Richard Cohen: C-Span's Idea of Balance Is to Feature Holocaust Denier David Irving?

Roundup: Talking About History

Richard Cohen, in the WA Po (3-15-05):

You will not be seeing Deborah Lipstadt on C-SPAN. The Holocaust scholar at Emory University has a new book out ("History on Trial"), and an upcoming lecture of hers at Harvard was scheduled to be televised on the public affairs cable outlet. The book is about a libel case brought against her in Britain by David Irving, a Holocaust denier, trivializer and prevaricator who is, by solemn ruling of the very court that heard his lawsuit, "anti-Semitic and racist." No matter. C-SPAN wanted Irving to "balance" Lipstadt.

The word balance is not in quotes for emphasis. It was invoked repeatedly by C-SPAN producers who seemed convinced that they had chosen the most noble of all journalistic causes: fairness. "We want to balance it [Lipstadt's lecture] by covering him," said Amy Roach, a producer for C-SPAN's Book TV. Her boss, Connie Doebele, put it another way. "You know how important fairness and balance is at C-SPAN," she told me. "We work very, very hard at this. We ask ourselves, 'Is there an opposing view of this?' "

As luck would have it, there was. To Lipstadt's statements about the Holocaust, there was Irving's rebuttal that it never happened -- no systematic killing of Jews, no Final Solution and, while many people died at Auschwitz of disease and the occasional act of brutality, there were no gas chambers there. "More women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber at Auschwitz," Irving once said.

For obvious reasons, Lipstadt cited Irving in her 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust," which was also published in Britain. Irving sued her for libel. Under Britain's libel laws, Lipstadt had to prove the truth of what she wrote, which, after a lengthy trial, she did in spades. Her lawyer's opening statement -- "My Lord, Mr. Irving calls himself a historian. The truth is, however, that he is not a historian at all, but a falsifier of history. To put it bluntly, he is a liar." -- ultimately became the judgment of the court itself. In matters of intellectual integrity, Irving is an underachiever.

Once, this was not all that apparent. By dint of maniacal industry, Irving had turned himself into an admired writer on Nazi Germany. He mined the archives for material that others appeared to have overlooked. Some of it was genuine; some of it was false. Increasingly, though, his books gave off the whiff of anti-Semitism and a certain admiration of Hitler. When Richard J. Evans, a Cambridge University historian (and one of Lipstadt's expert witnesses), carefully examined Irving's work, he found it a stew of misrepresentations, falsifications and outright quackery. Irving was authoritatively exposed: a propagandist hiding behind seemingly scholarly footnotes.

This is the man C-SPAN turned to for "balance."...

In the end, Lipstadt had to choose between promoting her own book -- a terrific read, by the way -- and giving Irving the audience of his dreams and a status equal to her own. C-SPAN said it was only seeking fairness, but it was asking Lipstadt to balance truth with a lie or history with fiction. On this occasion, at least, Irving did what he could not do with his libel suit: silence Lipstadt. He may still appear on C-SPAN, but Lipstadt will not -- a victory for "balance" that only the truly unbalanced could applaud.

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Andrew Allen - 3/24/2005

There have been many excuses for censorship and blacklisting over the ages. Richard Cohen's have to be
some of the lamest.

Deborah Lipstadt has made a career out of attacking
David Irving... in books (she refused to take the stand
in the Libel suit). It is only fair that Irving is
given a chance to reply. It only makes sense that
C-Span invite Irving to comment on Lipstadt's latest
campaign against him. If Ms. Lipstadt is afraid
to debate Mr. Irving then blame her craven nature, not C-Span

Mr. Cohen bemoans that letting Mr. Irving reply was,
"and giving Irving the audience of his dreams and a status equal to her own."
That is absurd. Does Mr. Cohen think that the C-span
audience is so stupid as to fall for what Mr. Cohen
claims are a "stew of misrepresentations, falsifications and outright quackery?"

The public will weigh both Irving and Lipstadt by their
words and logic, fairly presented. That is what Ms. Lipstadt is afraid of.

Does Mr. Cohen claim the rights of a public censor telling
us what we may see? Appears so.

The antics of Deborah Lipstadt in avoiding debate and
opposing research are disgraceful. The dishonest
screed of Mr. Cohen is a work of a man straining to
justify blacklisting and censorship.

It is simple, Mr. Cohen: Honest people have nothing to
fear from fair and open debate.