In its article on "Danger in Denying the Holocaust?", did the Los Angeles Times exercise the traditional journalistic canon of presenting both sides of a contentious issue, or did the paper fall into the trap of giving obvious falsehood equal space with the truth?
To survivors and experts on the Holocaust, there is little doubt that the Times and reporter Kim Murphy gave credence to the lies of the deniers in the name of journalistic impartiality.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, faults the Times' report on the same basis, and also charges that the article suffered from a glaring omission.
"The reporter left out the most crucial element, namely the confessions of the war criminals themselves," says Cooper. "The Nazis left an extensive paper trail and there are any number of quotes and statements by Himmler, Goebbels and Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss, clearly documenting the extent of the Holocaust." [Note de l'AAARGH: Alas! What about the Browning's celebrated theory of the Hitler's nod? And Browning is going to be a witness at the Lipstadt's trial! Think about misunderstanding!]
To Harold Schulweis, author and rabbi, of Valley Beth Shalom, denial of the Holocaust is "the ultimate obscenity... like poking in the cremated ashes of a loved one.
Yet, Schulweis feels that once revisionists and the likes of Pat Buchanan advance their twisted arguments, they must be confronted and their deceptions refuted, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
From that perspective, Schulweis does not fault the Times for presenting the revisionists' point of view in its columns, "I was not offended by the article," he says. "I see no advantage in shooting the messenger [for the unpleasant message]."
Others were less tolerant of the article.
William Elperin was equally blunt. The president of the 1939 Club, made up of survivors and their families, declared that "It's a travesty that at the beginning of the new millennium, elderly Holocaust survivors, who have gone through so much, still have to deal with this garbage."
To David Lehrer, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, "The Times badly missed the mark... it gives a legitimacy to revisionists that they don't deserve."
While neither Lehrer nor others interviewed charged the Times with hidden conspiracies or malicious intent in publishing the article, the ADL director found it "inadvertently offensive."
Whatever the impact of the Times article, it will be eclipsed in the next few months by the London trial of a libel suit by revisionist David Irving against Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.
This courtroom drama, notes the Jerusalem Post, is expected to be the most highly publicized Holocaust trial since Adolf Eichmann's in 1961.
The paper cites the view of the eminent Israeli historian Yehuda Bauer of Yad Vashem, who sees the trial as a wonderful chance to debunk the deniers.
The Holocaust, says Bauer, "is not on trial... This is not a danger; this is an opportunity. I think these trials are very important because they bring to the fore a problem of historical truth... It's a tremendous opportunity for legitimate historians to prove what they are saying."
Others are less sanguine, fearing that the slightest legal infraction could lead to a judgment that would reward Irving with a technical victory.
Lehrer of the ADL shares the concern. "There is always a possibility, especially under British libel laws, of losing a case on a technicality."
Last Friday the Los Angeles Times published a Column One story on its front page with the headline: Danger in Denying Holocaust? The Times' story, written by staff writer Kim Murphy, purported to be an objective, balanced account of two equally reasoned positions. It was depicted as a conflict between scholars: Those who were Holocaust deniers and debunkers arrayed against those who claimed the evidence supporting the Holocaust was irrefutable.
Murphy also developed a parallel theme, portraying, somewhat sympathetically, Holocaust deniers who were being punished for their ideas.
It was a perspective that inflamed some members of Los Angeles's Jewish community, particularly survivors and their families. The most emotional respondents were quick to claim anti-Semitism, but that, on the face of it, is misguided. The Times is neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. That still leaves the question hanging: Why would the Los Angeles Times take such a tack, one where equal weight and legitimacy is given to each view? And why would its editors let such reporting sail by?
I called Kim Murphy, the staff writer who researched and wrote this particular Column One story. Murphy is based in Seattle and has been assigned to cover the hate movements in America. She is 44 and has experience as a foreign correspondent in the Times' Cairo bureau, and in the Balkans as well. She has also put in time as a metro and Orange County reporter. She is no novice.
From her point of view, her job "is to present all points of view fairly and accurately;" and to write an account that is balanced and objective. If that appears to legitimate the arguments of the Holocaust deniers, that is not her problem. In the end, she explained, the readers should be able to make up their own mind. "I trust the judgment of our readers," she asserted.
Despite Murphy's statement to me (and her belief), her story is neither balanced nor objective, though she is correct: each side is given its say.
