Raphael Cohen-Almagor. Journal of Mass Media Ethics. Volume 28, Issue 1. January-March 2013.
This article revisits media coverage of Holocaust denial, arguing that the media should introduce standards of responsibility into coverage of such hatred. The article defines Holocaust denial and hate speech, as well as outlines the concept of moral and social responsibility. Ernst Zündel and his claim to fame are also discussed. Also analyzed are the ways in which Zündel had exploited the media, including one episode in which the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation staged a media event, bringing to its studio Zündel and a Holocaust survivor. I conclude with a discussion of whether we should ban Holocaust denial tracts.
On March 1, 2010, Ernst Zündel was released from Mannheim Prison after five years in jail. One of the most famous Holocaust deniers in the world wrote on his website: “Shame on Germany for their detested Holocaust Lobby Protection Paragraph imprisoning revisionist researchers for “thought crimes!” (http://www.zundelsite.org). Through his Samisdat publishing house, Zündel has distributed worldwide a phenomenal quantity of books, booklets, leaflets, newsletters as well as audio and video cassettes. He continues to publish “revisionist” material, and it does not seem that he intends to relax his Holocaust denial campaign that now spans over more than three decades. It is time to revisit Zündel’s relationships with the media and examine the lessons that may be deduced as well as the ethical dilemmas that may arise when journalist’s yearning for objectivity overshadows other no less important considerations.
Holocaust denial is propaganda that seeks to deny the reality of the Holocaust. Misrepresenting their propaganda as “historical revisionism,” Holocaust deniers attempt to disseminate their radical, ill-founded ideas by offering dubious data and arguments against the well-established historical facts of the Holocaust. Holocaust denial willfully promotes enmity against an identifiable group based on ethnicity and religion.
Justice of the Canadian Supreme Court, Professor Frank Iacobucci, explained that Holocaust denial is a form of hate speech because it tries to underestimate and justify murder, genocide and evil. Such hateful messages could potentially desensitise members of the public on very important issues. They may build a sense of possible acceptability of hate and resentment of the other which might be more costly than the cost of curtailing speech. At best, they show ignorance and laziness in pursuing and revealing historical truth. At worse, they intend to express bigotry and hate.
Hate speech is defined as a bias-motivated, hostile, malicious speech aimed at a person or a group of people because of some of their actual or perceived innate characteristics. It expresses discriminatory, intimidating, disapproving, antagonistic, and/or prejudicial attitudes toward those characteristics, which include gender, race, religion, ethnicity, color, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation. Hate speech is aimed to injure, dehumanize, harass, intimidate, debase, degrade, and victimize the targeted groups and to foment insensitivity and brutality against them.
While hate speech is not by definition false speech, Holocaust denial offers an alternative and false understanding of historical events. Holocaust denial also speaks of an international Jewish conspiracy to blackmail Germany and other nations, to exploit others and to create Israel. It depicts a picture by which Jews conspired to create the greatest hoax of all times. No gas chambers ever existed. This is an invention of the Jews to dramatize the mere “fact” that in every war there are casualties; WW II was no different.
Moral and Social Responsibility
We need to distinguish between legal, moral and social responsibility. Legal responsibility refers to addressing the issue by agencies of state power. In moral responsibility, the personal responsibility of the agent to conscience is at issue, with appeals to moral consideration. Social responsibility relates to the societal implications of a given conduct.
FitzPatrick (2008, p. 590) explains that all cases of moral responsibility for bad actions must involve a strong form of akrasia, that is, acting against one’s better judgment. If an agent does something bad, either she does so in full knowledge that she should not be doing it, which is clear-eyed akrasia, or she is acting from ignorance. In the former case, she will be held responsible. In the latter case, whether she is responsible or not will depend on whether her ignorance is culpable. Her ignorance will be culpable only if she is responsible for some earlier failure that gave rise to that ignorance. She will be responsible for that earlier failure again only if that was a case of clear-eyed akrasia. Ignorance, whether circumstantial or normative, is culpable if the agent could reasonably have been expected to take measures that would have corrected or avoided it (FitzPatrick, p. 609; for critique, see Levy, 2009).
