Blogs > Cliopatria > The Unfairness Doctrine

Sep 3, 2004 2:56 pm


The Unfairness Doctrine



There’s a lot of books about history out there, with another thousand coming down the pike every few months.

How does the mass media decide what’s worth their attention, what authors belong on talk shows and op-ed pages? This is what I take the Historians’ Committee on Fairness to have been asking about Michelle Malkin. I may have been harsh about the clumsy way they rhetorically invoked the norms of historical scholarship, but the basic question is a fair one. Why Michelle Malkin and not many other authors of readable, interesting works of history, or for that matter, authors of dense, scholarly works of history?

Obviously, Malkin’s appeal at the moment has something to do with good timing: her argument about internment reverberates within today’s charged debates over security, war and terrorism. Ten years ago, her book would have sunk like a stone. But there are some more basic principles here.

Authors get play in the media first off when they have a contrarian novelty to them. The best, most readable book in the world that intelligently and accurately recounts internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II would get little play at this point because its arguments are now well-known to much of the American public, and the episode has become an orthodox part of our historical memory. This is of course what makes it an attractive target for contrarian opinion--a contrarian take on state formation in 13th Century West Africa doesn't have much play. In general, there is nothing wrong with the media taking little interest in what amounts to a dog-bites-man work of history, and a lot of interest in man-bites-dog. That makes sense; it's a sound strategy for drawing viewers and listeners.

I’m not ashamed to admit that this one reason I get calls occasionally from reporters about the history of American popular culture. (As I’ve said elsewhere, I’m sort an apprentice quote slut for Robert Thompson, the director the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University.) It’s because my general take on popular culture (and Thompson’s, too) is fairly divergent from the norm among academics, even academics in cultural studies. A contrarian perspective is attractive within the ecology of mass media: it’s a hook that draws in the eyeballs.

Beyond that, there’s the question of how mediagenic an author is. That’s looks, partly, and Malkin is making the most out of that. It’s also a question of how “quote-friendly” or talk-show articulate an author is, and here Malkin has comes off fairly poorly, but certainly better than most academics might. On television, Malkin simply appears to be not terribly bright. Most academics have a different problem in the media, and that’s an inability to compress what they know into digestible, amusing bits and to know when and how to take a joke and roll with the punches.

Taking all this into account, the Historians’ Committee for Fairness still has a valid fundamental point. How do you decide what’s worth covering and not covering? Because not everything that is contrarian and potentially mediagenic gets the coverage—the coverage without, for the most part, attention to the dissenting views of others—that Malkin has. To put it bluntly, why does Michelle Malkin get on television and David Irving, the infamous Holocaust revisionist, not get on television? Irving’s argument that the Nazis did not actually set out to exterminate the Jews is factually detailed and it’s certainly contrarian, and he’s actually somewhat creepily mediagenic.

If the people who make decisions about programming and content at the talk shows want to tell me and other historians that they wouldn’t put Irving on the air because what he says in his work is factually specious and untrue (which it is), then they’re telling me that they make these decisions based either on their own personal and professional assessments of the factual truthfulness of works of non-fiction, or they make these decisions based on consultation with experts about what is reasonable, plausible, debatably true work and what is poor, scurrilous, offensive lies. If this is true, the question becomes potent: why is Michelle Malkin on the air now? Because if talk show producers consult experts on internment, they’d certainly find that almost everyone thinks Malkin’s work is shoddy and inaccurate, quite aside from its ethical character. If talk show hosts read and assess work independently to decide whether it is worth covering, then I’m hard-pressed to understand why they think Malkin’s is legitimate.

And if they just put people on the air because they’re mediagenic and interestingly contrarian, I again ask: why not Holocaust revisionists? What sets the boundaries of the fringes, and doesn't the expert assessment of intellectuals and scholars matter in that boundary-setting? That scholars have errors on their own ledgers, as in the Bellesiles case, doesn't obliterate more than a fractional percentage of the legtimate and meticulous collective expertise of historical scholarship, Clayton Craymer's mouth-frothing notwithstanding.