Her bias or point of view can be found in the tone and the structure of the piece; in effect, in the choices she has made. For example, all of page one focuses on the Holocaust deniers, who are depicted as victims. The story actually follows the headline: Yes, it suggests, there is danger in denying the Holocaust, in pursuing freedom of speech or thought, at least in this instance.
The lead anecdote gives us a humanizing account of a Ph.D. candidate punished for his independent inquiry into the Holocaust's "existence." He loses his wife and his position at the university, and is sentenced to prison. It is ironic that in presenting two sides of an argument about the Holocaust, it is the deniers who are the martyrs, not the survivors. The merits of the survivors' position are given to us on the jump page in the last section. There are no anecdotes; no human interest stories; no glimpses of lives lost or endured. Only exposition and generalization.
Murphy told me that she had interviewed at least one survivor and had read some literature of each side. She had traveled to Germany once, but had never visited a death camp. More to the point, she offers no balancing details that jump out at us rendering the human side of the Holocaust; only the deniers are given a dramatic voice. Why? Reporter's choice.
The same kind of bias occurs when it comes to quotes. David Irving, the British revisionist who has filed a libel suit in London against an American historian because of her comments about him in her book on the Holocaust, is introduced in this manner: "He has described Auschwitz as 'a very brutal slave labor camp, where probably 100,000 Jews died.'" It is a revisionist perspective, but to someone unfamiliar with the facts not necessarily an unreasonable statement.
Why this quote and not, say, this one, from among many: "I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It's baloney. It's a legend. Once we admit that it was a brutal slave camp and a large number of people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney? I say, quite tastelessly in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz." Irving said that in Calgary, Canada in 1991. Why not that quote?
If the writer does not see that she is shaping a "balanced" report on Holocaust revisionists by emphasizing freedom of speech instead of the weight and seriousness of their contentions, why did not the editors catch it? Roger Smith, the Column One editor, was quick to apologize for any hurt survivors felt. "Don't fault us for bad intentions," he said. The aim was to give a forum to both sides, to dramatize the conflict that is out there. In the process, he explained, the paper hoped to alert the reader to arguments deniers make. The newspaper would not side with one faction or the other, he said. It was up to the reader to proceed further and make up his own mind.
Invariably such a presentation validates both views. And places, I believe, a heavy burden on the reader, especially the uninformed reader, to explore further and make up his own mind.
I asked Smith if he, the editor, had read any of the writing of either side, before or after the story had crossed his desk. No, I have not, he said.
The best newspapers expect their reporters and editors to make judgment calls: To determine when two sides require equal space; and to organize a story in a way that is comprehensive and complete, with hierarchical attention paid to details.
It is doubtful that any newspaper would give equal balanced space to contending points of view about pedophilia on the Internet; or to those who condemn and defend homosexuals; or argue that blacks are or are not inferior to whites; or debate whether slavery in the United States was necessarily deplorable.
There are certain truths, cultural truths, that are assumed to have been verified by evidence. The existence of the Holocaust is one such truth. One such fact. You would not know it from reading the L.A. Times. --
Kim Murphy's article "Danger in Denying the Holocaust" could be dismissed as amateurish at best were it not the Jan. 7 Column One story of the Los Angeles Times. Because of where it appeared, some of the issues it raised must be addressed. She doesn't present the stakes in the Irving vs. Lipstadt libel case and she falls into the traps set by the deniers, hook, line and sinker.
Murphy confuses legitimate historical discourse with Holocaust denial.
She writes: "Some revisions in Holocaust history have been generally accepted. Stories that Jewish remains were manufactured into soap and lampshades have been dismissed as myth."
Professor Yehua Bauer and I, among others, did not find evidence that remains of the dead were manufactured into soap. And when we could not, we published our findings. Each bar of soap given to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was tested to see if it contained human remains. Since it didn't, we said so. We are the servants of the truth.
No one I know spoke of the manufacturing of Jewish remains into lampshades. We did speak of the use of skin as lampshades and for that there is ample evidence. Murphy mistakenly lumped soap and lampshades together.
She writes: "Death at Auschwitz, once estimated, based on testimony of Nazi commanders, at up to 3 million have now been scaled back to about 1.1 million."
The question of the numbers killed at Auschwitz has been revised downward by responsible historians. In "Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp" (1994), Franticzek Piper, chief historian of Auschwitz, presented these new findings based on years of archival research that in the post-Communist era he was free to publish. Based on his findings the number killed at Auschwitz is between 1.1 million - 1.3 million people, 90 percent of them Jews.
