[sixties-l] [Fwd: ZNet Commentary / Herman and Albert / Horowitz -- two pieces / March 24]

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Sun Mar 25 2001 - 17:25:37 EST

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    Thought this might be of interest.
    Ted M.

    -------- Original Message --------
    Subject: FW: ZNet Commentary / Herman and Albert / Horowitz -- two
    pieces / March 24
    Date: Sat, 24 Mar 2001 07:28:11 -0800
    From: "Michael Albert" <sysop@zmag.org>
    To: <znetcommentary@tao.ca>

    Today we have two commentaries. Ed Herman on the Horowitz controversies
    put in larger perspective and Michael Albert on the same controversies
    viewed narrowly... and...

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    Edward S. Herman
    The heavy media attention being given to rejections of David Horowitz's
    ad on reparations for slavery is a throwback to the rightwing and
    "liberal media" political correctness campaign of 1991. In that earlier
    campaign, it was the alleged free speech threat of blacks, women, and
    other non-establishment groups trying to influence curricula and
    teaching appointments that aroused the media to a frenzy. Firings of
    left academics didn't interest them at all, nor did the huge spread of
    "free enterprise" chairs or virtual takeover of campuses by businesses
    funding institutes servicing their manpower and technology needs.
    With the Horowitz case we are back to this super-selectivity: it is an
    ad that challenges a position supportive of black people by some of
    their spokespersons, and it is a refusal to publish this ad that the
    media latch on to. The ad is offered by a rightwing creep who is funded
    by the same wealthy reactionaries, foundations, and corporations who
    have underwritten Dinesh D'Souza, Lynne Cheney, Christina Hoff Sommers,
    and the Thernstroms. Just as these individuals have great access to the
    media, so now does Horowitz, in contrast with his earlier years of
    non-access and invisibility when he was not so funded and offered less
    welcome views.
    A case similar to that of Horowitz occurred back in 1991- 1992, when
    Holocaust denier Bradley Smith offered an ad to many college newspapers
    in order to "stimulate discussion" on the claims of a holocaust. His ad
    was widely rejected by college newspapers, but the case never made the
    front page of the New York Times, and the Times not only gave Smith
    modest attention, it made it very clear that "it is not a first
    amendment issue" (ed., Jan. 15, 1992). In the Times and elsewhere in the
    mainstream media Bradley Smith's historical errors and insults to the
    heirs of the victims completely overpowered any thought that editors
    rejecting the ad were suffering from the "political correctness"
    sickness. This was an ad that could be rejected on some higher
    principle, perhaps related to the political muscle of those who would be
    upset by it.
    The March-April 2001 issue of Utne Reader has an article by Karen Olson
    entitled "Palestine Exhibition Denied," describing the problems faced by
    Dan Walsh in trying to get exhibitions of his large collection of
    Palestinian solidarity posters. Walsh has found that on rare occasions
    such posters can be exhibited, if "balanced" by an exhibit of Israeli
    posters, but they are never considered for exhibit on their own in this
    country. But this constraint on free expression has been discussed only
    in the Utne Reader, as the same forces that preclude such an exhibit
    also rule out the media's considering this a free speech issue.
    Similarly, when an America-Jewish journalist with the Kansas City Jewish
    Chronicle was fired in January 2001, immediately after publishing "Quest
    for Justice," an article by Judith Stone critical of Israeli policy,
    this fact flowed through e-mail networks but was not a free speech issue
    in the mainstream media. Neither is the incessant pressure that the
    pro-Israel lobby and activists exert on the media, that make the press
    in Israel itself notably more open and critical of Israeli policy than
    the U.S. media. Neither was the firing of Michael Lopez-Calderon from
    his job as an elementary school teacher at the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross
    Hebrew School in Miami Beach, Florida in February 2001, which resulted
    from outside complaints about his writings critical of Israel, despite
    the absence of any claim of less than satisfactory teaching performance.