The Historians’ Committee for Fairness may have gone about their task the wrong way, but they’re entitled to an answer to this question from the media that have given Malkin a hearing. What makes her work worthy of coverage when work of equivalent shoddiness and offensiveness is regarded as absolutely off-limits?



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E. Simon - 6/26/2005

This was indeed an interesting discussion, Dr. Burke. I hope you don't mind me adding something so late in retrospect, but hindsight being 20/20, why not?

Volunteeristic standards are important, no doubt. I suppose looking back I would liken what you've done in this piece to that of a very vocal, turned-off consumer or potential consumer, or that of a consumer advocacy group that is working on an important level - even if at one short of advocating regulatory input. I should, (and I don't mean this facetiously) congratulate the way you have participated in this market. Sorry for not following up on this important difference earlier in the discussion. Consumer complaints are not to be taken lightly, especially those of such a savvy consumer.

On the other hand, perhaps accuracy has become a casualty of a medium that on some levels has lost sight of when it is important to retain the distinction between news and entertainment. Satire is typically easy to define and has been around for quite some time, but the advent of new technologies and larger social changes have played a part in shaking up the entire landscape of what's what and opened up an era of relaxed standards with regards to those distinctions. I don't think the ignored yet glaring innaccuracy of her book needn't have been criticized within the context of how that impacted her appearances or their credibility, but the ideas behind it were understandably the focus, and necessarily so in the kind of pundit/counter-pundit forum that seems to fit well within the interface that comfortably exists at many levels between our American media and political culture.

The politicians, after all, are better at playing fast and loose with the facts than anyone else.


E. Simon - 9/11/2004

Hi Joe,

I would be perfectly willing to entertain an argument about a generally and fundamentally unfair atmosphere as a result of previous policy.

I never said that the fact, that libel/slander laws are enshrined in the longstanding body of common law, is a caveat. If anything that bolsters my argument, (which may be a caveat *from my broader position* but I mentioned that from the moment it was brought up).

I don't think that the internment was a case of individual miscarriages of justice. It was a discriminatory policy. I was referring to Wen Ho Lee, who, since he is not even Japanese (nor is Yee, BTW), I'm not sure why you brought up.

As I've already said, if the after-effects of the internment were sufficiently pervasive to have affected one's chances at fundamental fairness in the broader society post-WWII, then I would be more than interested in learning that and accepting that. If the effects were to continue at large through the present day, then I would be willing to entertain policy ideas that would be broader in scope in order to offset that. Since neither of us are arguing on behalf of such a policy, I think it is becoming a rather moot point in the discussion.

The government of Germany was concerned about rises in neo-Nazism as recently as the 1980s. Just like the related topics, it is interesting to explore and I'm not sure exactly where I'd draw the line, either. All I know is that I would find it much less troubling to see someone purchasing a copy of Mein Kampf at their local Borders in 20th-century America (as I have) than I would be in 1950s Germany. As for today, I think that is a matter that the German government can capably determine.

I would find it very shocking and troubling if nobody offering the opposing view would be accepted at any of the venues at which Malkin has spoken - and in this respect I find Tim's concern very much worth exploring. I think Malkin's book sounds ridiculous at face value. I don't even know how it relates more broadly in her interest in profiling, which has been more extensively bandied about (by Steve Kroft on Sixty Minutes, for example), and is definitely not the same thing as long-term internment - although some people think the latter can lead to a slippery slope toward the former, and I myself am unconvinced of there being much potential utility in it. I think it sounds like she is doing herself a disservice (and after the Berkley appearance that would seem even moreso the case), and if there is some kind of a bias that is preventing the opposing argument from getting out then I would very much have a problem with that. I do know that Radio Times plays on stations throughout the country and NPR has a very broad reach with more informed radio listeners, so this is a good sign.

I wrote most of this before hearing about the Berkley appearance, so I must say that in retrospect it seems that sunlight generally is the best disinfectant. If you give someone a chance to say something troubling they will likely take the opportunity to trip themselves up and discredit themself, so the exposure leading up to this doesn't seem to have helped her cause, rather than create the critical mass-audience for a more effective response.

