New York Times March 21, 2001
Ad Intended to Stir Up Campuses More Than Succeeds in Its Mission
By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
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
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
"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
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
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