As Murphy should have known and should have told her readers, the major revision of figures is not with regard to Jewish dead but with regard to Polish dead at Auschwitz. The number of Polish dead has gone down from the 2 million figure of the Communist era to 83,000. Even according to the most recent research, the number of Jewish dead remains basically the same. [Note de l'AAARGH: This is not true; please read our account of the debate on numbers, where Rassinier shows that from the very beginning, there has been a conflict between Jewish Zionist factions about whether under one million or 4 million died at Auschwitz. The debate never applied to Poles!]
Piper did serious, responsible historical work. He began with the number of prisoners who were deported to Auschwitz, counting them transport by transport. From this number he subtracted the numbers deported from Auschwitz to other camps, counting them too transport by transport. He also subtracted the numbers recorded as dead at Auschwitz, for whom death certificates were issued, that is prisoners who survived the initial selection, and were registered in the camps. He also subtracted those who were forcibly evacuated from Auschwitz on the "death marches" in January 1945, and the number of inmates who remained behind until the Russians liberated the camp on January 27, 1945.
Irving was not always a Holocaust-denier. If he is to be believed, his change of mind regarding gassing Auschwitz came as he read the Leuchter Report, which was compiled by a man without even basic competence in the field, who fraudulently misrepresented his scientific background, and measured Zyklon B residue in gas chambers decades after the events took place.
Murphy seems to give credence to the deniers claim that since historians disagree as to the number of Jewish dead, their claim that there was no systematic program of state sponsored murder, no gas chambers and no gassing is worthy of equal attention.
The parameters of legitimate historical debate are quite clear. There is a general agreement as to the number of Jews killed in the killing centers of which there were six: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Chelmno, Treblinka, Sobibor and Belzec. Killing at Auschwitz was with Zyklon B, Chelmno used mobile gas vans, the other camps primarily used Carbon Monoxide in their stationary gas chamber. There are significant records as to the number of Jews who were murdered and died at other concentration camps. [Note de l'AAARGH: Each and every one of us read dramatic accounts of the death chambers in Dachau or Buchemwald, let alone wept upon the pathetic photos of alleged victims of Nazi barbary in Bergen-Belsen. See our account of how, under the pressure of Rassinier's wordk, M. Broszat abandoned these pretences in 1960. Berenbaum seems to ignore this statement, since Broszat never spoke of gaz chambers in Majdanek. And about those, please see the résumé of the Mattogno-Graf's very complete study. We have it in French, too.]
There is also general agreement as to the number of Jews who died of disease, malnutrition, despair and shooting in the ghettos.
The basic disagreement focuses on the number of Jews murdered by the mobile killing units, the Einsatzgruppen in the territory the Germans conquered from the Soviet Union. Even here, there is agreement on the numbers of dead reported in the Einsatzgruppen reports. But arriving at a precise number will be difficult for historians for a rather simple reason.
The Soviet Union did not take a census in 1949. There is a 20 year gap between the 1939 and 1959 census and thus a demographer must take account of the normal death rate over two decades, post-war immigration rates, civilians killed in the war, those killed in the Stalinist purges and those murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators as part of the Holocaust. Serious historians and serious demographers must reveal their assumptions and tell us how they weigh the evidence. Raul Hilberg is explicit as to his conservative methodological considerations. He is a responsible historian, brilliant, persistent, original and uncompromising [Note de l'AAARGH: See his tremendous testimony at the Zündel's trial in Toronto; he does not strike us as brilliant, original and uncompromising but as hesitant, inaccurate and generally incompetent.] His work was written more than 40 years ago and revised 15 years ago. German historian Wolfgang Benz is equally explicit in his methodological assumptions and the detailed evidence he marshals to support his conclusion that there were 6.1 million Jews killed by the Germans. The debate is anything but new.
Murphy is right on one point: the evidence of a massive extermination campaign that resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews is so exhaustive that it is irrefutable. Its sources are many: documents and photographs, testimony of the killers, the victims and the bystanders, train schedules, deportation lists, diagrams of the camps, physical remains, aerial surveillance. The Germans never denied their crime, some even boasted of it. The Holocaust is one of the most documented crimes in history. While every bit of evidence must be read critically, the magnitude of the evidence, its diversity and the history it reveals is undeniable.
Frankly, Murphy doesn't know very much and it shows.
In her opening paragraphs she depicts the deniers as scrutinizing hundreds of thousands of pages of Third Reich documents and diaries made available after the collapse of the Soviet Union. She later quotes Irving as saying that the history of his opponents "usually consists of sitting in libraries and reading each others books." She thus confirms Irving's contentions, without making even the most minimal effort to ascertain their truth.