I really don't think I have that much more to say about this, but this has been interesting, so thanks for that. Gotta go!




Joe Tomei - 9/9/2004

Thanks for your replies. I'm afraid that I've taken them out of order a bit, my apologies, but this comment box is quite confining.

You wrote "If individual compensation would have occurred, that would be a different thing." But the fact is that compensation did occur on an individual basis, with each person interned (or their surviving next of kin) given an apology and $20,000. So the government has, it can be argued, decided that there was no justification for the act. If you mean that no ongoing policies have been proposed, that is true, but my understanding is that ongoing policies such as affirmative action, are to counteract not specific acts of prejudice, but a generalized atmosphere. This paper by Aimee Chin suggests that there were long run labor market effects for the Japanese interned.
http://www.uh.edu/~achin/research/chin_japanese_internment.pdf
I hasten to add that I (nor Ms Chin, I think) am not supporting any sort of corrective policies. But this seems to be more (and again, I may be biased) than simply 'widespread stereotypes'. I don't think Tim is arguing for state interest in the rights of Asian Americans as much as wondering why in one case, the apparent truth can at least be accepted, but in another case, the defenders of the side that he (and I) think are truthful can be marginalized so easily.

I'm still a bit unclear about your point about slander and libel laws. I proposed them because I think it indicates that the government has an interest in truth, which I think you have agreed to in some specific cases, but you inserted the caveat that they are longstanding. I'm not sure why having a long standing basis in law undercuts the notion that the government does have an interest in truthful presentations.

I'm also having difficulty seeing how individualized miscarriages of justice can cover a policy that was based on a person's ethnicity, down to orphans of Japanese ethnicity being interned.

Returning to our Germany/anti Nazi example, I think it would be difficult to argue that there is an pervasive attitude that supports Nazism in modern day Germany, but that the government is taking a preventative approach. As I said, it is not altogether clear where one draws this line, but I think it is interesting to explore.

Finally, you wrote:
"If someone stepped up to the plate, I'm certain they wouldn't be turned down."

I believe that Eric Muller has said that he has contacted the venues that Malkin has appeared on offering to present the alternative view and has only been accepted at one, a Philadelphia-area public radio program "Radio Times". As he is a former federal assistant attorney, I would assume that he would not be making this up.


E. Simon - 9/9/2004

Joe,

If you read up about, for instance, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg or Sacco and Venzetti, it is widely argued that each case might have been tainted by anti-Jewish or anti-Italian sentiment, respectively. The fact that widespread stereotypes exist(ed), which may or may not translate into individual miscarriages of justice, does not mean the political establishment need rise to the level of instituting corrective, "reverse-discriminatory" policies. It is the denial of justice which such policies address, that must be pervasive, not merely a stereotype or repugnant sentiments.


E. Simon - 9/9/2004

Dr. Burke, I hope you don't mind if I address your post here, as well, since I can't open two windows from the same thread at the same time...

The points you're making are all very good. Programming decisions should endeavor to balance opposing or controversial views, and it seems these days that they realize they get even higher ratings when they do. As far as a contrast to Malkin, I don't think it's necessary that someone with prior recognition as a columnist be invited - just someone who can speak well and in the same vernacular as her audience - even if they were, incidentally, a historian. I tend to watch C-SPAN, and sometimes there are great panels with historians, people like Michael Beschloss, perhaps, Arthur Schlessinger, who could probably more than hold their own on-screen... don't want to get too far off-track, but I think it's definitely possible and desirable. If someone stepped up to the plate I'm certain they wouldn't be turned down.


Mr. Tomei,

Sorry to hear about the typhoon.