The accompanying concept of social responsibility refers to the responsibility of individuals, groups, corporations and governments to society. We live within a community and have some responsibilities to it, both positive and negative. That is, we have a responsibility to better the society in which we live, and a responsibility to refrain from acting in a way that knowingly might harm our community. The assumption is that we are rewarded by the social framework in which we live, we care about society, would like to maintain it and to contribute to it. The contribution is proactive. We take active steps to do good and to avoid harm (Kaliski, 2001; Fackler & Fortner, 2010). As Novak (1996) and have argued, adopting social responsibility norms is the right way to behave.
Who is Ernst Zündel?
Ernst Zündel was born on April 24, 1939, in a small town in the Black Forest region of southwestern Germany. He immigrated to Canada at the age of 19 and started a career as a graphic artist. However, his great task, as he saw it, was of redeeming the tainted reputation of his fellow Germans. Through his Samisdat publishing house, which he set up in the late 1970s, he distributed worldwide information to exonerate Nazi Germany of its crimes and to put the blame on the Jews. Simon Wiesenthal called Zündel the world’s number one distributor of allegedly dangerous literature and cassettes. In addition, Zündel created two essentially one-man operations: the German-Jewish Historical Commission, which promoted Holocaust denial, and Concerned Parents of German Descent, which disseminated anti-Zionist propaganda to ethnic Germans. Zündel also contributed articles to the now-defunct West Virginia-based neo-Nazi magazine, Liberty Bell, published by George Dietz, and was listed on the editorial staff of White Power Report, another Dietz publication (Ernst Zündel, ADL).
During the 1980s, Zündel’s activities evoked a lot of attention in the Canadian political, legal, and media circles. On November 18, 1983, Sabina Citron of the Canadian Holocaust Remembrance Association, together with the Attorney General of Ontario, brought charges against Zündel for his publication Did Six Million Really Die? (http://www.zundelsite.org/harwood/Didsix01.html) under the “false news” Section 181 (formerly Section 177) of the Criminal Code. According to the Ontario Attorney General, prosecution of hate speech is important because it provides assurances to vulnerable groups, showing that Canada cares about them and does not tolerate hate against them. This is of special importance in Canada’s multicultural society. Prosecution of such cases serves a purpose in consolidating pluralism and drawing the boundaries of tolerance.
Zündel was tried for disseminating falsehood because there were concerns as to whether it could have been possible to convict him for inciting hate propaganda. In Canada, one has to prove intent to incite violence and there were doubts as to whether it would have been possible to get a conviction on that basis. It was thought that there would be a better chance of getting a conviction for spreading falsehoods.
The centerpieces of the trial, which began in January 1985, were two Zündel mailings: a four-page letter entitled “The West, War, and Islam” and a 30-page pamphlet entitled Did Six Million Really Die? Zündel was found guilty in this first trial. He was sentenced to 15 months in jail and a three-year probation, during which he was prohibited from publishing on the subject.
However, this verdict was set aside by the provincial appeals court. It ruled that the judge in that trial had erred in admitting inadmissible evidence and documents, and rejecting admissible evidence that the appellant attempted to lead in his defense that the Holocaust was a hoax (Regina v. Ernst Zündel, 1987). In May 1988, at the conclusion of the second Zündel trial, the jury declared him guilty. A few days later, he was sentenced to nine months in prison. On appeal, the Canadian Supreme Court reversed the judgment, declaring on August 27, 1992, that the archaic false news law under which Zündel had been convicted was a violation of the country’s Charter of Rights. The false news law was struck down as unconstitutional (R. v. Zündel, 1992). This decision had put an end, at least for a period of time, to the deportation proceedings launched against Zündel after his 1988 conviction.
