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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

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

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

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

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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