    The idea of ad rejection on political grounds being a newsworthy "free
    speech" matter is actually comical. Papers and TV stations regularly and
    systematically reject ads they find objectionable, often because they
    would offend advertisers, but also because they object to the content of
    messages from peace groups, labor unions, and others. Adbusters has been
    trying for years to get its "Advocacy Uncommercials" on the TV networks,
    but without success. When the New York Times ran three major
    advertorials in 1993 lauding the North American Free Trade Agreement, it
    refused to accept critical ads that would disturb the hugely political
    message. A full account of such politically- tainted or
    advertiser-protective ad rejections would run to thousands of pages.
    Consider also a major violation of freedom of expression such as the
    exclusion of Ralph Nader from the national political debate during the
    last presidential election. This was immensely important, with national
    political significance, but the New York Times found it perfectly OK on
    the ground that the differences between Bush and Gore were substantial,
    and adequate, in the opinion of the editors (editorial, "Mr.Nader's
    Misguided Candidacy," June 30, 2000)! This big time free speech
    violation was also perfectly acceptable to the rest of the mainstream
    media, so that all their musings and reflections on Horowitz's gambit
    stand exposed as hypocritical horseshit.
    At a deeper level, reflection on the virtually complete exclusion of
    Noam Chomsky, the late Herb Schiller, Walden Bello, Stephen Steinberg
    (author of Turning Back), and Samuel Epstein (author of The Politics of
    Cancer), among many others, from debates on public policy issues, and
    the media's sourcing and accommodation to corporate and state interests
    and policy on many key issues, suggests that the problem of "freedom of
    speech" in this country is structural and deeply rooted. This is why a
    "propaganda model" can explain why the Horowitz gambit becomes a "free
    expression" issue, but not the exclusion of Ralph Nader from the
    presidential debates.
    Not Free Speech
    By Michael Albert
    In today's other commentary, Ed Herman has laid waste the pretensions of
    pundits bleating over the plight of poor abused David Horowitz that they
    are sincerely concerned about free speech. But there is more to the
    situation^so let^s address another aspect.
    Setting aside mainstream media hypocrisy, what is our best response to
    Horowitz^s ad entreaties? Should a periodical run his ad or not? And
    what else ought to occur?
    First, advertisements are not speech. They are a commercial service
    wherein an audience is sold to a client. Debates about ads are therefore
    miscast as a free speech issue.
    Beyond free speech, however, media access is also very important. But
    media access should not be a function of the money that one has, and
    thus there should be no right to buy media access. That is, in any
    desirable society human audiences should not be sold to anyone, in any
    manner. There should be no paid ads at all. Nor should media have to
    prioritize attracting audiences that advertisers will pay to ^buy.^ Nor
    should media have to worry about including only content that paves the
    way for successful advertising. But putting aside my preferences for the
    future of media, in the current world what norms should apply to taking
    and rejecting ads?
    Imagine the New York Times rejecting an ad about ending a U.S. War on
    the grounds that the Times didn^t like the ad^s content. Anti-war
    activists would be outraged. But why? I think it is because the NY Times
    and other mainstream newspapers purport to provide their audience with
    objective and neutrally assessed news and analysis. They say they have
    no ideological norms guiding their choices. In not taking the anti-war
    ad, however, they would be violating that claim (as they do daily on
    every page, though that^s another matter, of course). An intensifying
    factor in our anger at the Times in such a case would be that even if
    75% of the country was interested in the anti-war ad^s content and even
    if the ad was demonstrably accurate, its critical viewpoint would likely
    only be able to get into the Times, or into public visibility at all, by
    being a paid ad. Thus, to cut off this option of media access would be
    to close the last door to visibility.
    Now suppose instead that we are talking about the same ad being
    submitted to The Nation (I can^t use Z as an example, because we don^t
    take paid ads, only free ones). The Nation would run such an ad, of
    course. But suppose the ad submitted to The Nation favored the war.
    Would it be incumbent on The Nation to run that ad too? It seems to me
    the answer is no. And the reason is because The Nation has made no claim
    to its readership to be a neutral delivery system. Rather, The Nation
    claims to have a point of view, and since the ad isn^t within the
    editorial scope of their stated point of view, it would be a disservice
    to their readers to provide it. In other words, the same norms should
    apply regarding ads as apply regarding content.
    The point is there is no freedom of speech at stake in accepting or
    rejecting paid ads. It is not incumbent on a periodical to take paid ads
    that it editorially doesn^t like on free speech grounds. On the other
    hand, there are journalistic norms having to do with access which may
    make it proper to take an ad despite not liking it, whether we are
    talking about our hypothetical anti-war ad or about the ad from
    Horowitz. The Times should take such ads, period, and clean up their
    editorial pages and news to be broad and encompassing of diverse
    orientations, too. The Nation should make both its editorial and its
    advertising choices in accord with its stated priorities and agenda,
    accepting the anti-war ad and rejecting the Horowitz ad. The New
    Republic might reasonably opt to do the reverse. But how do these
    principles apply to a university newspaper?
    Campus papers in most instances probably do claim to provide a neutral
    and encompassing look at news and events, being more like the Times in
    that respect, than like The Nation. If they instead have a clearly
    stated editorial priority, that would be very relevant. But campus
    papers also have limited space, skimpy resources, and are meant to serve
    the campus community, and so have to make choices among competing
    submissions. Solely at the level of journalistic principle, I wouldn^t
    get too upset at a campus paper for rejecting Horowitz^s ad, or for
    running it.
    However, Horowitz is of course despicable and there is nothing that says
    that if one runs his ad one can^t also run an editorial, or an article,
    or articles that address the same topic. My own take is that the campus
    papers should have run the ad, mostly to avoid the obvious trap that
    Horowitz had set, but also because it is marginally the more principled
    act if they describe themselves as disinterested news vehicles, and then
    they should also have run an editorial and a sidebar and related
    articles not only on the specific topic of the ad, with many viewpoints
    and including a piece like Herman^s, but also articles about Horowitz
    himself, properly critical and caustic. This would have been an
    infinitely more instructive response to his shenanigans, in my view.
    What about students on the campuses? I think pretty much the same thing
    goes. A good protest is to demand of the papers that they run an
    analysis thoroughly debunking Horowitz's pernicious arguments, not just
    run the ad itself. Of course all this takes more work, but it is
    worthwhile work.
    So, I am a somewhat critical of the editors who refused the ad, thereby
    falling into Horowitz^s trap and arguably minimally violating a
    reasonable journalistic standard regarding ad access, and I would be
    quite critical of any editor who accepted the ad but then didn^t give
    space to the broader issues so as to debunk Horowitz and explore
    important matters in constructive ways. All in all, though, I don^t
    think this imbroglio was very significant compared to the infinite list
    of violations of journalistic integrity, responsibility, and just plain
    old honesty that are ubiquitous in mainstream journalism all over the
    There is, regrettably, however, one more thing to discuss. In the
    (online version of) Progressive Magazine of March 18th, its editor,
    Matthew Rothschild prominently writes that ads are indeed covered by
    free speech norms. More, he tells us that periodicals shouldn^t
    editorially judge ad content and that, referring to the editors who
    rejected Horowitz^s ad and to the students who demonstrated against the
    papers who accepted it, ^to resort to intimidation, to engage in gang
    suppression of speech, is an old and discredited tactic of Brownshirts
    everywhere.^ Even supposing that one thought that to reject Horowitz^s
    ad or to demonstrate against a paper accepting it was wrong, this is
    pretty amazing rhetoric. ^Brownshirts?^ That^s the kind of nasty
    provocation and slander you^d expect from the likes of Horowitz himself,
    surely not from Rothschild.
    In any event, the reality is that in this country we very much need
    massive and militant demonstrations designed precisely to compel new
    mainstream media policies at the New York Times, the Washington Post,
    all dailies, the TV networks, and so on and so forth. And these
    demonstrations should precisely try to raise pressures and costs to the
    people who run these institutions that not only intimidate them, but
    that literally coerce them to alter their coverage of all manner of
    events and issues. This doesn't mean we bomb the news outlets or
    assassinate the reporters who we disagree with; but it does mean using
    popular pressure to influence coverage. What is Rothschild talking about
    when he tars demonstrating against the choices of a media institution as
    being intrinsically tantamount to Nazi rejection of free press or free
    speech? I hope he didn't really intend to communicate that because the
    reality is that to pressure media in our society is not inherently
    anti-free speech, but can instead propel free speech, especially
    regarding mainstream media writ large.