In August 1996, the Canadian Human Rights Commission opened Zündel’s next legal battle. Sabina Citron and the Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations brought a complaint that Zündel had posted material to his website, www.Zundelsite.org, and by this he caused repeated telephonic communication that was likely to expose Jews to hatred or contempt. The site was operated by Ingrid Rimland from the United States. On January 18, 2002, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered that Zündel, and any other individuals who act in the name of or in concert with him, cease the discriminatory practice (Citron and Toronto Mayor’s Committee on Community and Race Relations v. Zündel, January 18, 2002. See also Akdeniz, 2009, p. 68). The ruling was unenforceable, however, because the Zundelsite is hosted by an American company.
After more than four decades in Canada, including a failed effort to acquire Canadian citizenship, in February 2001 Zündel moved to the United States, where he married Ingrid Rimland. On February 5, 2003, he was arrested by the American authorities for violation of U.S. immigration regulations. He was deported to Canada, where for two years—from mid-February 2003 to March 1, 2005—he was held in solitary confinement in the Toronto West Detention Centre. The Canadian Security Intelligence Service described him as a “lightning rod” for white supremacists (Ernst Zündel, ADL). In February 2005, capping two years of legal proceedings, Canadian Federal Court Justice Pierre Blais ruled that Zündel may reasonably be described as a threat to the security of Canada (http://www.icare.to/article.php?id=25068&lang=en); under the country’s immigration laws he was therefore subject to deportation to his native Germany. Canada deported Zündel to Germany in March 2005.
In Germany, Zündel was tried for Holocaust denial. In 2007, he was convicted of 14 counts of inciting hatred. The German Constitutional Court ruled that freedom of speech was not a defense available to groups propagating the “Auschwitz lie” (Holocaust Denial Case 90 BVerfGE 241, 1994, translated in Kommers, 1997, pp. 382-387. See also Eberwine, 2004, pp. 353-410). Ernst Zündel has been a free man since March 1, 2010.
Zündel and the Media
The media fully covered Zündel’s first trial for distributing hate literature, making the 1985 trial a media event. Zündel did what he could to capture media attention. The trial received an exceptional amount of media attention (p. 83). Commentators and experts discussed at length how the media coverage would affect the Canadian public’s beliefs about Nazism, the Holocaust, the justice system, and Jews. Indeed, Zündel understands very well the “democratic catch”: exploiting his liberty and rights to harm his target group, the Jews; pressing to tolerate his intolerant views; promoting his freedom of expression to silence vulnerable others. York University historian Ramsay Cook was quoted as saying: “Those people who denied the Holocaust were given the same objective treatment as the others so it sometimes appeared in the newspapers that this was really a matter that was open to question” (p. 11).
Zündel, like many hate mongers, has promoted himself as champion of free expression, as a person who dedicates his life to the furthering of truth and knowledge in the world, and letting each and every individual to speak as one pleases without any restrictions. The Canadian media, especially the Toronto press, did not know how to deal with him. They saw him as a harmless eccentric who had bizarre views. Zündel staged events and the press reported them. One day Zündel came to the court, carrying a cross. Zündel’s photos with the cross prominantly featured in the news. Professor Roderick A. Macdonald, the founding president of the Law Commission of Canada, explained that hate sells; therefore, the media like to tell stories about hate against identifiable socio-cultural-religious groups. The media report such incidents without always carefully investigating the facts.
On the Zundelsite and other anti-Semitic websites such as Stormfront, the Holocaust is argued to be a fraud to blackmail the nations and to smear the names of the Third Reich heroes (p. 263). In a file titled “Zündel-Haus-Ernst Zündel: His Struggle, His Life,” which is Zündel’s biography (most probably autobiography), the author writes that in the early 1980s, the media took “a vigorous and often favorable interest” in the Zündel’s court case. Time and again, Canada saw nationwide headlines and broadcasts on the topics “Freedom of Speech” and “the Zündel Holocaust Trial.” Each of Zündel’s court appearances were accompanied by massive media turnouts. Newscasts about his case on nightly TV were commonplace.