I, like yourself, would not be in favor of the kinds of misrepresentations in Malkin's book. As far as the fundamental challenge to society question, I agree that as a historical policy it should be questioned vigorously. But as a policy. The court case is very interesting as is the interpretation. It gets us a little off-track into the culpability of the judiciary, which is probably a very complicated matter -- I would like to see how this kind of reasoning would apply to something, like say the 2000 election decision. In any event, I do think you're misunderstanding me - at least a bit. I'm not aware that there have been any corrective or reverse-discriminatory government policies afterward to correct any lingering social ills that were allowed to stand on the basis of a compelling state interest for the rights of Asian Americans, as I said. If individual compensation would have occurred, that would be a different thing. I am a bit unsure of why you have brought up the matter of Wen Lee Ho, other than to illustrate that he faced discriminatory situation. Although this might be the case, and it might indeed be even pervasive, I am not aware that any policies have been proposed to, for instance, give Asians preferential treatment in hiring as a means to correct such a problem.
Individual cases and past abuses do not prove that Asian Americans today cannot, by and large, get ahead in the U.S., or a fair hearing in American society or in a court, based on an historical injustice. Unless that is what you are proposing then I don't think it hits upon the point I made.

The references to slander and libel were proposed by yourself. If you see the continuing existence of these standards as oppressive or inimical to freedom, then you might have a point. Otherwise I don't understand what purpose there is in re-hashing them without creating a straw man.

Thanks.


Tom Scudder - 9/8/2004

I have no comment except: eeew.


Joe Tomei - 9/8/2004

I'm sorry, the typhoon knocked our power out so I wasn't able to answer very promptly.

I want to stress, I'm not trying to back you into a corner here, and I realize that the line to draw is very blurry, but exploring where you would draw it illuminates the discussion. No offense was intended, though the shortness of my post may have suggested that. My apologies.

I'm not sure why the existence of a common law basis for slander and libel undercuts the argument, though I may be reading too much into the phrase.

I should note, I am strongly against the misrepresentations in Malkin's book, so I am already coming at this from that standpoint. I think that the 'academy' should point out the errors and be given equal time to do it, but again, I am coming at this after reading the excerpts of Malkin's book and her further arguments and being horrified by the way she has taken isolated quotes from various sources and stitched them together to create something unrecognizable. I might not defend this as appropriate in other situations, but it is the nature of Malkin's presentation that I take issue with.

If I may restate (and please correct me if I am wrong), you suggest that the internment (and I would presume misrepresenting the facts of the event) is not a fundamental challenge to society, where as the misrepresentation of the Holocaust is (until the majority would regard the matter as settled, and it would not have to be so strongly guarded against). That's how I understand what you have written, and if that is the case, we then have to examine the internment's ability/potential to threaten the basis of our society. I feel it does, and I would suggest that the cases of Wen Lee Ho, Brandon Mayfield, and James Yee point to the need to have equal scrutiny given to the opposite side. That no telegenic pundit has arisen (possibly because Malkin has a headstart on the 'facts' of the case) necessitates that other sources be tapped for cogent rebuttals/counterpoints

I look forward to your further comments, but I would pass on Kang's article in the UCLA Law review about the fundamental weakness of the judiciary's response to the internment. The abstract is here
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=407740
and you can download the full article from that location


Timothy James Burke - 9/7/2004

Ephraim:

This discussion has gotten more and more interesting as it has gone on.

My whole take on this question is mediated through the idea of the public sphere as it appears in Habermas and elsewhere, as a communicative ideal that informs democratic practice and resides wholly within civil society--that is, outside the control or supervision of the state (and for Habermas, in its ideal form, outside the control of capital, something I'm less concerned with).

So whatever I'm hoping for here, it's not to have government or the state play a regulatory role. What I'm observing instead is that the managers and producers of television media or other parts of the "public sphere" have some kind of selectivity principles in play as they go about crafting their programming. The world of books about history is very capacious; the kinds of books about history that receive play in the newspapers or television is very small. It seems to me that the selectivity principles used probably have, or are believed by editors and producers to have, ethical as well as economic aspects. That's an important part of the concept of the ideal public sphere: that it functions best when participants within it observe voluntaristic restraints--restraints that are defined by participants discussing what is or is not a productive, ethical way to go about public debate.

So *if* producers or editors were to say, "Yes, accuracy and truthfulness matter" or even "Yes, the moral implications of an argument we give an airing to matter", then I think there's a case to be made that Malkin should not have gotten the air time she has.

