On policies and anti-Semitism
Political Science professor Donald Downs acknowledges not fully appreciating the ad’s underlying anti-Semitism, campus paper advertising managers debate ad oversight and professor Steven Ward lambastes publications for not having well defined policies.
Did Bradley Smith accomplish his goal?
Howard Schweber told Bob Schwoch, based on 20 years of research, he doesn’t “have the slightest doubt” one in 100 people who saw the Holocaust denial ad were swayed by it. Lew Friedland points out the net effect doesn’t justify a faulty process in the first place, and Katy Culver said the Herald’s acceptance of the ad will make it harder for other papers to deny the ad.
More highlights of the forum
Jason Smathers talks to students after the forum
University of Wisconsin students gathered in Bascom Hall Thursday for an open forum on journalistic ethics and sensitivity.
The forum, which was hosted by the UW Dean of Students Office and UW Hillel, was created in response to an advertisement posted on The Badger Herald website purchased by Holocaust denier Bradley Smith. Herald Editor in Chief Jason Smathers said the ad was initially posted without his knowledge.
Panelists included journalism professors Katy Culver, Stephen Ward and Lew Friedland, political science professor Howard Schweber, Smathers, the Daily Cardinal Editor in Chief Charles Brace and Associated Students of Madison Chair Tyler Junger.
Dean of Students Lori Berquam, who moderated the event, said she hoped the forum would focus less on the ad itself and become a broader discussion of journalistic ethics.
Ward began the discussion among the panelists and disagreed with the decision to post the ad. He said freedom of speech is important to him as a journalist, but ultimately posting the ad was an ethics decision, not a legal decision.
“The information that it was linking to was blatantly false and extremely harmful,” Ward said, adding newspapers should always attempt to provide credible information from credible sources. Smathers acknowledged Smith is not a credible source.
Friedland agreed posting the ad was not a legal issue, and though the law gives the Herald the right to publish it, it does not require it. He added the ad is beginning to cause harm in a more unforeseen form, as he and other journalism professors have been getting spam e-mails from Smith almost every day.
Smathers responded the Herald Board of Directors did not make its decision to keep the ad up lightly or solely on a legal basis, but it also considered the ethics of it. Smathers said instead of ignoring the ad, the board chose to acknowledge it as a lie and trust the students at UW to reject it.
“I believe that what we did was the ethical decision,” Smathers said. “I have a very strong belief in the rationality of this campus community.”
Smathers explained the current requirements for accepting ads are that they not be threatening, obscene or legally libelous. He added a committee has been formed to revisit the Herald’s ad policy.
He also said he believed leaving the ad up on the website does more harm to the ad’s message than the ad does to UW. He said by taking the ad down, the Herald would be giving Smith a potentially legitimate argument — a suppression of free speech — to draw attention to his opinions.
He added if the paper had not posted the ad, Smith would have found other ways to get his message across.
Schweber said he had two problems with Smathers’ arguments. First, he did not agree with the argument if the Herald did not post it somebody else would. Second, he said after realizing the ad had been posted, the Herald should have taken it down.
“You made a mistake; you did a bad thing; clean it up,” Schweber said.
Smathers disagrees with Schweber’s characterization of leaving the ad up as “a mistake.” He said the true mistake was the hasty and unchecked fashion in which the ad was posted, though had the ad been properly checked, it still would have been posted.
The board also debated the anonymous comments on the Herald website, which led to many anti-Semitic comments being posted on a story about the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi.
Friedland and Junger agreed that if somebody has an opinion, they should sign their name or not post it at all.
Culver disagreed, saying some commenters are too intimidated to post their names.
“To say that any comment that you wouldn’t sign your name to isn’t a comment worth making is taking it too far,” she said.
Smathers said the Herald policy has been changed so commenters who do not sign in with a username must be approved before they can be posted.
During the public comment portion of the forum, nearly every UW student who spoke expressed the opinion that the Herald should remove the ad.
“Why give this liar a microphone to express his views?” Jon Leener, a UW senior majoring in Jewish studies and communication said.
After the forum, Berquam said she thought it went “OK.” She added she wished it had not focused so much on the understood that was the issue at hand.
She said she hoped students walked away knowing their voices were important to the UW community.
The ad is slated to be taken down Mar. 17. After the forum, Smathers said the Herald Board of Directors will hold a meeting today to discuss the future of the ad. He said the discussion stemmed from the spam e-mails journalism professors are receiving from Smith.