In the second half of 1984, the press concentrated heavily on the trial. Zündel became a media celebrity. This trial, lasting 39 court days, was a worldwide media sensation. All of Canada’s television stations and most of the radio stations reported through well-known reporters and columnists almost every day, prominently and in detail, about the events in court. Meanwhile, Zündel’s company, Samisdat Publishers, became a mini-empire producing materials supporting his views, including Zündel’s co-authored controversial book with Eric Thomson, The Hitler We Loved and Why.
During his Internet trial, Zündel tried to attract attention by staging further events. One day he arrived at the court wearing a kippa, saying that he decided to convert to Judaism so he could freely criticize things that have to do with Jews.
Citron v. Zündel
After Zündel’s first trial, when Zündel was ready to appeal against the court decision, the CBC decided to do a radio show, hosted by David Schatsky, in which people can phone in to talk on the topic: Does Zündel deserve a new trial? Sabina Citron, of the Holocaust survivors organization, was invited to speak from the studio and to answer questions. She agreed to do so after receiving assurance that she would be spared the need to confront Zündel. He would not be invited.
The CBC held promos for the program, announcing its subject matter, and soon enough Zündel heard it and called. He argued that the program was about him and that he deserved equal time to pronounce his views. Zündel said that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteed his right of free speech and that, under the circumstances, CBC was obliged to allow him to exercise that freedom. At that time, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) effectively recognized the “fairness doctrine” of equal time, and it was out of consideration of these various factors that it was decided to allow Zündel to speak on the program. Schatsky interviewed Citron for approximately the same length of time (six minutes) as he had first interviewed Zündel. After her interview ended, Schatsky took over and fielded the calls from listeners. Citron was not allowed to respond to callers as was initially agreed. Citron called her lawyers to issue a complaint and to start legal proceedings against the CBC. The case was never resolved.
Three ethical dilemmas arise from the Zündel challenge: First, is there a room to ban Holocaust denial tracts such as Did Six Million Really Died?; Second, how should the media cover people such as Zündel who aim to manipulate their outlets? Third, was the CBC right in trying to be objective about the isue at hand and in attempting to balance between a Holocaust survivor and a Holocaust denier?
Many books contain false ideas. In his monumental book On Liberty, John Stuart Mill (1948, p. 79) developed the Truth Principle, arguing that the search for truth is a search for beliefs that we could hold with more confidence, rather than for beliefs in which we could be absolutely certain. Mill put forth the hypotheses that, first, we can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false one; no human is infallible. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility. Second, clashing ideas one against another keeps reasoning alive and vivid. We are reminded why we hold the beliefs that are dear to us (Mill, p. 99; Cohen-Almagor, 1997). Third, though the silenced idea might be eroneous, it still may contain a portion of truth. It is “only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied” (Mill, p. 111). Mill urged that false opinions must be tolerated for the sake of the true; for it is impossible to draw any clear line which would distinguish between true and false views. Truth is an idea for which we should strive to pursue in perpetuity.
In this fashion, Renaud Gilbert, ombudsman of CBC Radio-Canada, said that we cannot stop people from saying falsehoods. Gilbert maintained that people should be free to discover the truth, and at the end they will discover truth. We should stop hate speech only if it is evident that the speech in question creates divisions in the community, and if the attacked minority cannot bring forward its own view and values.
Accordingly, considering controversial publications, I contend we may allow such divisive publications because we might learn more about bigotry, prejudices, and sentiments by reading them. This knowledge could assist us in bridging the gap between cultures and religions, and in fighting prejudice. We may allow the publication because considerations of those who resent those allegations, as well as those who remain undecided, are what really count. The Truth Principle is still in place, but not the truth that the deniers uphold. Instead, it is the truth with regard to bias and narrow-mindedness, the truth as emerged from the open disputation of bigotry. Only in special circumstances, when concrete harm may result from incitement statements, should hate speech be removed from the protection of the Free Speech Prinicple.
