College Journalism: How I Learned to Hate the First Amendment
By TNTripp

Slavery.  Hardly a word in our lexicon can be more laden with images and rhetoric, and meaning.  From the ill-used housewife who is ‘a slave to her stove’, to the real life slaves in our own history, bondage is an uncommonly bad result of human ingenuity—how can I get someone else to do my dirty work, preferably for free?

The slaves in this country were liberated 137 years ago but the revolution is not complete and Martin Luther King’s dream is unrealized.  We are getting there, but certainly not fast enough for most of us.  The question recently became, is slavery really still the issue?  Some seem to want to make it so by demanding reparations for Blacks in America , whether or not they are the descendants of slaves, paid for by all Americans, irrespective of their ancestry or any historical relation to slavery.

As an adjunct to the reparations issue, another significant ugliness resurfaced in the US , the suppression of free speech because someone didn’t like what the words said.  David Horowitz, whose speech was at issue, is a reconstructed communist.  He is in our faces on the ‘No’ side of slave reparations.  Raised by two Bolshevik parents in a commune in Brooklyn , former editor of Ramparts, the magazine of the radical left in the 60s, Horowitz has turned conservative.  His 180 degree gyration is probably more than interesting, it is a cautionary tale, but it isn’t Horowitz’s story in which we are interested today, it is what he did to incite others to trash the First Amendment.

Mr. Horowitz took a look at slave reparations, the payment to American Blacks for the sins against some of their forebears, and thought they were such a bad idea that he created a document titled Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks-and Racist Too.  Then he had the temerity to try to place this document in college newspapers.  He met with marginal success on the placement issue, only 32 of 73 college papers accepted the ad, but the 41 refusals spoke volumes and Horowitz came away with a home run, irrespective of what one thinks of his views.  The wheel was reinvented yet again.

Discussing 18th and 19th century slavery in a 21st century setting, that is, whether those who are not responsible for what happened owe anything to people who were never involved and whether all children are fiscally responsible for the abominations of some children’s great, great, great-grandfathers, is only a small part of the issue.  The sad part is that some folks, or to put it more directly, some academicians don’t want Horowitz’s ideas to see the light of day.  He wants notoriety, surely, but he also wants discussion.  In essence that is what David Horowitz is about.  But discussion, at least about this idea, is not what college administrators, faculty advisors and sometimes student editors who are trained under them want.

Sound like the stone age?  Think about this: the student newspapers at a majority of the colleges refused the ads simply because they were controversial and, more to the point, politically incorrect, at least from the point of view where Blacks are seen only as victims.  At Brown University in Rhode Island after the ads were published all 4000 copies of the paper were seized by some students.  Free press, free speech, surely, but only if you agree with me?

The Brown students, bless their hearts, said the theft was a ‘political act’ entitled to as much protection as the ads, but, of course, the ads received no protection as a result of their larceny.  Their political defense holds water only if you don’t know the difference between free speech and a free ride, and when school administrators did nothing to the thieves, thereby not only condoning the act, but encouraging it, the message board became inflamed.  Firebrand rhetoric meets the bludgeon of suppression and no one wins.  Or don’t they? 

Horowitz contends he has to be aggressive to make his point, his opposite numbers claim a similar obligation.  The pen has always been mightier than the sword, and it is no less so here.  The $20,000 Horowitz wanted to invest in the ads to get the discussion moving was met with $20,000,000 in free publicity, and sympathy for his views because of sympathy for his plight was widespread.  Mob sponsored censorship shoots itself in the foot yet again.

In journalism, not just the writing and reporting, but the responsibility part as well, students have to go through the learning curve.  J-school newspapers are where Constitutional fundamentals are supposed to come first, in this instance on campuses across the country they came last.  Academia admittedly leans left, but this time it fell out the window and landed on its head.  Having made the news instead of reporting it they did themselves and their students a disservice and made Horowitz, as the press has so many times, look sympathetic as a political figure and brilliant as a business person.

Free speech isn’t just a phrase, and it isn’t just part of our foundation, it is our essence.  When academia tramples on it, it isn’t just bad form, it is spitting on who we are.  In this case the administrators, faculty advisors and student editors who turned the ads down reached into the bottom of their tool boxes and pulled out arrogance.  So often academics decry the transgressions of one or another sector of America to both criticize and to teach, this time the shoe is on the other foot and it is a very uncomfortable fit.  The words ‘censorship’ and ‘university’ go together about as well as ‘slavery’ and ‘ America ’ and we should be equally frightened of each.

Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks—and Racist Too can be found at  

This article first appeared in Conservative Battleline.

© 5/2/01

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