures that the most open-minded (read: gullible) audiences will be on college campuses. It is likely that he also figures that while The New York Times would not hesitate to refuse the ad, college editors and publishers will face a tough decision in their zeal for freedom of speech. Additionally, Smith probably realizes that all college newspapers are strapped for cash and would gladly take the money for a full-page ad.

The publishers and editors of these newspapers each had their reasons, many very convincing, for running or refusing the advertisement.

"It wasn't a decision we came to easily," said Helen Junt, last year's executive editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. "Our executive board voted. We decided 5-2 not to run it. I didn't want to be accepting their $1,000 to accept their ad that had lies that promoted hatred. We weren't worried about offending the community."

Kim Barker, the editor in chief of The Northwestern Daily, had different reasons for running the ad. "We were the first school to run it. We were sort of the litmus test for Bradley Smith. It was on the basis of free speech. I don't really think it is our job to be censoring ideas, no matter how offensive they may be."

But, when Smith tried to place a second ad in the Daily, it was refused. "Once an idea has been aired the ad is no longer needed," Barker explained.

Barker also said the ad generated extraordinary debate on Northwestern's campus, including threatening phone calls to editors at the Daily.

Freedom of speech was not an issue for The Daily Pennsylvanian. "This is an advertising issue," Junt said. "The press has freedom to accept ads, if it wants to, and it also has the right to reject ads. It's not like we were telling them they couldn't come down to campus to distribute leaflets."

This was also The Harvard Crimson's argument. In an editorial, the Crimson said, "CODO* is free to pour their $700 into copying machines. They can print up flyers and hawk them around Harvard Square to their heart's content." Their explanation continued, "But we are under no obligation to run CODOH's hateful nonsense beneath the banner of The Harvard Crimson."

When running the ad, The Cornell Daily Sun used the advertisement as an exercise in education. It ran articles and columns about the advertisement in the same issue, said Niraj Khemlani, editor in chief.

"Is it our duty to protect readers from offensive ideas? I don't think so," Khemlani said. "It benefits people by knowing that such a person exists; then people can shoot him down. Any time someone has an idea, they shouldn't be shunned. Those allegations are opinions."

Last week, CODO* sent the ad to The Tech. We refused to print it.

The Tech will publish an advertisement with anyone's opinion. We are not afraid of offending readers with the opinions printed in our pages, since all opinions are debatable. But the fact of the Holocaust is simply not debatable. The overwhelming evidence of the last 45 years leads to only one conclusion -- that over 6 million people were killed under a plan masterminded by Adolf Hitler designed to eliminate Jews and other "undesirables." To deny that the Holocaust happened is tantamount to saying that slavery never happened.

In refusing to run this advertisement, we refused to run a series of allegations which are entirely unfounded. While Smith cleverly worded the text of the advertisement in an attempt to avoid telling direct lies, the spirit of the ad is straightforward: It is intended to brainwash curious, gullible people to believe things that simply are not true.

Printing the advertisement does little to further education about the Holocaust. First, we believe that the members of the MIT community are intelligent and are already educated about the Holocaust. Second, any debate about the advertisement would not focus on the Holocaust; instead, it would center around the issue of whether The Tech should have printed the advertisement. The issue of education can be equally served through this and other columns and letters to the editor.

Any coherent, carefully thought-out attempt to justify the Holocaust is welcome and merits publication. But there is no room in this newspaper for the vicious lies found in CODOH's advertisement.