Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Freedom Of Speech Not Enhanced At Columbia

Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times fell back editorially today on the ridiculous proposition that the appearance of the terrorist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University yesterday was in accord with what the L.A. Times called "such core American principles as academic freedom and freedom of speech."

Does that mean, however, that Columbia and its sensation-seeking president, Lee Bollinger, should now feel compelled to invite Charles Manson, or O.J. Simpson to speak at the campus?

I don't think so. I don't think "freedom of speech" is enhanced by inviting every scoundrel to waste time peddling dangerous, crazy and unsavory ideas, simply for the titillation of his audience. There has to be some honestly-held principle at stake, some good to be obtained by the frank expression of even far-out views. By the standards evoked in the two wimpy and irresolute newspapers, Columbia might as well invite the head of the military junta which has been enslaving the Burmese people to speak as the leader of the Buddhist monks protesting against him in a courageous battle for freedom.

Or, to put it another way, those who award the Novel Peace Prize shouldn't have been satisfied by just making one mistake. No, awarding the prize to Yasser Arafat was not mistake enough. In the interest of worldwide understanding, they should also have awarded it to Stalin, Hitler and "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

A classic example of the liberal, "Let's Love The Enemy" crowd is Maureen Dowd's commentary on the Admadinejad visit in the New York Times. I suggest that Ms. Dowd go to Iran herself and see how she likes the way women are treated there.

I agree with Israeli President Shimon Peres, who said, "I'm all for freedom of expression, but what happened at Columbia University gave a platform to the greatest lies in the world."

To the credit of Dana Milbank, the reporter who covered another appearance by Admadinejad yesterday, in a videoconference before the National Press Club, for the Washington Post, he put the emphasis in his lead, on how ridiculous and untruthful some of Ahmadinejad's statements were.

"For hundreds of years, we've lived in friendship and brotherhood with the people of Iraq," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the National Press Club, yesterday," Milbank began.

"That's true," he went on, "as long as you don't count the little unpleasantness of the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, when a million people died, some by poison gas. And you'd have to overlook 500 years of fighting during the Ottoman Empire.

"But never mind that. Ahmadinejad was on a roll.

"Our people are the freest people in the world," said the man whose government executes dissidents, jails academics and stones people to death.

"The freest women in the world are women in Iran," he continued, neglecting to mention that Iranian law treats a woman as half of a man.

"In our country," judged the man who shuts down newspapers and imprisons journalists, "freedom is flowing at its highest level."

"And if you believe that," wrote Milbank, "he has a peaceful civilian nuclear program he wants to sell you."

This was a better, more valid, approach than that used by the namby-pamby Helene Cooper, the New York Times correspondent covering Ahmadinejad's Columbia appearance, who called his statements there that there were no homosexuals in Iran or that the Nazi slaughter of the Jews in the Holocaust was not fact, but theory, an airing of "bewildering thoughts."

Erika Hayasaki was better in the L.A. Times when she, defensibly, put her accent in the lead on the confrontational aspects of the appearance at Columbia.

But neither could match Milbank, who realized that the best way to handle tyrants and guttersnipes is through ridicule.

I persist in my feeling, expressed yesterday, that Ahmadinejad played both his audiences yesterday for fools. At least at Columbia, the students did laugh and hoot when he made his statement about homosexuals, although some applauded him at other points. But at the National Press Club, as Milbank reported, he got only a mild reception.

"The reception was rather friendlier at the press club, where the sole questioner was moderator Jerry Zremsky of the Buffalo News," Milbank wrote. "He introduced Ahmadinejad as "one of the most newsworthy heads of state in the world," and chose written questions submitted by the audience such as "Do you plan on running for reelection in two years?"

Now, that's the Washington press corps that I knew as a political writer. They are always ready to besmirch the reputation of a President of the United States, but they turn into Caspar Milquetoasts when it comes to confronting a foreign tyrant.

I just wonder how this Zremsky would have introduced Stalin at the National Press Club, the man, who, while killing millions of his own people and imprisoning millions of others, proclaimed in 1936 that the Soviet Union was the greatest democracy on the face of the Earth.

Reporters often turn into shrinking violets at the wrong times. Now, when the Chicago toady, L.A. Times publisher David Hiller appears tomorrow as a speaker before the Times retired employees' association, the Old Farts, I wonder whether everyone will treat him as if he were actually respectable. This in a week in which in Monday's paper he had several wrap-around ads that had to be tossed away before you could read the paper, and a front-page ad on Page 1.

Freedom of speech as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes once said, doesn't mean that you have "freedom to yell fire in a crowded theatre." And it doesn't mean either that institutions like Columbia University must live up to it by inviting in professional liars and knaves.



Blogger Miss Havisham said...

Ahmadinejad's speech is not the equivalent of yelling fire in a theatre.

Give me a break.

9/25/2007 4:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Moronic metaphor, yours,to compare the appearance of an Iranian head of state at Columbia University to a hypothetical visit by O.J.Simpson or Charles Manson to the groves of academe. It would seem you do not care about the serious matter of offering a demonized figure rattling the world stage a chance to express his views; apparently you only seek to get a rise from the two three readers of your blog. A cheap shot and expression of your own lack of intellectual honesty.

9/26/2007 6:04 AM  
Anonymous McRib said...

Miss Havisham sounds kinda hot.

9/26/2007 12:51 PM  

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