By Scott Tibbs, April 24, 2001
David Horowitz has stirred up a tempest on college campuses across the country, and Indiana University is only the latest university to get caught up in the controversy over Horowitz and his advertisement, "why reparations for slavery is a bad idea, and racist too".
This article is not about whether the actual content of the advertisement is completely factually or ideologically correct. There are some factual errors in the ad, such as an overly romanticized notion of how the enlightened North fought a war to free the slaves in the South. The truth of the matter is that the Civil War was not about ending slavery, it was about tariffs, taxes, and states' rights. But whether the article is completely factual or not, Horowitz has a right to run his ad.
Predictably, campus Leftists have bitterly attacked the campus newspaper at IU, the Indiana Daily Student for printing this advertisement. They begrudgingly admit that the IDS has a First Amendment right to print the ad, but argue that they were "morally" wrong in doing so.
At least IU Leftists are willing to concede Horowitz's First Amendment rights. Leftists elsewhere haven't been so generous. On some campuses, mobs of disgruntled Leftists stole and destroyed copies of the campus newspaper the day the ad was run, or stormed the offices of the campus newspapers and demanded an apology. Having an unruly mob confiscate copies of a newspaper for "offensive" content brings to mind frightening images of Nazi book burnings in the 1930's. One can see eerie similarities between today's campus Leftists and Hitler's Brownshirts.
Horowitz's Leftist critics have opined that since the IDS ran the paid advertisement, that the IDS supports the content of the ad. This is simply silly. A few weeks ago, the IDS ran a full-page advertisement promoting the new video game featuring the naughty squirrel Conker. Is the fact that the IDS ran this ad indicative of the position that the IDS editorial board considers the Nintendo 64 to be a superior game system to the Sony Playstation or the Sega Dreamcast? Should Sony fans be writing letters to the IDS expressing dismay at how the paper is discriminating against their system?
Of course not. It's a paid advertisement that professes the views of the person who paid for the ad. Many people in journalism have expressed dismay that advertising departments and editorial departments are becoming intertwined, diluting the journalistic integrity of reporters and editorial writers. (Whether the IDS actually has any journalistic integrity is another topic entirely). But by injecting editorial decisions into advertising content, journalists are promoting exactly the kind of relationship they seek to avoid.
Many Leftists have also opined that the Horowitz ad should not have been run because it offends minority sensibilities, and that student groups should have been allowed to see the ad before it was printed. Boo hoo. Last time I read the constitution, the First Amendment did not express support for free speech only if the speech met some Politically Correct standard and could not possibly offend any of the Left's favorite groups. Of course, many of these same Leftists argue that art that attacks Christians should not only be protected, but federally subsidized. Apparently, the desire to protect people from "hate speech" only extends to certain groups approved by the Left.
The idea that campus groups should be allowed to see the ad first is a direct assault on the First Amendment. When was the last time you heard a politician demand that he be able to see a "negative" political ad to be run during a campaign, so he could prepare a response to it? Free speech is free speech, and there is no moral imperative to "warn" people of what speech is going to be in the media.
As to the "moral" implications of running the ad, the IDS and any other campus newspapers who have ran the ad are not only morally justified in doing so, but are doing the morally right thing by offering a dissenting voice. Leftist and Politically Correct thinking dominate college campuses across America, and for students to truly learn about and analyze issues, they should be presented with both sides.
Another argument put forth by Leftists is that the Horowitz ad does not promote a dialogue about race relations or reparations for slavery, it only stirs up controversy, and Horowitz moves on to another campus leaving students to deal with the aftermath.
This is pure hogwash. The IDS ran two full pages of letters to the editor about the controversy on April 19, ran a guest column a couple days before, and ran more responses the following week. There has been plenty of opportunity for dialogue on the issue of reparations, but the Left has instead used their space to blast the IDS for running the ad and engage in race-baiting that would make Al Sharpton blush.
One of the purposes behind this advertisement was to show just how intolerant the Left is about views they find offensive, and just how willing they are to censor ideas they disagree with. In this objective, Horowitz has accomplished his goal perfectly. The Left will screech for days on end about free speech and the need for tolerance and diversity, but when something offends them they're only too quick to trample on people's First Amendment rights. Hopefully, the actions and words of the Left regarding this controversy will wake people up to the very real danger our First Amendment rights are in.