Advertisement rejection not a free speech issue

NEW YORK (U-WIRE) — In the name of what some editors seemed to think was an issue of freedom of speech, The Chronicle, the student newspaper of Hofstra University, recently distributed a pre-published insert denying the existence of the Holocaust in issues of their newspaper. That insert, the New York Times reported, has fueled controversy on the school’s Long Island campus. While politically slanted advertisements are not uncommon, the one Hofstra accepted, “The Revisionist: A Journal of Independent Thought” was a bit different than the norm.
The issue of the Holocaust’s reality is not open to debate, and any consideration or refutation of the inane, ignorant views of “Revisionist” creator Bradley R. Smith will not be discussed any further here. The greater question raised by The Chronicle’s choice to distribute “The Revisionist” within its pages is this: Why would a student newspaper put itself in the position of having to accept such unsubstantiated rubbish? The fault lies with Hofstra’s policy of accepting paid political inserts.
Political advertisements, like those run on the editorial pages of many major newspapers, are problematic, especially for small, student-run papers like The Chronicle. Running even a small political ad once leaves editors with an uncomfortable choice to make: either publish the polemics of any who will pay, or establish a policy, based on their whims, of deciding which ads to accept and which to decline.
This was the conundrum faced by the editors of The Chronicle. Having accepted smaller ads from the intellectually impotent Smith in the past, the editors seem to have felt they could not justify rejecting the latest offensive insert, as other college newspapers did.
The Chronicle’s editors have tried to defend their decision as being in the interests of freedom of speech, but that excuse is a total fallacy; this has nothing to do with the First Amendment. The only entity truly capable of violating the Constitutional right to free speech is the government. There is no compulsion, legal or otherwise, to print advertisements.
In feebly defending their decision, Chronicle editor in chief Shawna Van Ness boasted that, since she has worked for the paper, the organization has “never rejected an ad.” The notion that newspapers are beholden to any organization wishing to get its message across, that those charged with reporting the news are only doing their jobs if they give space to any and all views and arguments, is a dangerously common falsehood.
To simply allow any and every conceivable message to be printed in one’s pages is completely irresponsible. The assertion that what the editors of Hofstra’s paper have done is foster a healthy debate about Holocaust issues is as ludicrous as the assertion by Smith that his “journal” is intended to promote nothing more than “independent thought.” Whether they like it or not, Van Ness and others have done nothing more than offended the pious, the conscious and the intelligent, and proved once and for all that the sort of bombast they so readily publish has no place in a small, community-oriented news source.
The editors of The Chronicle should take note: The only point their bold move has made is to demonstrate an inability to judge between legitimate sources of revenue and offenses against anyone with half a brain.
Edward Mann’s column originally appeared in Friday’s New York University paper, the Washington Square News.