But you're making an equally interesting argument that there's both a market distinction between Malkin and someone like Irving and a kind of "media path-dependence" that's based on Malkin's prior access to the media as a columnist. So for example if a historian who was reasonably mediagenic had written the same book as Malkin, he/she might not be getting the air time because he/she wouldn't have the prior reputation capital that Malkin had as a journalist and columnist.

These are all good points--they certainly *explain* why Malkin gets access and others do not. But I'd still like to hold out for the idea that there should be an ethical component to the public sphere, that the people who make decisions in the media should make good decisions. Giving Malkin a lot of air time strikes me as a bad decision.


E. Simon - 9/6/2004

First full paragraph, second sentence:

"as well as *support* caveat emptor..." - sorry for any confusion.


E. Simon - 9/6/2004

This is definitely an interesting turn.

If we want to expand the issue into maliciously harming or defaming one's reputation and potentially, therefore, their livelihood (I'm not that adept at the exact legal distinctions, but understand the basic idea), then there is definitely a market-based argument for truth insofar as it concerns a meaningful basis for fair competition. As a capitalist I can oppose false advertising, as well as caveat emptor, and I think the balance isn't always clear cut, but nonetheless somewhat discernible. I am currently going over the Volokh entry and agree that there is nothing wrong, per se, with a rebuke against Malkin from any "sphere," or institution. As I look over the entry in further detail, I might well come to the conclusion that my slight (within the overall context) disagreement with Timothy Burke arises over the utility of such an approach as opposed to providing a a more cogent rebuttal/counterpoint by an equally telegenic pundit. I think a "The Academy vs. Punditry" approach is simplistic and counterproductive.

So if you want to take the fact that I am not in opposition to libel or slander laws as evidence for limited government "interference," then I would concede that point, even though I'm sure such standards have existed within the body of common law for centuries.

I don't want to back away from the Nazis and Germany challenge, however, and I would like to look it more fully before giving a response that could not be defended as easily as I think it could. Different cultures grapple and cope with different issues and baggage, and as long as there is not a compelling state interest in confronting proven shortcomings in the public sphere with regards to speech or even hiring (I would not necessarily oppose, for instance, affirmative action in the U.S.), then the preference should be given to allowing as much free exchange as possible. The Japanese internment, as contentious, regrettable and wrong as it was, did not, as I understand it, fundamentally and profoundly alter the ability of U.S. society to cope with understanding the significance of this issue and its effect on society to the same degree that centuries of slavery or the institution of a Third Reich, did. It is my hope that someday the German government will find itself capable of being less draconian on neo-Nazism, just as I'm sure many people in the U.S. assume that affirmative action will not be around forever, but in the meantime I don't think the necessarily countervailing deprivations of freedom are sufficiently pervasive or profound enough argue for their dismissal. I trust that in a democratic society a proper decision can be made with regards to what kind of a time frame this would require before it is felt that the right balance has been struck.


Joe Tomei - 9/6/2004

Ephraim, you wrote
" I definitely don't think the government should be regulating ideas or thought."
But laws against libel and slander seem to be necessary in any country. I assume that you strongly disagree with European countries efforts (particularly Germany) to stop Nazi related ideas from being disseminated. But don't you think that the government has some role in arbitrating 'truth', even if you feel that it is not a fixed quality? And I don't see how the government can 'incentivize' such things without determining that other things are not to be incentivized.


E. Simon - 9/6/2004

Well, I'm a bit perplexed by what you define as public sphere. I definitely don't think the government should be regulating ideas or thought. If it wants to have input into public discourse that is certainly the right of any political movement within the context of a democratically governed society. The people then have a right to embrace or reject such input altogether or aspects of it - and the relative difficulty within a large country with a two-party system shouldn't discredit the approach. Perhaps you meant public domain? In any event, I'm less of a believer in defeating bad or dangerous ideas through emotive condemnation as opposed to more speech and further discourse, so your evaluation of my position is probably accurate, but I find your characterization of it as depressing to be a bit pessimistic. More speech can definitely create more noise, and certainly not everyone is anywhere near as intelligent as we would hope in coming to a meaningful evaluation of it, but when has this ever been the case historically among mainstream society? I still don't believe elites of any stripe, left, right, whatever, should or need exert undue influence over determining the validity of the topic of the public agenda. That's up to the people - I'm not so condescending as to believe that if the politicians are poor intellectual leaders then that's any problem other than their own. I still believe that the "marketplace of ideas" among the mainstream is more benign and progressive (ultimately, certainly in the short-term analysis it may look messy) than you seem to imply, and certainly within a free society. I find the process to be more interesting once you see it with the perspective of an appreciation for something like chaos theory or fractals, evolution or even microeconomics, but perhaps this is getting a bit too philosophically off-track.

