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Posted Tuesday, March 15, 2005

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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.

The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 15, 2005; Page A23


C-SPAN's Balance of the Absurd

By Richard Cohen

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.

click for origin

David Irving replies to Mr Cohen:

A GREAT article, Richard. I think we are on first name terms now? You have taken enough swipes at me, that I can even overlook the "wearing sheets" reference -- which you would never get away with in the UK, of course.
   But I regard this great country's preservation of free speech per se as being worth the occasional bucket of slime, particularly when it comes from such sources as yourself: people are not dimwitted, and they know what you and Lipstadt are up to, and what your commonality is.
   I do not know whether C-SPAN will show their film of my Atlanta talk or not; their local producer seemed very pleased indeed with it.
   Nor, frankly, do I know why you believe that people shied away, after I gave my support group fair notice that cameras would be present: an educated guess, or just another blind swipe?
   You have certainly not seen what I said in my talk (for example that the Nazis did kill hecatombs of Jews on the eastern front, but that there is much of the rest of the "H-package" that I as an historian am not prepared to swallow); yet you are still prepared to condemn it unseen; just as Richard Cohen applauded in April 1996 the cowardly decision by St Martin's Press to abandon production of my Joseph Goebbels biography, already lauded as the Doubleday History Book Club's book of the month for May 1996.
   You (and Lipstadt) had not seen that book either.
   Blind censorship, that is what this country now has to fear.
   Yes, we know where you are coming from, and we genuinely fear, a few years from now, where you and your community may be heading in yet one more country, whimpering once again, "Why us?"

Some more comments:

"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. -- Correct text: "than ever died in the gas chamber they show the tourists at Auschwitz." Spot the omission.

On this occasion, at least, Irving did what he could not do with his libel suit: silence Lipstadt. -- Is this not standing truth on its head? Furious that Mr Irving was to be allowed to defend himself, Lipstadt has silenced herself in order to silence him.

A Deborah Lipstadt moment:

NEVER FORGET: "Deborah Lipstadt, author of the anti revisionist polemic Denying the Holocaust, has assigned Fragments in her Emory University class on Holocaust memoirs. When confronted with evidence that it is a fraud, she commented that the new revelations 'might complicate matters somewhat, but [the work] is still powerful.'" -- In other words, who cares about the difference between fact and fiction where the Holocaust is concerned?

Footnote: On February 9, 2005 Mr Irving predicted to C-SPAN: "By the way, Deborah L will do all she can to dissuade you from giving me a fair hearing, even if it means losing publicity for her book. "

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 [see panel at right].

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 [see panel at right, and what the Judge actually said, e.g., "As a military historian, Irving has much to commend him."] 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, [right] 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." It told Lipstadt that since it was going to air her lecture, it would do one of Irving's, too. As luck would have it, he was appearing March 12 at the Landmark Diner in Atlanta. C-SPAN was there for this momentous event -- although Irving's advance warning that cameras would be present apparently held down attendance [see panel at right: the room was packed]. (His people seem to prefer anonymity -- or, in the old days, sheets.) Lipstadt was in effect being told that if she wanted to promote her book on C-SPAN (an important venue) she would also have to promote Irving. If she was to get a TV audience, then so would he.

C-SPAN's cockeyed version of fairness -- it told Lipstadt that it had bent over backward to ensure its coverage of the presidential election was fair and balanced -- is so mindless that I thought for a moment its producers and I could not be talking about the same thing. This is the "Crossfire" mentality reduced to absurdity, if that's possible. For a book on the evils of slavery, would it counter with someone who thinks it was a benign institution? Why does it feel there is another side to the Holocaust or to Irving's assertion that he was libeled? He was not. He was described to a T.

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.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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