Newspaper ad stirs controversy

By John Nowacki
web posted March 26, 2001

It's no secret that "tolerance" is a one way street on many college campuses these days. Political correctness has become so deeply rooted in the halls of academia that it's hardly remarked upon any more, bizarre educational offerings are accepted as a matter of course, and the freedom of expression is sacrosanct . . . except when someone doesn't toe the orthodox line. Refuse to do that, and the defenders of free speech will begin casting stones without a moment of hesitation. This little hypocrisy has been around for quite a while, but occasionally a new incident will receive some media attention and show how intolerant the forces of tolerance really are.

Neo-conservative author David Horowitz recently attempted to place a paid, full-page advertisement in 51 college newspapers around the country. The ad was titled "Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks--and Racist, Too." The ad went on to list his reasons together with a brief explanation of each. Nine papers decided to run the ad, among them the UC Davis Aggie, the University of Wisconsin Badger Herald, the Brown University Daily Herald, and the UC Berkeley Daily Californian. Other papers--at Harvard, Notre Dame, Columbia, and the University of Virginia, for example--refused. [check out an image of the ad here (254K) or read it here]

In the face of the inevitable protests, the Daily Californian apologized for being "an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry," just one day after the ad ran. The Aggie followed suit. In contrast, the Badger Herald and the Daily Herald stood by their decisions to run the ad, despite considerable pressure.

About 100 screaming protesters demonstrated in front of the Wisconsin paper's office, yet the only response they received was an editorial condemning the Berkeley editors for giving in to pressure that "unfortunately violated their professional integrity and journalistic duty to protect speech with which they disagree."

At Brown, nearly 4,000 copies of the Daily Herald were stolen by young adults in a student coalition protesting the publication of the ad, within minutes of the paper's delivery. Before the papers were stolen, the student group had demanded free advertising space and a donation to a student minority organization in an amount equivalent to a full-page ad fee. The paper refused, and its editor-in-chief opined that "it's disgraceful not to run an ad because people on your campus are going to disagree with it."

What is truly disgraceful is the behavior of the Berkeley and Davis editors, and many of the protestors at Brown and Wisconsin.

The students at Brown justified taking every issue of the paper they could lay hands on as "a legitimate act of civil disobedience." Since it was free, one religious studies professor added, there was nothing wrong with trying to take the entire press run.

A student at Wisconsin up in arms at the Badger Herald office shouted that the ad "isn't free speech, it's hate speech," a comment the professor at Brown echoed. Another Brown student went so far as to claim the student coalition "has never opposed free speech."

And there's the problem. For the editors who apologized and the students who ran amok, speech is only legitimate when they agree with it. If it's something they don't like--Horowitz's ad, a guest speaker on campus, or whatever--it's suddenly hate speech (or whatever name they coin for it), and the rules don't apply anymore.

When Dan Flynn, author of a monograph on convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, visited Berkeley last fall, he was shouted off the stage, copies of his monograph were stolen, and the crowd actually held a book burning--while several students carried signs exhorting their fellows to "fight racist censorship."

This sort of hypocrisy is blatant and ludicrous, and unfortunately, it's not something that can be brushed off as mere college activism. The people who are running around burning monographs, demanding that dissent be stifled, and apologizing for running an unpopular ad have been through at least twelve years of school. They are in college. They are over 18. They are supposed to be adults. In a few years, they'll be out in the workplace. And yet they cannot or will not see that they have become the very thing that they denounce.

It gets worse, though. Kenneth Knies, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Brown, said: "I have talked to students who told me they can't perform basic functions like walking or sleeping because of this ad." How completely absurd.

We are concerned about the double standard applied in today's PC environment, and rightly so. But perhaps we should also worry about those people Knies talked to, the ones who are ready to spend their lives in a state of perpetual outrage, either real or feigned. It's bad enough that our colleges are turning out people who embrace the tyranny of the majority. The last thing we need is for them to glorify rage as well.

John Nowacki is deputy director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law and Democracy.

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