|Vol. 17, No. 15||Dec. 18, 1997|
Where We Stand
All kinds of readers protested because denying the Holocaust offends all right-thinking people.
Most mistakes are simple and harmless. A few are complicated and potentially offensive or harmful to readers.
The views of propagandist Bradley Smith, who operates the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust from his home in San Diego, are know to many. His article questioning the Holocaust, which The Review printed, was clearly offensive to Jewish readers whose lives are touched by the horror of the death camps. But all decent society is offended by such sophistry as well.
Dr. Raymond Callahan, a historian who is associate dean of UD's College of Arts and Science, put it this way in a note to us: The issue of Holocaust denial "is about the integrity of historical memory, something crucial to us all."
In a letter to the editor of The Review, Dr. Callahan deftly described why Bradley Smith's guest column was such an offensive sham: "The use of phrases like 'gas chamber tales' for one of the most incontrovertibly documented episodes in recent history indicates that the frontier that separates the historian from the polemicist or propagandist has been crossed. The integrity of historical memory is important to us all. Nowhere should this be made clearer than at a university."
Those who attempt to minimize or even deny the Holocaust are guilty of a moral outrage. They offend not only our intellects but our souls.
Publishing the column was unwise, not because of the controversy it generated but because its message is so patently false. Opinion, even offensive opinion, is tolerable. But no reliable editor knowingly prints an untruth.
The fact that the column and an ad soliciting help to bring Bradley Smith's ideas to television, which was paid for by Smith's organization, appeared on the same day seemed to suggest a conspiracy. A cartoon depicting the University's troubled rugby team as Hasidic Jews also appeared that day, adding even more fuel to the anti-Semitic theory.
But from where we sit, the Review's pages were a calamity of ignorance, error and extremely bad judgment, rather than a deliberate anti-Jewish gesture.
The Bradley Smith column and similarly foolish opinion columns are sent to college newspapers and other small publications in the hope that what happened at the University of Delaware will happen again and again. Such material is free and easily available.
At UD, when students burdened by exams didn't produce newspaper copy, Review editors dropped the Smith slop into the open space. Review editor-in-chief Leo Shane III says he didn't read the column. Two other editors reviewed it and, God help us, said they found no factual errors.
While this incompetence played itself out, the advertising director, apparently knowing nothing of the column, placed a $200 ad from Bradley Smith in the paper. Meanwhile, the staff cartoonist was satirizing the rugby team and the mother of accused murder suspect Amy Grossberg with the subtlety of a sledge hammer.
Never attribute to malice what incompetence will explain. This unhappy saga fits that scenario.
Did The Review have the right to publish the column? Of course. Should it have done so? Clearly not. Dr. David Roselle, the University president, wisely said he would not attempt to dictate editorial policy to the newspaper. He said the newspaper "has the right to publish offensive articles. We're never happy when they exercise that right."
We all should remember that students, not professionals, operate the University newspaper. It is a learning experience. They make mistakes, sometimes awful ones. But the student staff members already has demonstrated they have learned from their errors. And they promptly apologized for their insensitivity.
Dr. Roselle wisely has urged educational efforts on several fronts. Holocaust victims have agreed to discuss their experiences with students, far too many of whom displayed ignorance about that time in history. Dr. Roselle also urged the journalism department to find ways to better advise the Review staff-a good idea.
This painful episode has the potential to promote better understanding. If all involved seek wisdom, it will do so.