Not comparable

I have followed, with interest, the controversy surrounding the paid advertisement in the Nov. 8 Northern Star.

The ad argued that during World War II, Nazi Germany did not have a policy of exterminating Jews and did not execute large numbers of Jews in European concentration camps, and which offered to sell literature containing these claims and solicited financial contributions to help disseminate this message.

I wish to stress a point that I don’t believe has been sufficiently emphasized.

With few exceptions, people in this country have the right to make public statements, no matter how offensive, mean-spirited, insulting, wrong, stupid, or silly. The Northers Star editorial of Nov. 11 referred to that right.

But to even suggest, as it did, that this particular advertisement was comparable to promotion of a belief in UFOs is to trivialize and defile the memory of the millions of people—Jews and others—who were victims of systematic brutality and genocide.

More appropriate comparisons would be the following: would the Star accept an advertisement from a group selling literature claiming that blacks were not abused and lynched in the American South, and asking for financial contributions to disseminate such a claim? Would the Star accept an advertisement from a group selling literature claiming that Native Americans were not exploited and massacred by Europeans and Euro-Americans, and asking for financial contributions to disseminate such a claim?

To its credit, The Northern Star editorial did refer to the fallacy of the claims of this advertiser, which is (to paraphrase the president of Dartmouth College) a band of ideological provocateurs posing as scholars. (Real scholars do not resort to paid advertisements to have expert intellectual discourse on their theories and propositions.)

But, while the Star seems proud of its giving this advertiser a platform to state its case, printing the ad did far more. It also provided the advertiser, whose message the Star condemned, a vehicle with which to solicit funds for the further dispersion of these offensive proclamations.

Newspapers generally exercise selectivity in declining to accept advertising that is socially, culturally, or ethnically offensive. I believe The Northern Star has a formal policy declaring that it does just that.

But by disregarding that policy, and the good judgment that accompanies it, this university-affiliated newspaper has both made money from a repulsive corruption of decades of scholarship and financially abetted the perpetrators of this perversion in their goal to disseminate it further.

But the advertisement has appeared, and we should look for some good that can be found in that event: The Northern Star editors have denounced the content of the ad; the university president, and many other concerned readers, have strongly criticized the appearance of the offensive material; and, we can hope, the staff of the Star and the community at large have had their awareness and sensitivity heightened.

Jerrold H. Zar

Associate Provost

Graduate School Dean