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C-Span Falls Over The Edge

C-SPAN often teeters on the brink of self-parody, particularly when the hosts of its morning discussion program, “Washington Journal,” stare impassively at the camera while yet another crazed caller recites chapter and verse of the latest conspiracy theories involving the Trilateral Commission or the Bush family’s Nazi/Saudi/Zionist/ KGB/CIA ties (choose one or more and don’t think twice about any seeming contradictions).

Formed in 1979 as, in the words of its mission statement, “a private, non-profit company…by the cable television industry as a public service….to provide public access to the political process,” C-SPAN is deadly serious about maintaining a reputation for non-partisanship – to the point even of allowing viewers to disseminate, unchallenged, all manner of unsubstantiated charges and outright lies.

But the ideal of non-partisanship, admirable when it comes to covering Congress and political conventions, can become something else entirely when used to provide respectability to lunatic-fringe ideologues who insist that a copiously documented, relatively recent historical event never really happened. And this is where C-SPAN has at last fallen over the brink and become a parody of it own sanctimoniousness.

C-SPAN had planned to televise a speech at Harvard by Emory University Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, whose new book, History on Trial, recounts her legal victory over Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued her for libel in Britain over material in her 1993 book Denying the Holocaust. But then Lipstadt was informed by the sages at C-SPAN that, in the interest of “balance,” they’d also be airing an appearance by someone on the other side of the argument – who, it turned out, was none other than David Irving.

Lipstadt refused to go along with this exercise in non-judgmentalism, and, for now at least, it appears that her Harvard speech won’t be seen on C-SPAN.

In a letter to Connie Doebele, a C-SPAN executive, David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies director Rafael Medoff expressed his organization’s “opposition to your reported decision to broadcast a lecture by Holocaust-denier David Irving, to ‘balance’ your intended broadcast of a lecture by Holocaust historian Prof. Deborah Lipstadt.”

Added Dr. Medoff: “Just a few weeks ago, we concluded Black History Month. Presumably C-SPAN did not consider broadcasting a program about black history that would be ‘balanced’ by a program featuring someone denying that African-Americans were enslaved. C-SPAN should not broadcast statements that it knows to be false, nor provide a platform for falsifiers of history, whether about the Holocaust, African-American history, or any other subject.”

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was less diplomatic than Medoff, describing as “mindless” what he termed “C-SPAN’s cockeyed version of fairness.” According to Cohen, the aforementioned – and, apparently, astonishingly vapid – Connie Doebele told him, “You know how important fairness and balance is to us at C-SPAN. We work very, very hard at this. We ask ourselves, ‘Is there an opposing view of this?’ ”

Not that any of this is new to Lipstadt, who was already running into the robotic mantra of “fairness and balance” back in the early 1990’s. As she wrote in Denying the Holocaust, describing one of several exasperating encounters with talk show bookers:

“The producer was incredulous. She found it hard to believe that I was turning down an opportunity to appear on her nationally syndicated televised show….I explained repeatedly that I would not participate in a debate with a Holocaust denier. The existence was not a matter of debate. I would analyze and illustrate who they were and what they tried to do, but I would not appear with them. (To do so….would elevate their antisemitic ideology – which is what Holocaust denial is – to the level of responsible historiography – which it is not.) Unwilling to accept my no as final, she vigorously condemned Holocaust denial and all it represented. Then, in one last attempt to get me to change my mind, she asked me a question: ‘I certainly don’t agree with them, but don’t you think our viewers should hear the other side?’ “

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.

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