I have no problem rejecting the hypocrisy of both the far right conservatives and left-wing radicals in not applying the same standards they advocate to themselves. I'm not sure that either Michael Moore or Michael Savage speak to a meaningful intellectual market, as you put it - or perhaps as I would define it, although I'm at a loss for understanding why someone should presume to put themselves in the position to make this any more evident than it already is. I also think that critical and evaluative discussion abounds; I certainly think there is more than adequete supply and demand for such things, and growing on both accounts. I reject any suggestion that this marketplace, or nearly any other, is or should be "constructed," as you put it. Any role for government or academia should be merely catalytic, or aimed at briefly incentivizing. For both institutions I see as much more prone to stasis. It is a lack of incorporating a sensitivity to this fact as well as other political realities that has led to so much erosion of public faith or confidence in both - although for the current lack of momentum I would obviously give preponderant credit to the left at this time. So would Michael Moore and Ralph Nader. Although I'm not exactly a "populist," either, I hardly think "the people" are the only ones to blame, and certainly not the most blameworthy, for the failures of each institution to connect with them.

Perhaps these pundits should be seen as filling, albeit poorly, a gap in intellectual and popular political strata. I say give it time to evolve, and something better will come about. Remember that no matter how sharply our two-party system needs to accentuate distinctions, the vast majority of the populace are in the middle. If nobody can speak to them, we can't invent a person or movement that will from thin air. Fortunately the McCains, the Schwartzeneggers and the Giulianis know better and don't squander their opportunities to speak to, if not seize the sensible political middle.

I do not take the public to be entirely uninterested in the Holocaust, merely its revision, nor do I take a lack of interest in its revision as destabilizing its utility as a moral example. Even if it was false what would be the point? Should we also discredit the teaching of Aesop's fables? I really don't see what you're trying to get at.






Timothy James Burke - 9/6/2004

Yes.

And it's an interesting perspective--one I haven't heard from in this entire discussion.

I'm not entirely certain you're correct that Americans are uninterested in the Holocaust, but I do think that in the marketplace of ideas, it is valued by many for its capacity to define the ne plus ultra of moral evil--and so in that respect you're right, there is no demand for Holocaust revisionism, which would destabilize the utility of the Holocaust as defining the worst of the worst. And I suppose you're right that at the moment, there are many Americans looking for a historical argument that makes harsh or blanket racial profiling look like sound practice, hence a market for Malkin.

It's a consistent, reasonable take on all this, but I'm going to stick to my observation that it's also a depressing one. I really do think the marketplace of ideas is just that, a marketplace, but I'd like to think that the public sphere is also constructed, or ought to be constructed, by an ethics that is outside of or not defined by market relations. And the odd thing of it is, so apparently does Malkin and many other pundits at the far right of the spectrum as well. If they were content to embrace the radical market perspective you're articulating, I might give them more slack--but most of them hammer their ideological enemies from a basis that they do not apply to themselves. If we can sell what we sell, and damn whether it's particularly truthful or craftsmanlike or not, then Michael Moore and Michael Savage are perfect equivalents--there's no point in talking about whether either of them has anything legitimate to say, merely we should observe that each appears to speak to a meaningful intellectual market.

If nothing else, that also leaves us little to talk about, here or elsewhere. Whatever sells, sells; at best, we can take note of it. There isn't any room in the argument you're offering for an evaluative or critical discussion of work in the public sphere--it is what it is; what is popular is popular.


