Monday, May 12, 2008

Tales Told

[Crossposted from Free Exchange on Campus]

Sometimes, when I think I have misread something, I don’t bother to check but move on, hoping what I perceived was what was written, knowing full well it was not. Years ago, I read something by Cornelia Otis Skinner about this—she commented that she had once read a sign on a bus about kosher food whose preparation had been ‘overseen by rabbits.’ Related, of course, are the “mondegreens,” as Sylvia Wright named them, those mis-heard bits of songs, such as hearing John Fogarty’s words as “I see a bathroom on the right.”


Those don’t mean anything, really; I can move on.


Today, I was reading a David Horowitz piece on his Front Page Magazine site where he once again reproduces that cartoon with a stereotyped picture of a Jew labeled “Horowitz” (anti-Semitic? Yes. Worth reproducing? No more than those Danish cartoons). I flew through his bragging about how Muslim Student Association chapters hadn’t responded to his “Declaration Against Genocide” (a document purposely couched in terms that the MSA would have to reject) and, before I could pull myself to a stop, had passed this by:


This attack on a free press was abetted by leftwing faculty members such as Michael Berube at Penn State. In the Penn State ad we referred to the fact (checked by the editors) that the Penn State MSA had invited an imam to campus who blamed the United States for the attack on the World Trade Center and called for gays to be killed. Berube is a member of the national council of the American Association of University Professors, but instead of decrying the attempts to abridge freedom of the press on the campus, or the expressing dismay at the imam’s remarks, he attacked David Horowitz as a campus provocateur.

Huh? How did Berubé get into this? I had to back up and re-read, finding that Horowitz was mad at Berubé because he (Horowitz) had tried to place an ad in 17 college papers:


Of the 17 papers we contacted, 7 rejected it on the grounds ranging from the claim that it was “unnecessarily offensive” (Columbia) to “encourages discrimination” (Michigan State). Three papers didn’t respond. Of the 7 that published the ad, three – the Daily Nexus at UC Santa Barbara, the Daily Collegian at Penn State and the Post at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee were immediately attacked as “Islamophobic” and “racist” and having caused Muslims to fear for their safety.

Ah! Penn State! And that means Berubé, who was a major thorn in Horowitz’s side before turning his attention to other issues (including the rights of the disabled). What Berubé actually said, when asked by the Daily Collegian, was this:
Horowitz "doesn't turn off the light and go to sleep at night until he knows he's upset someone."…


"It's always about agitation," Berube said. "It's never about a serious exchange or serious dialogue. ... It's to produce turmoil."


Berubé’s point and, I suspect, what riled up Horowitz enough to mention him again (their real debate is now several years past) was that Horowitz doesn’t really have anything to say. That all Horowitz is doing is attempting to keep himself in the spotlight.


And Berubé is right: There was no ‘abridging of the freedom of the press on campus’ for him to bring his considerable talents to bear upon. Certainly not in this case.


No one is trying to stop Horowitz or his supporters from making their views known on campus. The papers that rejected the ad (and the people who objected to it elsewhere) are simply making use of their own rights. Freedom of speech does not ensure that every ad must be run, regardless of content. Nor does it say that speech cannot be objected to. In fact, the doctrine is very simple; the whole of the relevant First Amendment goes like this: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Freedom of the press is a right in terms of government and oversight, not in terms of what a particular non-governmental institution (even one partially funded by government) or entity might choose to do. Horowitz knows this, but that’s no nevermind.


Though he remains dangerous, and does need to be countered, the truth about Horowitz is best summed up by these lines from MacBeth (slightly altered). As Berubé realized some time ago, Horowitz is:


but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: [his] is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

I’ll be glad when he’s completely lost all influence, when the rest of us can join Berubé in other, more rewarding activities. Then, I’ll be able to read Horowitz as a joke; then I’ll be able to simply smile and move on.

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