Had Murphy read Holocaust denial literature and its intersecting footnotes carefully and seriously, she would have seen that deniers quote each other, they rely upon each other. Irving duped her and she duped her readers. Irving is almost alone among the deniers, in that he has read the documents. His misrepresentations are not based on ignorance but are deliberate.
Rather than delve into the subject, Murphy chose to accept the version of history put forth by the deniers. She movingly presents Germar Rudolph as a martyr to the truth. One wonders why she failed to call the Max Plank Institute to get its perspective on his work. He circulated his findings without permission on their stationery. Rudolph's work is built upon the already shaky foundation of the Leuchter Report. Competent chemists have refuted his work and the Max Planck Institute terminated him. It is highly unlikely that Rudolph would be called as a witness in Irving versus Lipstadt. First, he is not on the court-required pre-trial witness list. Second, he is a fugitive.[Note de l'AAARGH: As were all the rich Jews who flew Germany during the '30; the difference is that he has got a living to make.]
It is bad enough that Murphy and the Los Angeles Times have advanced the theories of Holocaust deniers. But she even managed to get peripheral issues wrong.
Murphy should have known and should have informed her readers who the academics at the respected institutions of Northwestern University and the University of Lyon (II) are who endorse the theories of Holocaust deniers -- and how respected they are by their home institutions.
Arthur Butz is a tenured professor of engineering -- not history at Northwestern University. He is an expert on digital signal processing with no formal training in history. The faculty and administration of Northwestern has disassociated itself and the University from his work, The Hoax of the Holocaust. [Note de l'AAARGH: Inaccurate; the title is The Hoax of the twentieth century.]
Robert Faurisson is a former professor of French Literature at the University of Lyon II. He was removed from the faculty for his bizarre views and twice convicted by French courts for inciting hatred and denying crimes against humanity.
Murphy is inaccurate. She knows not of what she writes.
She writes: "A 1993 poll by the Roper Organization found that 22 percent of the Americans thought it possible that the Holocaust never happened." She should have known and should have informed her readers that when challenged, the Roper Organization withdrew its findings as unscientific. Their polling question was ambiguous, phrased imprecisely. When the question was asked again by Roper without the ambiguity, the results were some 8 percent thought that Holocaust may not have happened, a disturbing yet clearly more marginal phenomenon.
For Murphy, the issue is the price that is paid for denying the Holocaust. One would hope that the scholarly community has standards of evidence and truth that do not allow falsifiers to advance their careers.
The issue is not free speech. Deborah Lipstadt did not challenge Irving's right to speak, just what he said. It was Irving who sued Lipstadt for libel under the more lax English law. He challenged her free speech.
As the trial judge has said, the issue will not be the historicity of the Holocaust - not whether the Holocaust happened -- but the question of what constitutes good history or even acceptable methods of interpreting history. The question is whether Irving has used his vast familiarity of the documents -- a familiarity none deny -- to falsify history by invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and mistranslation.
I have great confidence in Lipstadt's vindication.
O.K., the reporter got
it wrong -- badly wrong. But where were her editors at the Los
Angeles Times? Experienced editors should be able to tell
when a reporter has been had. They should respect the readers'
time and spare survivors the hurt, the newspaper the embarrassment.
A British defense attorney gave a taste of the drama to come in the libel trial brought by a Holocaust revisionist against a Holocaust scholar when, during his opening statement this week, he addressed the plaintiff.
"To put it bluntly," Richard Rampton, who is defending Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt against David Irving, told the judge Tuesday, "he is a liar."
This landmark trial, held in the august setting of London's Royal Courts of Justice, is expected to last for some three months and is likely to involve the most detailed judicial examination of the Holocaust since the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem almost 40 years ago.
If Irving wins, analysts say, it could give credibility to Holocaust revisionism at a time when those who witnessed the horrors themselves are dying out.
The case centers around claims made against the British historian by Lipstadt, a professor of Jewish and Holocaust studies at Emory University in Atlanta, in her 1993 book "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," published by Penguin Books.
Lipstadt has a daunting task ahead of her. Under British law, the burden of proof is squarely on her and her publisher to show that Irving is indeed a deliberate distorter of events in World War II.
Irving, who is representing himself, suggested in his opening argument that beyond his claims against Lipstadt, there was an international Jewish conspiracy to destroy him.
