Publish or Speech Perishes

Publish or Speech Perishes


In the words of the old folk song, “When will they ever learn?” David Horowitz, former radical who these days is in the business of promoting (1) neoconservatism and (2) David Horowitz (although not necessarily in that order), has done it again. A few weeks ago he placed an ad in the Brown Daily Herald denouncing–in deliberately offensive terms–the idea that black descendants of slaves should be paid reparations. Instead of ignoring, answering or ridiculing the ad, Brown student activists denounced the Herald and trashed most of its 4,000-copy press run, thus giving the demagogic provocateur undeserved high ground.

As our own Katha Pollitt put it in a cyberconversation, “Publish it and then attack it, mock it, parody it, I say. Use it as a springboard for a teach-in, discuss it in classes…. Shutting down a discussion doesn’t change anyone’s mind or introduce any new information–and the views Horowitz expresses are held in whole or in part by many people. What message do they get if a paper won’t print them? That the real truth is too threatening to publish. It’s always better to promote speech than to silence people. Force those views out into the open and have a debate. That’s how minds are changed.”

As far as advertising policy goes, we believe that it is the prerogative of the Herald and the other college papers targeted by Horowitz to accept or to turn down ads they consider repellent, at their discretion. At The Nation, however, we start with the presumption that we will accept advertising even if the views exposed are repugnant to some of the editors. In fact, we go out of our way to refrain from making a judgment based on our opinions of the views expressed in an advertisement.

We are comfortable with this policy–although it occasionally discomforts some of our subscribers–because our editors are free to attack the views of our advertisers and often do; because for the reasons Katha lists above, we have confidence that our readers are more than capable of determining for themselves what views to accept or reject; and because we accept advertising not to further the views of The Nation but to help pay the costs of publishing.

We recognize that other papers can reasonably come to a different conclusion about which ads go over the line, but in this case our view is that if a right-wing propagandist like Horowitz is foolish enough to put his money at our disposal, then it would be foolish for us to turn it down.

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