C-Span’s Plan to Cover Talk on Holocaust Is Criticized
By Tamar Lewin
More than 200 historians at colleges nationwide sent a petition to C-Span yesterday to protest its plan to accompany its coverage of a lecture by Deborah E. Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, with a speech by David Irving, who has argued that Hitler was not fully responsible for the mass murder of Jews.
“Falsifiers of history cannot ‘balance’ histories,” said the petition, delivered to Connie Doebele, the executive producer at C-Span who planned the coverage. “Falsehoods cannot ‘balance’ the truth.”
Mr. Irving, a British writer, sued Professor Lipstadt for libel for calling him a Holocaust denier, but the British Royal High Court of Justice dismissed the lawsuit on April 11, 2000, concluding that Mr. Irving was anti-Semitic and racist and that he persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence.
Professor Lipstadt has been promoting her new book, an account of the case titled “History on Trial: My Day in Court With David Irving,” which Ecco published last month.
C-Span wanted to feature the book on its weekend program “Book TV” and asked Professor Lipstadt if it could record a speech she was making on March 16 at Harvard Hillel, a Jewish organization at Harvard University.
But when Professor Lipstadt learned that the cable network planned to include a lecture by Mr. Irving along with her remarks, she refused to allow C-Span to tape the event.
“I called the producer at C-Span and told her that this was a man who was a Holocaust denier, and this idea of using both of us made no sense to me,” Professor Lipstadt said.
She and many of her supporters believe that including such a figure in an account of her views would be as wrongheaded as accompanying a story on slavery in the United States with remarks from someone who said that slavery never happened.
“I told C-Span that I assumed that if they weren’t going to tape my lecture, they also wouldn’t use David Irving, but they said no, they were committed to having him on,” Professor Lipstadt said yesterday. “This is a man who’s said that Holocaust survivors are all liars, and that more people died in Senator Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick than in the gas chambers.”
C-Span did tape the speech Mr. Irving made last weekend at the Landmark Diner in Atlanta. But Peggy Keegan, a spokeswoman for the network, said in an interview yesterday that its plans were now up in the air.
In a follow-up e-mail message, Ms. Keegan said: ” ‘Book TV’ was interested in Deborah Lipstadt’s new book about her British libel trial. Our interest in covering David Irving was to hear the plaintiff’s story of the trial. Since Professor Lipstadt has closed her book discussions to our cameras, we are still discussing how to cover this book and we don’t have an immediate timetable.”
The plans for the C-Span coverage were first reported Tuesday in The Washington Post, in a column by Richard Cohen, who said that C-Span’s “cock-eyed version of fairness” forced Professor Lipstadt to choose between promoting her book and giving Mr. Irving both an audience and a status equal to her own.
That same day, the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies began circulating the petition in support of Professor Lipstadt, and in less than 48 hours, it had gathered more than 200 signatures. “If C-Span broadcasts a lecture by David Irving, it will provide publicity and legitimacy to Holocaust-denial, which is nothing more than a mask for anti-Jewish bigotry,” the petition said.
Although the petition was sent to C-Span yesterday, many more academics are still signing on, so another set of signatures may go to the network next week, said Dr. Rafael Medoff, director of the Wyman institute.
“I’ve never before heard of a television network offering free time to a Holocaust denier,” Dr. Medoff said, “so it was surprising and it may be unprecedented. I think once C-Span realizes the depth of public concern and the strong opposition of the academic community, they will reconsider.”