Irving claims that Lipstadt defamed him by alleging that his writing "applauds the internment of Jews in Nazi concentration camps" and that he is "an Adolf Hitler partisan who wears blinkers and skews documents and misrepresents data in order to reach untenable conclusions."
In his opening statement, Rampton declared, "Lies may take various forms and may as often consist of suppression or omission as of falsehood and invention, but in the end all forms of lying converge into a single definition: willful, deliberate misstatement of the facts."
Irving, he contended, had employed "many different means to falsify history -- invention, misquotation, suppression, distortion, manipulation and, not least, mistranslation."
Moreover, Rampton told the austere and somber courtroom, the lies that Irving had told concern the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II and Hitler's role in that catastrophe -- "or, as Irving would have it, alleged catastrophe."
It was, he said, "an area of history which requires any writer or researcher to be particularly careful of the truth."
Irving, he continued bluntly, is a Holocaust denier: "By this I mean he denies that the Nazis planned and carried out the systematic murder of millions of Jews -- in particular, though by no means exclusively, by the use of homicidal gas chambers, and in particular, though by no means exclusively, at Auschwitz."
As Irving almost visibly seethed, Rampton recalled a speech Irving had given to an audience in Calgary, Alberta, in September 1991, a speech, he said, that "conveys a message about his true views and attitudes."
"I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz," Rampton quoted Irving as saying. "It's baloney. It's a legend.
"Once we admit the fact that it was a brutal slave labor camp and a large number of people did die, as large numbers of people died elsewhere in the war, why believe the rest of the baloney?
"I say quite tastelessly, in fact, that more women died on the back seat of Edward Kennedy's car at Chappaquiddick than ever died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz."
Wearing a navy-blue pinstriped suit and gray tie, Irving claimed that Lipstadt's assault on his integrity had caused "very real damage to my professional existence."
In his long and rambling opening statement, which took up most of the first day's proceedings, Irving, author of 30 books on World War II, vehemently denied that he was a Holocaust denier or an anti-Semite.
Some of his best friends have been Jewish, he said, as he portrayed himself as the victim of an international Jewish conspiracy that has monitored him in an attempt to strip him of his credibility and reputation and ultimately destroy him.
Lipstadt and Penguin were not alone "in their determination to destroy my career and to vandalize my legitimacy as a historian. They were part of an organized international endeavor at achieving precisely that.
"I have seen the papers. I have copies of the documents. I will show them to this court. I know how they did it and I now know why."
He alleged that in 1992 he had been expelled from Canada -- he has also been banned from Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa -- on the basis of documents "blackening my name" which had been handed to Canadian authorities by "an unofficial body based in London" -- a reference to the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
He also attacked the Anti-Defamation League and said he would present a document to the court "which reveals quite unabashedly how they tried to pressure television producers to cancel invitations to me."
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to these charges by saying it is not surprising that Irving is relying on conspiracy theories, adding that if "we have publicly called him a bigot, a pseudo-historian, Holocaust denier and anti-Semite, if that has led someone to doubt his credentials or decide one way or another how to deal with him, there's nothing for me to apologize for."
Irving said he would be presenting expert evidence from a professor of sociology at a leading American university on "the relationship between the world's Jewish communities and the rest of us."
"The Jewish community, their fame and fortunes, play a central role in these proceedings," he continued.
"I finally realized that I was the target of a hidden international attempt to exclude me, if that could be done, from publishing further works of history."
He continued: "It appears that these bodies, which are also embedded in our society in Britain and elsewhere, have seen their task, unbidden, as being to spy upon members of our society, maintain dossiers on us all, and to deploy those dossiers when necessary to smite those of us of whom they disapprove."
These "disturbing and sleazy" dossiers, he said, were explicitly designed "to hold such material on the subjects' personal lives, criminal records, credit delinquencies, marital difficulties, dietary habits and even sexual proclivities.
"It is not anti-Semitic to reveal this," he insisted. "The spying and smearing by these bodies goes on against Jew and non-Jew alike."
"I can think only of the wartime Gestapo and its offshoots in Nazi-occupied Europe as a body engaged in similar practices."
He was particularly incensed to be branded a Holocaust denier, which, he said, had the effect of creating "a pariah, an outcast from normal society. It is a verbal yellow star.''
Lipstadt, at the epicenter of the storm, sat silent and impassive throughout the proceedings, in a black pants suit, with a vivid orange scarf draped over her shoulders.
As the drama swirled about her, she glanced at her laptop computer on the desk before her or at the judge, directly in front of her. She was surrounded by some 20 members of her defense team, seated in four rows behind her.
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