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Jewish World Review April 3, 2001 / 10 Nissan, 5761

Nat Hentoff

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At colleges, a fear of free speech -- ABRAHAM Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is a friend of mine. I applauded him in this column when he accused Sen. Joseph Lieberman of trying to turn his vice-presidential campaign into a religious test for public office. But Foxman -- in a letter printed in the March 23 edition of The New York Times -- is sounding like all too many college students across the land who cry "racism" and "bigotry" when an article in a college paper offends them.

Foxman's letter was about the controversial advertisement that conservative David Horowitz tried to place in a large number of college newspapers. The headline of the advertisement read "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery Is a Bad Idea -- and Racist Too."

As of this writing, 32 college papers have refused to run the ad, and three of the few papers that published it have abjectly apologized. A Brown University newspaper did print the Horowitz ad, and Foxman accuses the paper of complicity in Horowitz's alleged act of "fomenting racism and hate."

First, although the ad offended many students, there is as yet no constitutional amendment protecting Americans from being offended. Second, the ad is neither bigoted nor racist. It's part of a continuing debate. And to call Horowitz a racist is to cheapen the word and diminish its moral clout. Horowitz himself cheapens the word by describing the argument for reparations as "racist."

In criticizing the Brown student newspaper, Abraham Foxman ignores the fact that in the interest of encouraging a free exchange of ideas -- which is what colleges are for -- the Brown Daily Herald gave the students protesting the ad a free page of advertising to refute it, and donated the $750 the Herald received from Horowitz to the Third World Student Coalition. Moreover, the paper enlarged its space for opinion articles on the subject.

Foxman also neglected to report that some of the offended Brown students stole 4,000 copies of the edition of the Herald that had the ad in it. And student critics at the University of California at Berkeley -- home of the Free Speech Movement in 1964 -- stole copies of the Daily Californian, a campus newspaper that ran the ad. The editor of that paper, yielding to pressure, has since apologized for running this "inflammatory and inappropriate" ad.

The editor of the Harvard Crimson, which -- like any newspaper, on or off campus -- has the right to reject any ad, gave as his reason for refusing Horowitz's that it would have "aggravated" the Crimson's readers.

And in New York, the editor of the Columbia Spectator, which also rejected the ad, said "I don't think it's the newspaper's responsibility to create an atmosphere of free speech on campus. It's not our power."

But his newspaper did exercise its power to constrict campus debate on reparations.

Leon Botstein, the president of Bard College in New York, commented on the climate for a diversity of ideas on college campuses in a letter to The New York Times. "We say we believe in dissent, but we actually do not practice it well."

Many students react to ideas they don't like as though they were apprentice members of the Chinese Politburo. And a dismaying number of college professors and administrators remain silent as "subversive" newspapers are stolen, trashed and sometimes made into celebratory bonfires. The destruction of dissenting newspapers is in the tradition of pro-slavery mobs attacking abolitionist papers -- as demonstrated in Michael Kent Curtis's new book, "Free Speech".

At the University of Wisconsin, the independent Badger Herald printed the Horowitz ad. Its editor and reporters were confronted by crowds of yelling students accusing them of spreading "racist propaganda." The Badger Herald erred only in refusing to run an ad by the outraged Multicultural Student Coalition accusing the Badger Herald itself of chronic racism. Why not run it -- and answer it? That would have been a consistent First Amendment manifesto.

I asked John Nichols, the editorial page editor of The Capitol Times in Madison, Wis., where the Badger Herald is being besieged, whether any professors had spoken in support of the student paper's courage in wielding the Excalibur of the First Amendment.

Nichols told me he didn't know of any such brave professors. "What about the law school?" I asked. "Oh, we have some First Amendment experts there," Nichols said, "but no one said anything."

When the anti-free-speech hordes arise, too many faculty members and administrators fear being called racists or bigots. Their silent cowardice further encourages students to forget that -- as Justice William Brennan of the Supreme Court told me -- it is from the First Amendment and its spirit of free speech and a free press that all our other liberties flow. From the students of today will come the teachers, lawyers, journalists and other influential citizens of the future. That is scary.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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01/30/01: History will also judge Robert Ray
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01/08/01: Will Rice remember Rwanda?
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12/26/00: Media should stop misleading public about High Court's actions
12/18/00: A government that executes children
12/11/00: Caucus speaks out on slavery in Sudan
12/04/00: This year, give the gift of the Constitution
11/27/00: Is capital punishment a deterrent?
11/20/00: Punishing the Boy Scouts
11/06/00: Joe Lieberman's excommunication
10/30/00: CNN discards journalistic responsibility
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10/16/00: Nader's American history lesson; or: Silencing Jesse Jackson
10/06/00: Hate-crime laws: The real message
10/03/00: Why Clinton was not convicted
09/25/00: Protecting babies born alive
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07/24/00: Open up the presidential debates!
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07/03/00: Plea to the Congressional Black Caucus
06/26/00: Burning 'bad' ideas at college
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06/12/00: Students discover the Constitution
06/06/00: The Liar's legacy and America's delusions
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05/08/00: The coverage of Reno's lawless raid
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03/27/00: The censoring of feminist history
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03/03/00: The ACLU violates its principles --- yet again!
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11/29/99: Expelling 'Huck Finn'
11/22/99: Pleading the First
11/16/99: Goal of diversity needs rethinking?
11/08/99: Prosecution in darkness
11/02/99: The accuracy that's owed to readers
10/26/99: Disappeared Americans
10/18/99: The blue wall of silence
10/11/99: Bill Bradley's speech tax
10/04/99: 'Technicalities' that keep us free
09/27/99: Our 'Americanism'-ignorant generation
09/20/99: ACLU better clean up its act
09/13/99: A professor of infanticide at Princeton
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08/23/99: Lawyerly ethics
08/16/99: To Get a Supreme Court Seat
08/02/99: What are the poor people doing tonight?
07/26/99: Lady Hillary and the press

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