Archive/File: orgs/american/ihr/press dershowitz.jhr Last-Modified: 1995/02/10 Penthouse come to Harvard By Alan Dershowitz Should a university censor its library collection so as not to offend its readers? That was the age-old question recently raised in a new guise at Harvard's venerable Widener Library. It seems that some people were offended by the library's subscribing to the Journal of Historical Review, a crackpot magazine whose only "contribution" to "debate" is its bizarre claim that the Holocaust -- the systematic murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis -- never happened. Its contributors, who range from neo-Nazis to academic kooks, argue that the mass gassing of Jews, which has been admitted even by Nazi eyewitnesses, is a "fraud" deliberately perpetrated in the world by Jews for -- you guessed it -- "financial" reasons. Those "greedy" Hebrews are apparently not satisfied with controlling the media and the world financial markets; they want to secure reparations from a world racked with guilt over a tragedy that never occurred! The Journal of Historical Review goes to absurd lengths in trying to discredit the mountain of eyewitnesses, documentary and photographic evidence which clearly establishes the details of the Nazi Holocaust. Among scholars it is known as the "Journal of Hysterical Falsification." It is not surprising, therefore, that some Jewish activists and scholars of the Holocaust oppose the Harvard library's decision to subscribe to the Journal of Historical Review. Gail Gans, Assistant Director of Research of the Anti-Defamation League, characterizes the journal as "an abysmal, hideous, anti-Semitic publication," which cloaks itself in "academic garb." Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Emory University, who has written the definitive scholarly critique of Holocaust deniers, put it this way: "[To] subscribe regularly -- to have an ongoing, full collection of a journal which has not one iota of fidelity to truth -- is, to my mind, ludicrous for a university of Harvard's stature." A writer for the Harvard Crimson called to ask my views. I respectfully disagreed with Professor Lipstadt, whom I greatly admire, and argued that the Harvard library should not be in the business of making such judgments. Nor should it exclude material because of its offensiveness. The writer then asked me what I thought of the fact that Widener Library did not have a subscription to Penthouse magazine, for which I write a regular column. This came as a surprise to me, and I immediately offered to donate a Penthouse subscription to Widener Library. My offer was intended to test the policies of the Widener Library. In defense of its decision to subscribe to the Journal of Historical Review, the library's director had said that Harvard's library is filled with books and journals containing all sorts of outrageous and offensive ideas. To refuse to subscribe to a particular journal because of its abhorrent content, he continued, "is the first step on a slippery slope toward censorship." When asked about other magazines to which Harvard does not subscribe, he pointed to limited financial resources, arguing that Harvard "can't afford subscriptions to every journal in print." I fully expected my offer to be declined, but to my surprise, it was immediately accepted, and Harvard's subscription to Penthouse will begin in 1995. Comedian Jay Leno quipped that I have finally figured out a way to get Harvard students to the library. But the issue is a serious one, especially in our age of political correctness. The Harvard library has made an important statement about the freedom to read -- or not to read -- every manner of publication. It has placed its faith in the marketplace of ideas rather than in the discretion of the censor. It is precisely because of Harvard's "stature" that it cannot submit to the demands of censors, no matter how well intentioned. No one is forced to read any book or magazine in the library. A great university library should serve as a repository for all manner of publications. Professor Lipstadt should understand that better than anyone, since she is the world's leading expert on the phenomenon of Holocaust denial and her research, and that of her colleagues, benefits from having all of this crackpot material readily available for scholars to review and criticize. The same is true for Penthouse. These who rail against the evils of magazines which they claim exploit women should be pleased to have them available in one central repository for their research purposes. Those who oppose the inclusion of material which they deem offensive in a library collection misunderstand the function of a library. Inclusion does not imply approval. By subscribing to a journal, a library does not place its imprimatur on the content of that journal. It merely acknowledges that the journal may be useful for someone's research. By that standard, the Harvard library's decisions should not offend anyone. The decision by any library to censor should offend everyone. Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard University. His newest books are "The Advocate's Devil" (Warner Books) and "The Abuse Excuse" (Little, Brown & Company). Copyright 1995, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
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