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Horowitz Flap Makes Left Look Bad
Published on Sunday, March 18, 2001 in The Progressive
Horowitz Flap Makes Left Look Bad
by Matthew Rothschild
 
With increasing dismay, I've been following the controversy about the anti-reparations ad that conservative author David Horowitz has been trying to place in campus newspapers around the country.

The ad, "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea and Racist Too," has prompted exercises in censorship by many of the papers and acts of intimidation against papers that did run the ad.

These responses show what little respect there is for the free exchange of ideas on campus--and, I'm sorry to say, among segments of the left.

At least eighteen college papers have simply refused to run the ad, including the Harvard Crimson, the Columbia Daily Spectator, and the Daily Collegian at U-Mass Amherst, according to the A.P.

Some papers that did run the ad quickly apologized for it, including the Daily Californian at U.C.-Berkeley. "I think the ad is inflammatory and inappropriate, and we should not have run it," said Daniel Hernandez, the editor of the Daily Californian.

These editors were wrong.

It's not up to them to shield their readers from ideas that may be "inflammatory" or to set up shop as censors who are empowered to make decisions on which ads are "appropriate" and which are "inappropriate."

They should not discriminate against advertisers on the basis of their political beliefs. This is fundamental.

Our tradition of free speech in this country is to protect the expression not only of views we agree with, but also those we abhor.

And whether abhorrent speech inflames or not is really besides the point.

"A function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute," wrote William O. Douglas in 1948. "It may indeed best serve its purposes when it induces a condition of unrest."

But the editors who censored the ad would not take a risk on free speech.

And many student groups were even more intolerant.

Conservative columnist John Leo reports that students at Berkeley "fanned out around the campus to steal the remaining copies of the offending edition from their racks."

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, staffers at the Badger Herald, which did run the ad, reported that protesters were burning copies of the newspaper containing the ad (though the police did not confirm this), according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

And at Brown University, leaders of the minority student associations "removed the papers from their distribution bins and replaced them with fliers that accused the paper of insensitivity," according to the A.P.

Now I can understand why people disagree with Horowitz's position on reparations and with the specifics of his ad (to say nothing of his self-promotion as sixties-radical-who-now-sees-the-light).

But the proper response to bad speech is good speech.

To resort to intimidation, to engage in gang suppression of speech, is an old and discredited tactic of brownshirts everywhere.

It's a tactic that ill fits the left and does our cause no good.

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