Horowitz ad: challenging Record, community

Last week, the Record printed an advertisement for a publication by David Horowitz that argued the root cause of the Middle East conflict is “Arab and Islamic Jew-hatred [which] is the Nazi virus revived.” Segments of the community have expressed their disappointment with and, in some cases, outrage at our decision to print the advertisement. We have been asked to apologize for running the advertisement and to donate the money we received from Horowitz to charity. We do not think either is warranted.

It has also been suggested that we should have included an explanation of our decision to run the ad in last week’s edition. We chose not to do so because we hoped our community would recognize value in the free exchange of ideas. As it turns out, some members of the community chose to address our decision to run the ad, rather than the ideas presented in it. Given this reality, we agree we should have run this editorial last week.

Though we took the context within which a newspaper runs advertisements for granted, it may be useful for us to articulate our advertising policy. The fact that the Record runs an advertisement is not and should not be seen as an endorsement or rejection of the ideas behind the ad. It is possible, for example, that we could receive an advertising request from Avis claiming they try harder than Hertz. In running their ad, we would not be expressing an opinion as a newspaper as to which company is actually trying harder. Similarly, by running Horowitz’s ad, the Record was not in any way offering an opinion on his claims.

This is not the first time one of Horowitz’s ads has caused controversy on a college campus. Horowitz’s motive for placing these advertisements is no mystery. When he submits an advertisement, a newspaper faces a dilemma. Either it runs the advertisement and risks backlash from the community, or it chooses not to run the ad and is accused by Horowitz of censoring his views.

Obviously, a newspaper is forced to make decisions about what content it does and does not publish on a regular basis. Our decision not to publish pornography is an example of our determining something is not fit to be published in our newspaper. It is important to note, however, that our ban on pornography is a broad ban; we do not choose to publish some types of pornography and not others.

That is essentially the distinction those who claim we should not have run Horowitz’s ad ask us to make. They ask that we impose an artificial standard on what ideas are permissible at our College. We hope the dangerous precedent this creates is clear. A newspaper printing an ad from Planned Parenthood could be seen as an advertisement for murder in a conservative college community. Clearly, running that ad would come up against community standards at that institution, but would that dictate not running it?

Indeed, we have long held that if there is any place in the world where the free exchange of ideas should be welcome, it is on a college campus. Last year, we wrote an editorial condemning the College’s decision to erase some “offensive” BGLTU chalkings. “It is a dangerous precedent for the College to determine that one person’s expression is apparently void of content. . . If the College is allowed to tell its students what ideas have expressive content and what ideas do not, it places the institution on a dangerous slippery slope – even if it seems unlikely that the slope will lead anywhere at Williams in the near future,” we wrote at the time. We feel it would have been equally inappropriate for us to deem Horowitz’s ad “void of content.”

Ultimately, we felt by printing the advertisement we were offering the greatest respect possible for our intellectual community. Had we not printed the ad, we would have been saying our audience is too tender to read what might be seen as an offensive political argument.

As Justice Brandeis argued in the Supreme Court case of Whitney v. California, the public sphere is a place where any idea should be allowed so that it can be argued on its own merits and, if necessary, rejected on its merits: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” We feel this sentiment applies doubly in academia.

Segments of the community have said Horowitz’s ideas hurt and even threatened them. We regret they felt that way; if they do, it is an inexcusable failing of our community. An intellectual community like ours should be strong enough to debate any issue while assuring the comfort of all participants.

It is embarrassing, for example, how weak our community’s support of Muslim students has been since Sept. 11 even as intellectual inquiry into the subject has been so strong. If Horowitz’s ideas made any student feel threatened, it is clear that our community is not living up to the standards that should be expected at an elite institution.