The Offense Principle
One example is a Nazi march at the heart of a Jewish neighborhood populated by hundreds of Holocaust survivors. While I will not protest against such a march if it were to be carried at the downtown of a major city, I would strongly protest against such a march at the heart of a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Holocaust survivors would then be put in an impossible situation: If attending the march, they would have to see the swastika, the Nazi uniform, etc.; if not attending, it would have been as if to allow Nazism to pass, and pass in their own vicinity. Here the Nazi speech constitutes psychological damage that could be equated with physical harm (chap. 1).
American First Amendment scholars have argued that words cannot damage people; that there is not tangible evidence to show that words can truly hurt people; that to suggest that hateful words are equivalent to physical harm is sophistry of the highest order, and that there is no objective evidence of the damage inflicted on the target group (p. 248). However, when Nazis attempted to march at Skokie, Illiniois, there was testimony by psychologists on the possible injuries many Jews would suffer as a result of the march. They argued that this speech-act might be regarded as the equivalent of a physical assault (pp. 197-200; Downs, 1985; Neier, 1979; Niederland, 1978). The content of speech, the speaker’s intention and the circumstances are of utmost significance. When the content is evaluated in a neutral manner that does not take into account any ethical considerations or consequences, freedom of speech may be exploited in a way that rebuts fundamental principles that underlie a democratic society: respect for others and not harming others.
One counter argument remains: Would a debate about the existence of the Holocaust be any more tolerable when there are no longer any Holocaust survivors? I suspect that it would. Tolerance is not concerned with pleasantries of life. Tolerance is about things that aggravate you, that you feel strongly against. While I feel strongly against Holocaust deniers, thinking that it is not “truth” that they are seeking but rather a platform for hatred of Jews, I still think Holocaust denial should be tolerated. But I would not subject Holocaust survivers to such an encounter. Ethically speaking, there is a lot to learn from this episode about how should media professionals address bigoted and anti-social manipulations.
The second question relates to the way the media should cover manipulators like Zündel. Media and politics expert Warren Kinsella contends that in their coverage of the first Zündel trial, the willingness of Canadian reporters and editors to provide an uncritical platform for a parade of Holocaust-denying witnesses was shameful. After a period of self-analysis and debate, the news media in Canada pursued a different approach regarding Zündel’s second trial, with some of them electing to give it little, if any, prominence.
Canadian media experts and human rights activists who were interviewed for this research told me that the media were driven by considerations of sensationalism and profit. Such Holocaust denial arguments were unknown to the wide audience, and the media were eager to satisfy any whim for curiosity. They exhibited clear-eyed akrasia, quite oblivious to the impact of such sensational behavior.
The media, of course, should report trials like Zündel, provide information about the Holocaust to educate the public; summarize the testimonies heard at court; and speak about revisionist history, anti-Semitism, and the dangers of intolerance. But interviewing Holocaust deniers mean that journalists do not have any conception of truth. When the media report of “alleged crematorium” in Auschwitz, they put the Holocaust on trial. When they provide equal footing to a Holocaust survivar and a Holocaust denier they confer on them the same legitimacy, as if they are saying that both “truths” may equally compete in the marketplace of ideas and let the audience decide where the truth lies. They themselves claim ignorance and misplaced moral neutrality.
Media professionals should be aware of sensationalism. If they decide to publish headlines like “Swimming pools at Auschwitz” and “Auschwitz was like a country club, expert said,” they should write critical editorials together with the trial coverage, clearly stating that there is no shred of truth in such “expert” testimonials. The term “expert” in itself is vested with certain authority, and the media should be aware of its usage. Responsible media should contest the term if there are grounds to question the authority. Certain views should have some sort of credibility before they are disseminated in the name of freedom of expression and information by the media, and when they are aired they should be reviewed critically.
