A college campus is the right place to challenge ideas. Of that I am certain.
But deciding at what point an idea has gone too far – of that I am less certain.
My advertising manager received a letter earlier this month requesting an ad be placed in our paper. It was a small ad titled, “Top Ten Extremists in the U.S.”
At first glance it looked like any one of the dozens of ads we run in our paper on a weekly basis.
But upon a closer examination, I realized it was an advertisement for the website of Bradley R. Smith.
For those of you who don’t know, Mr. Smith got some national attention last year for his extreme views. He argues the Holocaust never happened. He says there weren’t millions of Jews killed in gas chambers. As proof, he offers photographs of the gas chambers he claims have been doctored and are therefore fake.
That idea is offensive.
That anyone could claim the Holocaust was imagined is appalling. Take a walk down to the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C. Spend a few minutes inside and see what you think.
Mr. Smith asked us to print a different ad last year in which he clearly stated his views. He included examples of the “doctored photos” to back up his point.
Last year’s editor decided not to run the ad.
The Free Press is not obliged to print anything. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, which means I cannot be prosecuted for something I say in print (unless it’s libelous). It does not mandate newspapers to publish everything that’s submitted to them.
The Free Press also has an advertising policy that states we “reserve the right to reject advertising, including that which [we] consider untruthful, offensive, misleading or deceptive.”
We believe last year’s ad was all of the above.
But we had a difficult decision to make about the new ad. We discussed the issue several times over the course of last week.
We decided there are major differences in this year’s ad.
There are no pictures. No offensive language. Mr. Smith doesn’t even clearly state his view that the Holocaust didn’t happen.
Even after looking at the website referred to in the ad, I saw no obvious mention of the Holocaust or the photos he says validate his claim.
There is no doubt that Mr. Smith’s views are offensive. But we decided his ad was not.
It appears in the Classifieds section of this paper. I invite you to decide for yourself if you agree with my decision.
I also invite you to take a look at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website at: www.ushmm.org.
Let us never forget what happened when a country desperate for change followed the wrong leader. Millions were murdered.