Major Media Turns its Attention to Arthur Butz’s Web Page

Published: 1997-02-01

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The great scandal continues to roil. Arthur Butz, author of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century, as well as professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at Northwestern University, is now able to present his views on the “Holocaust” cheaply and effectively by means of his own page on the university’s Website. Last month the squawkings of the Simon Wiesenthal Center joined the babblings of Sheldon Epstein, an engineering instructor whom Northwestern University let go after he turned his course into an assault on Butz and Holocaust revisionism (see SR 39, January 1997).

The story surfaced in lengthy articles in the Chicago Tribune (December 29), Associated Press (January 8), New York Times (January 10 and February 2) and the Washington Post (January 12). In other words, three of America’s most influential and widely read newspapers, as well as the most widely used news service, alerted their readers to the fact that Butz’s revisionist ideas are easily accessible to those millions of Americans already connected to the Internet. (The Washington Post story and the on-line version of the Times story each included the address of the Butz Web page.)

The press stories, naturally, leave much to be desired, representing the Butz Web page affair as an agonizing moral dilemma rather than a clear-cut matter of intellectual freedom (ah, would that Arthur Butz were Larry Flynt or Al Goldstein!). They do the bare minimum in clarifying that Northwestern University is extending to Professor Butz the same privilege accorded to its thousand or so other faculty members: the opportunity to speak their minds freely (within the law) through a page on NU’s Web site. The articles also fail to point out that Butz has been previously without practical recourse to expound or defend his historical findings on campus, while his opponents at Northwestern have been able to lambaste him and his writings in the classroom, the university newspaper, and in rallies and demonstrations.

Artie Butz

First panel of nine-panel strip by a not too conscious comic artist published on the editorial page of the Daily Northwestern

Even so, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s spokesmen, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Mark Weitzman. and Epstein, don’t come across as particularly effective with their wheedling bullying tone (“A university has the right to set standards!” [Weitzman]), and their gimlet-eyed rummaging through precedents and pretexts for muzzling free speech. Epstein’s blather about Northwestern’s “trademark rights” and Weitzman’s bluster about Northwestern University conferring its “imprimatur” on Professor Butz’s writings betrays a strained idea of a contemporary university: by this logic university officers should function as do ecclesiastical censors vetting books for publication, or rabbinical authorities certifying jars of dill pickles or gefilte fish. In contrast, Northwestern University president Henry Bienen, like the above critics a Jew, offered a refreshing restatement about what freedom of inquiry and expression at the university level is all about:

We are an institution committed to the open expression of ideas. Thus it is of particular importance that, inside the boundaries of the law, we err on the side of offending people.

Some twenty years ago, when news of the publication of The Hoax of the Twentieth Century by the Historical Review Press in England percolated to New York and other enlightened American metropolises, a professor at New York University, representing himself as having carefully read the book, denounced what he called The Anatomy of a Hoax and called for its banning.

Today, whether the benighted in this country and elsewhere call for banning of The Hoax or otherwise, the probability is that at least they’ll get the book’s title right. Thanks for that goes not so much to Northwestern’s “giving him a mantle of legitimacy reaching out potentially to millions of people” (in the strained metaphor of Rabbi Cooper), but to Cooper, Epstein & Co. for their vigorous promotion of the Butz page in the press.

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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: Major Media Turns its Attention to Arthur Butz’s Web Page
Sources: Smith's Report, no. 40, February 1997, pp. 6f.
Published: 1997-02-01
First posted on CODOH: Oct. 3, 2015, 5:59 a.m.
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