When the media covered Zündel’s views without qualification, presenting him as a genuine thinker who is offering his truth in the free market of ideas, the media provided him with a convenient platform to mislead and to rewrite history, and conferred his views with undeserved legitimacy. This cannot be said to be professional and responsible reporting.
Objectivity is something that the public wants to attribute to journalism and, at the same time, an idea that media organizations adopt and propagate so as to acquire influence and prestige, part of professional journalism to which they vow their allegiance. As Jay Rosen puts it, objective reporting is a way of getting you to accept the journalist’s account by saying, “I don’t have any passions. I don’t have any convictions. I don’t have the word of God […] I am just telling you the way it is, you see, so accept it because this is the way it is” ([p. 50). It is a technique of persuasion, a rhetorical strategy as well as a guiding requirement when one is presenting the news.
The concept of objectivity is concerned with the way news is created and reported in the selection of facts, their arrangement, their framing and formation on public agenda with or without relationship to values. Linked to the notion of objectivity is the belief that journalists should remain detached from the events they cover (p. 130). Thus, objective reporting is believed to be a necessary component of media ethics and of an unbiased reporting. Objectivity in the media is popularly conceived as a virtue. It is argued that objective news is the “sine qua non for the pursuit of any other journalistic aim that rests on using reason, such as promoting rational public debate” (p. 20; Christians, Ferré, & Fackler, 1993). Often it is claimed that media ethics require complete objectivity and that objective reporting is professional reporting—is ethical reporting.
Objectivity involves several dimensions: accuracy; truthfulness; fairness and balance, and moral neutrality. I reject moral neutrality when covering morally detestable phenomena. While accuracy and fairness in reporting are accepted and encouraged, blind balancing and moral neutrality on important social issues that endanger democracy within which the media operate and flourish are rejected. Media professionals, like all professionals, are expected to consider the implications of their actions. When the media report on hate mongers, they do not have to view themselves as detached observers; they should not only transmit a truthful account of “what’s out there” (p. 394). When such matters are in the foci of concern, the media need not stop short of making moral judgments.
The values of not harming others and respecting others need to occupy a prominent place in the considerations of journalists. These are basic ethical standards that sometimes require a normative attitude on the part of the media. Here I come to deal with moral neutrality, which is a further dimension usually associated with objectivity. I contest William Marimow’s assertion that moral values are not problematic for investigative reporting and that “right and wrong may be a threshold question but not a fundamental question” (p. 7). Morality should be a factor in deciding whether to cover an event or not, and if it is decided to cover the event, how it should be covered. When clearly immoral practices, such as racism, are at issue, morality is a pertinent and significant factor that prescribes partiality rather than neutrality. Media organizations do not necessarily have to give a platform to both sides of a given conflict. They do not need to play the role of a neutral observer when one side in a given dispute or conflict is clearly immoral.
That is to say that on such matters journalists, despite popular sentiment, do not stand outside the community they cover. The insistence that journalists’ identities and experiences can be made irrelevant and that all good reporters leave their personalities at home before they cover any news story is flawed. Their identity as citizens in democracies does matter. Journalists are not forced to erase themselves from their stories and to distance themselves from their immoral subjects (Allan, 2005, pp. 300-301). The media may have an opinion, even a strong opinion, regarding a certain issue. Principled, blind balancing is simply wrong. Similarly, it would be wrong to arrange a discussion between a bully and the victim he had pushed to the verge of suicide, even more so when the bullied is not aware that his walking nightmare will be on the talk show as well.
Thus, it is morally wrong to subject Holocaust survivors to a debate with Holocaust denier in the name of “freedom of expression,” “objectivity,” “balancing,” or any other media value. Such an encounter could potentially torment the Holocaust survivors for years, reduce their self-esteem, and deeply offend their sensibilities. In this situation, the simple dictum, fight speech with more speech, blatantly ignores the victims of hate speech. In Britain we say: This is not-to-be-done.
