Should David Irving Be Allowed a Forum?
Controversy has erupted over C-Span’s plan to broadcast a speech by a Holocaust denier to “balance” broadcast of remarks by a Holocaust scholar.
“Balance” is a cherished concept for journalists, but sometimes it can run amok. Consider the textbook, The Reporter and the News, a 1935 volume that was then used to train American journalists. The book offers a startling example of a news story that needs to be “balanced,” that demands that “both sides in a controversial matter be given a chance to have their position stated.”
“A case in point,” the textbook solemnly declares, is “the Jewish persecution by the German Nazi Government.” It involves a struggle “between rival groups, each of which is strong in its own right, and each of which is anxious to get as much propaganda across to newspaper readers as is possible.” In other words, every claim by the “strong” German Jews had to be balanced with an equal response from the Nazi regime. .
Lest journalists smugly assume we’ve gotten past such insidious examples of the need for “balance,” C-Span reminds us we haven’t. The cable network, which broadcasts Congress in session and other public affairs programming, planned to show a March 16 speech by Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt discussing her experiences as the defendant in a libel suit brought by Holocaust denier David Irving. Irving sued Lipstadt for statements she wrote about him in an earlier book. A British court dismissed Irving’s suit against Lipstadt in 2000, concluding that he deliberately misrepresented historical evidence.
Still, C-Span decided that it couldn’t show Lipstadt’s speech without balancing it with Irving’s position. As a C-Span spokeswoman told the New York Times, the network decided to tape an Irving lecture in order to cover “the plaintiff’s side of the trial.” When Lipstadt learned that C-Span planned to include Irving’s talk, she refused to allow the network to tape her speech. At first, C-Span said it would show Irving’s lecture anyway, but is now debating what to do.
The episode suggests that some journalists continue to lack both an understanding of the Holocaust and of the proper use of balance.
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