    Rothschild also says that a periodical should not see itself as making
    choices on behalf of its readers. He says of the editors: ^It's not up
    to them to shield their readers from ideas that may be `inflammatory` or
    to set up shop as censors who are empowered to make decisions on which
    ads are `appropriate` and which are `inappropriate^.^ ^They should not
    discriminate against advertisers on the basis of their political
    beliefs. This is fundamental.^

    I am inclined to say how about rejecting crap?, and leaving it at that.
    But I think I ought to clarify as well that a publisher is precisely an
    institution which gathers or generates from among all possible material
    a subset that it deems worthy of its readership. How does it decide what
    subset is worthy and what subset isn^t? There will be various norms
    involved, depending on the type of periodical and on its editorial
    criteria. But shouldn^t the same norms apply inside each periodical for
    both its articles and its ads? Why should money (the fee for ads)
    somehow trump other norms? And so, would Rothschild publish the Horowitz
    ad, or one against abortion, or one for the elimination of child labor
    laws ^and even do so without comment^yet reject articles with the same
    agenda? Or would Rothschild say, we have readers who expect from us a
    progressive slant and approach to presenting news and analysis. They are
    entitled to that same level of attention to their desires regarding who
    we sell them too. But regardless of what Rothschild would himself say or
    decide, to opt for the latter orientation is hardly to put on a Brown

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