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Tech Has Responsibility to Print Truth

Column by Bill Jackson

Lead Guitar

As I write this column, a pamphlet from a gentleman named Bradley R. Smith sits in front of me. Brad is a Colonel Sanders-looking guy with a really bad attitude. Smith wanted to take out an advertisement, to present a full page of what he calls "historical revisionism" in The Tech. Smith has been sending the ad to college newspapers all over the country.

You may have already heard about Mr. Smith's brand of history, in which he calls for "open debate" on the Holocaust. Setting aside the pathetic insinuation that debate isn't already open, reading this literature makes it clear that Smith is not promoting open debate, but pushing anti-Semitism.

Still, there was a great deal of argument among Tech staff members about whether to accept or refuse the advertisement. I am not a member of the Executive Board, but I was allowed to listen in on and participate in the discussion. One standard argument we discussed says that The Tech has a responsibility to print all points of view, and just because this is a minority opinion, The Tech shouldn't refuse the ad.

If someone were to enter the office of The Tech to place an advertisement about Charles Vest being from an alien planet trying to steal Earth technology, our readership would expect us to turn the advertisement down. The Holocaust ad is no more plausible or acceptable from a standpoint of being responsible to The Tech's readership.

What I mean by "being responsible" is that The Tech has an editorial responsibility to its readers. While this responsibility is lessened for advertisements, The Tech can still refuse anything it feels does not fit in with the standards of the publication.

It helps to think of the problem in reverse: if The Tech were obligated, either morally or legally, to print Smith's ad, then in a sense The Tech's right to free speech -- its right to publish and not publish whatever it chooses -- would be violated.

I defend Smith's right to disseminate his information. However, there is an enormous difference between defending someone's right to speak and actively committing your own resources to helping that person speak. I defend the rights of random LaRouchies to wander Massachusetts Ave. looking for converts and handing out pamphlets, but in order to defend that right, I do not have to stand out there and pass out copies.

In debating this issue, The Tech's Executive Board mulled over many different possible courses of action, including printing the ad alone, printing the ad with a disclaimer, and not printing the ad.

Printing the ad with a disclaimer would have been a mistake. By choosing to give space to both "sides" of this non-issue, The Tech would implicitly give credence to Smith's side. In printing arguments from both sides of an issue, The Tech implicitly agrees there is a valid issue to be debated and that each side has something worthy to say on the issue.

By this criterion, I, as an opinion editor, would endorse a series of columns debating the abortion issue, but not a series of columns debating the shape of the earth. I would not, however, actively stifle the Flat Earth Society. This responsibility to decide the difference between "fact" and "debatable issue" is the main reason The Tech was right not to run the Holocaust ad. Is it worth printing an obvious piece of garbage just to provoke violent response?

The final argument, and one which came close to convincing the board to run the ad, states that The Tech should run it in order to make people aware that such anti-Semitism exists. I disagree for one reason; the column you are now reading should make you aware that such anti-Semitism exists. If you need more confirmation, I suggest you write to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which will send you more information about Smith and his group. This is, in my mind, a much better way for The Tech to get the word out about this racism.

The Executive Board of The Tech should be commended for its decision not to run the ad. I hope that other campus and local papers follow this example and decide not to commit their own resources to help spread hate speech.