New York Times March 21, 2001

Ad Intended to Stir Up Campuses More Than Succeeds in Its Mission

PROVIDENCE, R.I., March 19 — The editor of the student newspaper at Brown University says he knew a tempest was headed his way and rose to open the door for it.

A few weeks ago, the editor, Brooks King, read about a campaign by David Horowitz, a conservative author in Los Angeles, to place an advertisement in college newspapers denouncing calls for reparations to black Americans for slavery. In the full-page advertisement, Mr. Horowitz argues that blacks do not deserve redress because white Christians ended slavery, and that rather than getting compensation, black Americans owe the country for the freedom and prosperity they now enjoy.

Mr. King says he concluded that the advertisement intended to offend sensibilities at liberal campuses, exposing what Mr. Horowitz and other conservatives describe as the intolerance of political correctness. And he decided that because this was part of an important national debate, he would take up the challenge. "But I didn't expect this," Mr. King, a lanky, bespectacled junior, said.

Last week, student protesters removed stacks of The Brown Daily Herald from its stands on campus.
In running the advertisement, Mr. King became only the latest college editor in recent weeks to find himself entangled in a racially tinged controversy prompted by Mr. Horowitz. At the University of California, The Daily Californian ran the advertisement, but, under pressure from protesters, issued a front-page apology regretting having become "an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry." At the University of Wisconsin, Julie Bosman was confronted by 100 students demanding her resignation after the paper she edits, The Badger Herald, ran the advertisement.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Horowitz said university campuses suffered from a prevailing liberal orthodoxy that treated conservative views, and those who expound them, like toxic waste: fit for burying or burning, but not for engaging in dialogue. "Colleges should be stimulating discussions of these issues, not encouraging political rallies on behalf of one side of the issues," he said, and called the protesting students "campus fascists." Mr. Horowitz said he noticed that campuses were holding conferences on reparations throughout Black History Month, but none were debating the question so much as presuming reparations were a good idea.

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in New York, said that Mr. Horowitz was clearly on a campaign of provocation but that colleges were easy prey. Contrary to their image as arenas of intellectual debate, Mr. Botstein said, colleges tolerate dissent poorly. "We say we believe in dissent but we actually do not practice it well," Mr. Botstein said, especially in matters of race, what he called "the central question of life in America."

At Brown, the protesters, a group that included African-Americans, Asian-Americans and whites, formed human chains at scattered sites and demanded that the paper pay its own form of reparations — by donating the $725 it earned from the advertisement to the Third World Student Coalition, and giving them a free page of advertising space to refute Mr. Horowitz. The paper refused the demands but expanded space for opinion articles in today's issue.

The group's ire was directed at first at decision to run the advertisement, transforming the clash here — and on most other campuses Mr. Horowitz has approached — into a debate not over reparations, but over the limits of expression.
"This is not an issue of free speech," said Kohei Ishihara, a junior whom the protesters designated their spokesman. "This is about profits. The Herald profited from the deliberate distortion of history."

Papers at most of the 47 universities approached, including Harvard, Columbia and the University of Virginia, declined the advertisement from Mr. Horowitz, who also publishes Heterodoxy, a bimonthly paper lampooning political correctness. At the University of Wisconsin's Madison campus, The Badger Herald printed the advertisement, and stacks of the paper were taken from distribution racks and trashed.

In the aftermath, Ms. Bosman, the Badger Herald editor, wrote a column for The Wall Street Journal, defending Mr. Horowitz's right to buy the advertisement. "Rather than rebut Mr. Horowitz's arguments, the protesters simply tried to drown out his message with name-calling directed at the Herald," she wrote.

Daniel Hernandez, the editor of The Daily Californian, was chastened by the experience. In a letter from the editor, Mr. Hernandez vowed to play a tougher role defining "what is tasteful, appropriate, bigoted or detrimental" to his paper's readership, a step he acknowledged "now raises a whole slew of questions and concerns based on the ethics of journalism and publishing."

A former editor of Ramparts magazine, a leftist publication of the Vietnam era, Mr. Horowitz turned away from his leftist roots after sending a friend to work for the Black Panther Party. The friend was murdered, and Mr. Horowitz's investigations led him to say that she had been executed for asking too many questions. He dissociated himself from the Panthers, branding the organization as a political front for drug dealing and other criminal activities.

Mr. Horowitz said that like Mr. King, he was surprised by the force of the reaction to his advertisement. "Did I think some leftists would lift them from the boxes? Yes," he said. But he said he was taken aback by the level of outrage focused on the papers that ran the advertisement, and on him for placing it. "These black students come in and say, `This hurts our feelings,' " he said. "Come on, an argument hurts your feelings? Fight back."

Here at Brown, some said they were deeply upset by Mr. Horowitz's seeming effort to minimize the moral crime of slavery. "For us, it's not about playing a political game," said Sharon Luk, a senior who joined the chain of protesters. "We don't have the money to play that game. "For us, no, for me, it's that we cannot sit down while blatant lies are being spread about us or our brothers and sisters who've watched their history be erased over and over."

Overlooked in much of the uproar over publication is the deeper national debate on reparations over slavery, which could have found fertile ground for discussion on this campus. Just over the Connecticut border, the Aetna life insurance company and The Hartford Courant newspaper have in recent years acknowledged their historic profits from the slave trade. Aetna insured slaves, while The Courant ran advertisements seeking the return of runaway slaves. Recent scholarship has focused on the importance of slavery to the old New England fortunes. Brown University itself is named for a known slave trader, John Brown.

Stanley Fish, dean of arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said student editors were confused if they thought they were obliated to print any advertisements regardless of content.

Mr. Botstein of Bard said there was another common misperception."Anybody who tells you once upon a time you could say anything you want on campus" is romanticizing the past, he said. "Once upon a time you were labeled a communist. Once upon a time you were labeled a Jew lover."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company