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Free Speech Run Amok
here are many people who would
have enjoyed seeing Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad thrown in the
slammer when he arrived in New York City
because of his alleged role in the taking of
American diplomatic hostages in 1979.
Instead, the Iranian president was invit-
ed to speak at one of the country's finest
Having denied that the Holocaust ever
happened (or, as he recently indicated, it
may have happened but was no big deal)
and having threatened to destroy Israel, he
is treated as a serious person with some-
thing of importance to say to the students
and faculty of Columbia University.
The usual platitudes about the impor-
tance of free speech in an educational
setting were trotted out. But the invita-
tion was an incredible lapse of judgment
on the part of Columbia's president, Lee
There is certainly a vast difference
between promoting an open exchange on
campus for competing ideas and issuing
an invitation to a man that has openly
promoted anti-Semitism and advocated
crushing another nation.
What intellectual value did Bollinger
believe Ahmadinejad would bring to this
affair? It was certainly an opportunity for
Bollinger to upbraid his guest for his dis-
gusting remarks, which surely must have
had Ahmadinejad shaking in his shoes.
But here was a man whose visit to New
York began with a deliberate provocation;
a request to visit Ground Zero of 9-11.
This from the head of a nation that funds
the sort of thugs who killed thousands at
the World Trade Center.
To his credit, Bollinger, a former presi-
dent of the University of Michigan, stood
up to British academics for their decision
to boycott Israeli scholars. He told them
they might as well add Americans to that
And to their credit, Columbia students
greeted Ahmadinejad with the proper
response, jeering and laughter at his
Still, it was hardly enough. Would
Bollinger have opened his doors to the rul-
ers of Sudan, currently engaged in spon-
soring genocide in Darfur? It hardly seems
likely. Besides being odious they are pretty
much anonymous, while Ahmadinejad
is a celebrity, a player. But their goals
are pretty much the same, and Iran may
soon have nuclear weapons with which to
Arguments about the importance of
open ideas would also be more compelling
if they were not put forth on such a selec-
tive basis at Columbia. Students who wish
to enroll in ROTC, for example, must do it
at another campus because the training
corps for Army reserve officers has been
barred from Columbia since 1969.
A majority of students in a 2003 poll
indicated they wanted it back, but the fac-
ulty senate defeated such a measure two
years later. Among the opponents was Lee
Bollinger, defender of diverse opinions.
Dr. David G. Marwell, director of the
Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York
City, said he did not extend an invitation
for Ahmadinejad. "Were [he] to visit the
museum," Marwell said, "like all our visi-
tors he would be confronted by the unde-
niable fact of the Holocaust — a powerful
antidote to the poisonous distortions of
Bollinger should have taken note. Li
Forever Cheim by Michael Gilbert
PEOPLE OF CHELMI THERE IS A
CRISIS AMONG THE MIDDLE-CLASS
SAWS OF AMERICA THEM CANNOT
AFFORD TEMPLE DUES! THE
CANNOT AFFORD DA3 SCHOOL
RATIONS! BAR MITZVAHS ARE.
TO 0 COSTL_ I
I PLEDGE TGJO
GOATS FOR TH E
Politics By Blindfold
t's kind of funny how many people
profess to be horrified at Rupert
Murdoch's takeover of the Wall Street
Journal. They fear that Murdoch — whom
they regard as an alias for Mephistopheles
— will extend his own brand of conser-
vatism from the editorial page and start
slanting the news columns.
It's a bit late to start worrying about
getting that horse back in the barn. The
New York Times, to name one example,
has been doing it for years. The paper had
to run two major retractions on front-
page global warming stories and recently
admitted it improperly gave a deep dis-
count to moveon.org for its scurrilous ad
attacking Gen. David Petraeus.
It is still a great newspaper, but I recog-
nize its biases and don't trust it on certain
issues. So if that also becomes the case at
the WSJ, what's the big deal?
Oh, I see. That would be slanting the
news toward the wrong ideas. Lost my
head there for a moment.
The politicization of news coverage has
October 4 • 2007
partisans in Lansing.
been going on for a long time.
When the Joint Operating
Let the buyer beware is the best
Agreement between the
advice for newspaper readers. It
Detroit dailies began, corn-
isn't the way I was taught jour-
bined editions were pub-
nalism, but it isn't anything new.
lished on the weekend and
In fact, it's kind of a throwback
holidays. I was astonished at
to how political writing used to
the number of subscribers
be in this country.
who were outraged at the
"The country is so given up
other paper's editorial page
to the spirit of party that not to
coming into their homes.
follow blindfold the one or the
It didn't make any differ-
other is an inexpiable offense,"
ence whether it was the Free Press of the
wrote John Quincy Adams more than 200
"lunatic left" or the News of the "right
years ago, a sentence that could have been
wing fanatics:' They didn't even want to
composed this morning.
look. They seemed to fear that a contrary
There is a closing of minds, a refusal
even to consider that the party with which idea might pop out and bite them. Or,
worse yet, that such ideas were beyond the
you disagree may have a point worth lis-
pale of reason.
tening to. The attitude seeps into so many
I get dozens of e-mailed jokes and arti-
aspects of life; something as ridiculous as
cles each week from friends and relatives.
Barry Manilow refusing to appear on the
They run the gamut of political beliefs.
ABC-TV talk show The View because one
Some are antithetical to my own opinions
panelist had "dangerous" (i.e. conserva-
and some a normal person might find
tive) ideas, or as serious as the recent
offensive. A lifetime in newspaper work,
budget stalemate between the clueless
however, has rendered me ineligible for
I would never dream of dashing off an
angry response to the sender to demand
that they stop forwarding stuff that
makes me uncomfortable. But last week,
I received just such a furious e-mail from
one of my correspondents, upbraiding
me for sending her what I thought was
a fairly innocuous joke about the lead-
ing Democratic presidential candidates.
She accused me of trying to "impose" my
views on her.
Gracious me. I've never imposed a view
in my life. I may suggest, argue, endorse.
But impose? I think not.
Have we become that dour, so unwill-
ing to make fun of the ideas we claim
to believe in or even to have them chal-
If so, those ideas can't really be worth
George Cantor's e-mail address is