Two weeks ago, the Temple News published an advertisement by the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust (CODOH) (see page 24 of November 2-9 issue). The ad led with the headline “Proof of ‘Gas Chambers?’” and went on to question whether the Germans “gassed one human being as part of a program of ethnic genocide.”
Public reaction to this advertisement was, not surprisingly, quite strong. The ad not only questions a vital and emotional part of human and religious culture, but also denies the existence of one of the most tragic and senseless events in history. The Holocaust was the genocidal killing of millions of innocent people.
The choice of the Temple News to run this paid advertisement has been both criticized and commended. What seems superficially to be a clear-cut issue is interwoven with complications about First Amendment rights and personal responsibilities.
The Temple News does not profess to adhere to the ideology or message promoted by any paid advertisements printed in the newspaper. The ideas expressed by advertising belong solely to the advertiser.
The content of this specific ad was well within the confines of free speech. The First Amendment is a double-edged sword; most of the time it serves the liberal pursuit of truth and exchange of ideas, but it also works for the proponents of hate and the clouding of truth. We, unfortunately, have to take the good with the bad.
That said, the Temple News, like all publications, owes its readership some degree of ethical and moral consideration when choosing what it will publish. Journalism, more than most professions, requires a well-defined sense of integrity and ethics.
Freedom of the press, as a necessary and liberating power, carries with it token responsibilities. One of these responsibilities is to distinguish between free speech and paid propaganda.
The CODOH ad and others like it traditionally rely on the First Amendment as an umbrella for hate speech. Worse yet, these ads use tactics other than the ad itself to draw attention to themselves and their cause. Organizations like CODOH gain free publicity from controversy surrounding the publication of their advertisements and draw supporters and opponents alike to their web sites.
When an organization deliberately exploits a guarantee as integral to justice as the First Amendment in order to draw attention to itself or its beliefs, conflicts fueled by emotion rather than reason prevail.
However, the solution to this cannot and must not be to abandon our First Amendment rights, but to use our best moral judgement to identify advertisements that perpetrate hate speech as such, and to treat them accordingly.
It is far better to have the freedom to express everyone’s ideas than the potential suppression of all ideas, even those that are hateful and ugly. This tenant holds true if for no better reason than that with the opposition fully represented, the victory of truth is that much more complete.