The Media-Rightwing Political Correctness Gambit Renewed: Horowitz And Reparations

The heavy media attention being given to rejections of David Horowitz’s ad on reparations for slavery is a throwback to the rightwing and "liberal media" political correctness campaign of 1991. In that earlier campaign, it was the alleged free speech threat of blacks, women, and other non-establishment groups trying to influence curricula and teaching appointments that aroused the media to a frenzy. Firings of left academics didn’t interest them at all, nor did the huge spread of "free enterprise" chairs or virtual takeover of campuses by businesses funding institutes servicing their manpower and technology needs.


With the Horowitz case we are back to this super-selectivity: it is an ad that challenges a position supportive of black people by some of their spokespersons, and it is a refusal to publish this ad that the media latch on to. The ad is offered by a rightwing creep who is funded by the same wealthy reactionaries, foundations, and corporations who have underwritten Dinesh D’Souza, Lynne Cheney, Christina Hoff Sommers, and the Thernstroms. Just as these individuals have great access to the media, so now does Horowitz, in contrast with his earlier years of non-access and invisibility when he was not so funded and offered less welcome views.


A case similar to that of Horowitz occurred back in 1991- 1992, when Holocaust denier Bradley Smith offered an ad to many college newspapers in order to "stimulate discussion" on the claims of a holocaust. His ad was widely rejected by college newspapers, but the case never made the front page of the New York Times, and the Times not only gave Smith modest attention, it made it very clear that "it is not a first amendment issue" (ed., Jan. 15, 1992). In the Times and elsewhere in the mainstream media Bradley Smith’s historical errors and insults to the heirs of the victims completely overpowered any thought that editors rejecting the ad were suffering from the "political correctness" sickness. This was an ad that could be rejected on some higher principle, perhaps related to the political muscle of those who would be upset by it.


The March-April 2001 issue of Utne Reader has an article by Karen Olson entitled "Palestine Exhibition Denied," describing the problems faced by Dan Walsh in trying to get exhibitions of his large collection of Palestinian solidarity posters. Walsh has found that on rare occasions such posters can be exhibited, if "balanced" by an exhibit of Israeli posters, but they are never considered for exhibit on their own in this country. But this constraint on free expression has been discussed only in the Utne Reader, as the same forces that preclude such an exhibit also rule out the media’s considering this a free speech issue.


Similarly, when an America-Jewish journalist with the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle was fired in January 2001, immediately after publishing "Quest for Justice," an article by Judith Stone critical of Israeli policy, this fact flowed through e-mail networks but was not a free speech issue in the mainstream media. Neither is the incessant pressure that the pro-Israel lobby and activists exert on the media, that make the press in Israel itself notably more open and critical of Israeli policy than the U.S. media. Neither was the firing of Michael Lopez-Calderon from his job as an elementary school teacher at the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew School in Miami Beach, Florida in February 2001, which resulted from outside complaints about his writings critical of Israel, despite the absence of any claim of less than satisfactory teaching performance.


The idea of ad rejection on political grounds being a newsworthy "free speech" matter is actually comical. Papers and TV stations regularly and systematically reject ads they find objectionable, often because they would offend advertisers, but also because they object to the content of messages from peace groups, labor unions, and others. Adbusters has been trying for years to get its "Advocacy Uncommercials" on the TV networks, but without success. When the New York Times ran three major advertorials in 1993 lauding the North American Free Trade Agreement, it refused to accept critical ads that would disturb the hugely political message. A full account of such politically- tainted or advertiser-protective ad rejections would run to thousands of pages.


Consider also a major violation of freedom of expression such as the exclusion of Ralph Nader from the national political debate during the last presidential election. This was immensely important, with national political significance, but the New York Times found it perfectly OK on the ground that the differences between Bush and Gore were substantial, and adequate, in the opinion of the editors (editorial, "Mr.Nader’s Misguided Candidacy," June 30, 2000)! This big time free speech violation was also perfectly acceptable to the rest of the mainstream media, so that all their musings and reflections on Horowitz’s gambit stand exposed as hypocritical horseshit.


At a deeper level, reflection on the virtually complete exclusion of Noam Chomsky, the late Herb Schiller, Walden Bello, Stephen Steinberg (author of Turning Back), and Samuel Epstein (author of The Politics of Cancer), among many others, from debates on public policy issues, and the media’s sourcing and accommodation to corporate and state interests and policy on many key issues, suggests that the problem of "freedom of speech" in this country is structural and deeply rooted. This is why a "propaganda model" can explain why the Horowitz gambit becomes a "free expression" issue, but not the exclusion of Ralph Nader from the presidential debates.

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