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History News Network
Saturday, March 19, 2005

C-Span's Mistake

By Deborah E. Lipstadt

Ms. Lipstadt is Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving.

THE media storm in which I have been engulfed actually began a few weeks ago.

Shortly after History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving appeared HarperCollins received a call from C-Span's Book TV asking for my speaking schedule. They were excited about covering the book. The HarperCollins folks were very pleased; particularly since C-Span's coverage would come within a few weeks of publication of the book, when the book was readily available in the stores. (Some people still buy their books that way and more power to them!). As a C-Span Book TV junkie, I was delighted.

My joy was quickly dissipated when I learned that David Irving had announced on his website that C-Span had asked [him] to appear in order to give "balance" to my presentation. I was surprised by this, to say the least. (Initially, I attributed the word "balance" to him, but since then C-Span has repeatedly used it to justify its decision.)

At first I was convinced that this was a decision made at the lower levels of the C-Span food chain, but C-Span disabused us of that notion. "It has been discussed and decided on at the highest level," HarperCollins and I were both told. I asked Amy Roach, the C-Span producer handling this matter: "Would you put on someone who says slavery did not happen?" "No," Roach assured me. Then why a Holocaust denier, I asked. "Oh," she said quite breezily, "He's not going to talk about Holocaust denial. He's going to talk about the trial." Since the trial was all about Holocaust denial, this struck me as completely wacko.

I also explained that deniers are liars, as we demonstrated overwhelmingly at the trial. (See Judge Charles Gray's [sic. Mr Justice Gray's] judgment at Click on Judgment and go to part XIII. Note the language he uses to describe Irving's work.) Since they lie and distort to prove their points, how can one have a debate with them? One cannot trust anything that they say.

When I told Roach that this would hurt C-Span, she immediately assured me: "Oh, we don't have advertisers, we aren't susceptible to pressure." I told her that I was not talking about pressure. I was talking about credibility. She said they have people of all opinions (Holocaust denial, an opinion?) on all the time.

I probably should not have been surprised that she said this since a few days later, when a reporter calling her boss, Connie Doebele, the Executive Producer of Book TV, for a comment, was told that C-Span puts on liars all the time -- they cover Congress.

I then told Roach that I would probably not go on. I added, almost as an afterthought that I assumed if I did not go on, they would not broadcast Irving. No, she assured me, they would broadcast him anyway. (Where's the "balance" in this?)

Roach told me this as I was boarding a flight to Germany. I pondered the issue for a good part of the flight. Do I, by not going on, give him an unchallenged hour on Book TV? Do I, by going on, give him the debate he and all his fellow Holocaust deniers, have wanted for so long? I decided that I had to decide for myself and C-Span had to decide for itself. I would not do it.

At that point someone brought the story to Richard Cohen. He called C-Span and spoke to both Doebele and Roach. They kept using the word "balance." He wrote a passionate piece in the Washington Post, which was syndicated in other papers. Within a few hours, a petition was being circulated among historians asking C-Span not to go forward with its decision. The petition, started by the David Wyman Institute, had over 200 signatures within 48 hours. The New York Times, Boston Globe, AP, and Atlanta Constitution all picked up the story, as did some widely read blogs. The LA Times just interviewed me as well.

C-Span has issued a very wimpy statement (see, saying that they wanted to cover my book, but that I would not let them tape my presentation at Harvard. They were invited to go on MSNBC with me, but, according to the producer there, refused. (Where's the balance there?)

That is where it stands now. Most people who have been contacting me and or writing about this recognize that this is not about freedom of speech nor is it really about David Irving. Holocaust deniers have the right to make complete fools of themselves. They can speak wherever they want. That, however, does not mean we have to invite them into our "homes" or that a network -- a public service network at that -- has to give them precious, highly limited and coveted broadcast time.

There are many things to debate about the Holocaust, e.g. Goldhagen's theories, but whether it happened is not one of them. I have stood by this principle for many years and continue to adhere to it.

As I reflect back on this, I recall that my initial expectation was that when I said no, C-Span would drop both of us and that would be that. I would have forfeited a great opportunity for publicity about my book. It was C-Span's obstinacy and fuzzy thinking (to be kind) which pushed this into the media.

During the trial, virtually all good thinking intelligent people made it quite clear that they were rooting for David Irving to lose and lose decisively. One reporter described him as the "prince of darkness." This time, however, my "adversary," was a network that many of us look to as a source of sanity. Brian Lamb, the founder of C-Span, had created a network that broadcast calm, clear, and, by and large, insightful discussion of important issues. For them to show such moral blindness remains terribly disturbing.


Index to the media scandal surrounding Prof Lipstadt's attempt to silence C-Span and the history debate

© Focal Point 2005 F Irving write to David Irving