E. Simon - 9/6/2004

Dr. Burke,

I agree with you that the argument is not a credit to Malkin, at least insofar as intellectual "legitimacy" and truth are concerned. As someone who works in a scientific field, I can respect the idea that there is no finality to "truth" other than what a continiuty of inquiry can make more complete than that which was previously known. As far as a market for Holocaust revisionism goes, I'm sure there exists quite a market among marginally literate neo-Nazis, if that's what you're trying to get at. Not quite the same market as that which is willing to explore the history of government policies as they concern the balance between security and race or ethnicity directed efforts, generally - especially in a post-9/11 era.

Malkin's "work" referencing the internment of Japanese Americans may well indeed be a red herring, deviating from the relevance to contemporary concern, as well as shoddily researched, as you suggest. However, it is difficult for me to accept that Americans are not at all interested in debating the pros and cons, as it were, of racial profiling, at this time, or the history in this country of related efforts. In that vein, Malkin may indeed be taking advantage of the situation with a cheap shot against Norman Mineta's dead-set opposition and the department of transportation's policy by referencing his background and potential influence of his own personal experiences, but at this point, I doubt it seems that far off-topic to the American public. Especially in this day and age where an obsessive-compulsive effort to discern personal motivations seems to rule the day.

I think that as far as interest in reinterpreting the Holocaust goes, mainstream Americans have been so heavily indoctrinated into the easily learned moral lessons of such a depressing experience that they don't have much further interest (or stomach) to delve into further exploration, outside of their occasional (and perhaps for some, ritualistic) visit to their local Holocaust museum.

Thanks - I hope this clears up where I'm coming from.


Timothy James Burke - 9/5/2004

Ephraim:

I don't think I am understanding you properly. Are you saying that in your judgement there is no market for Holocaust revisionism but there is a market for arguing that racially suspect Americans were legitimately detained in World War II (with a clear eye to the possible applicability of that lesson to the present), and that this is the sole distinction between Malkin and Irving?

If so, that's an interesting and even valid argument, but not a particularly reassuring one. If I understand you right, you're saying that Irving doesn't get on TV because Americans aren't much interested in Holocaust revisionism, but they sure do like to hear an Asian-American argue that it was ok to intern the Japanese, and that's ok, because whatever the market wants, it ought to get.

I still hold out hope for a world where the decisions that responsible media outlets make also involve questions of truth and intellectual legitimacy. Maybe you're right, but if so, I don't think it's particularly a thought that is a credit to Malkin.


E. Simon - 9/5/2004

last sentence: "nor" the broader.... apologies.


E. Simon - 9/5/2004

Malkin's core audience for her work as a columnist might not be that wide, but her day job provides an easier basis for deciding to book her appearances on talk shows. The subject matter is also more relevant to today's consumer of broadcast media than is holocaust revisionism. If your gripe is with the Historians' Committee on Fairness, then it would probably would have helped your piece to have focused on that, because your veiled, and perhaps even unintentional, deviations into criticizing what are essentially market-driven decisions don't seem to bolster that case - unless I'm mistaken in my presumption of what role this organization is meant to serve.

Malkin's recent appearances have indeed been in relation to her book, as far as I can tell (Bill Maher, etc.) It's easy to glean your resentment with the approach taken by the Historians' organization. But if the response which you long for, which will obviously be that it is market-driven, continues to offend you, I find it hard to see where you could have gone with this.

I fail to see a market in popular American culture not the broader American society for Holocaust revisionism.


Timothy James Burke - 9/5/2004

Ephraim: This entire discussion about Malkin has been focused on her book. A book which is a work of history. It has nothing to do with her work as a columnist.


E. Simon - 9/5/2004

The idea is infinitely less intriguing once you put it into the context of its relevance, if any, to current political and social themes. Malkin is a columnist. I'm not aware that Irving's contributions are ever intended for the editorial page of USA Today, etc. I'm sure the case for the necessity of a regular dose of Holocaust revisionism is stronger to those coordinating Cairo's state-run press, but that's the difference between the needs of a Middle Eastern dictatorship and a modern electorate, not that Burke seems to notice these things.


Jonathan Dresner - 9/3/2004

Very good questions, and very well put.

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