Zündel exploited the CBC’s commitment to balance. The producers decided to extend the scope of tolerance to include this prominent Holocaust denier and by this put an Holocaust survivor in an impossible situation: to confront a person who says she is lying and is exploiting others by inventing “Jewish conniving propaganda.” CBC producer James Littleton emphasized that this was a mistake and that it was never repeated. It was clear-eyed akrasia, an irresponsible behavior that is grossly offensive and insensitive. The natural liberal tendency to balance opposing stances without much thinking is a real concern. Far more emphasis is put on the black-and-white juxtaposition than on the validity or morality of the stances at hand.
Moreover, the CBC could have allowed Zündel to speak the following day, in another opportunity. There was no urgency to hear him when Citron was at the studio. It was a horrifying experience that has tormented Citron for years. It still haunted her in 2004, when I spoke to her. Ignorance and insensitivity cannot justify such akrasic behavior.
Against Moral Neutrality
My critique of the media does not suggest that journalists refrain from critical reporting. On some matters, such as corruption in political institutions, the media have every right to reveal information to the public at the expense of some corrupt individuals. Those individuals do not deserve respect and should be denied opportunity to carry on their mischief. Instead the concern is with occasions where the search for “juicy stuff” leads the media to disregard what Ronald Dworkin terms “fundamental background rights,” that is, basic rights to human dignity and to equality of concern and respect that underlie a free democratic society (pp. 266-278, 1985).
The media need not stay neutral when values and institutions of democracy are threatened and attacked. Responsible media need to take sides between hate mongers and their targeted victims. Ethical journalism in the sense of caring for individuals as human beings, caring for democracy, and showing responsibility with regard to what one writes is more important than the notion of moral neutrality that is embedded in the technique of objective reporting. Responsibility means to care about the consequences of one’s actions.
Several arguments may be advanced against moral neutrality when covering explicit immoral conduct, such as racism and hate speech. The first is the argument from democracy. It holds that journalists are also citizens. They live within the democratic realm and owe democracy their allegiance. Free speech and free journalism exist because democracy makes them possible. They flourish in a liberal environment and would become extinct in a coerced, anti-democratic society. Hence journalists are obliged to sustain the environment that enables their liberties. Many do uphold and promote the basic values of democracy: not to harm others, and to respect others.
The second is the argument from paternalism. It is wrong to assume that all readers and spectators are able to differentiate between good and evil and that all beings are rational. The media need to be responsible to those who are not fully rational, who are not able to discern between virtue and mischief. Violence and black-and-white slogans work better on youth than on mature people. The media are not expected to simply transmit attractions without a warning. They need to be aware of the variety of people who receive their communications. The rejection of evil does not necessarily have to be made by the media personnel. The media could offer a platform for decision makers and influential personalities to condemn detestable phenomena such as racism.
The third argument stems from social responsibility. It is, of course, connected to the previous two arguments, but it has to do more with the desired shape and character of society. Social responsibility relates to the societal implications of a given conduct. Journalists are capable to form their own judgment and to weigh options, risks, and benefits. Jonathan Kaufman and his colleagues at the Boston Globe prepared a series attacking racial discrimination not merely because it was illegal but because they had decided that discrimination made a bad city and they wanted Boston to be “the best city it could be” (p. 10; Plaisance, 2009). The media need not be objective toward terror, racism, cannibalism, genocide, and slavery. In contrast to the demand for objectivity on the part of the media that is often echoed, the media do not have to be objective toward phenomena that contradict their basic values.
The fourth argument is the argument from professionalism. Professional journalists find moral duty in their occupation and take seriously the idea that journalism is a public trust. Professional journalists are accountable for their conduct and act introspectively when they reflect and assess the long-term impact of their work. Professional journalists do not see themselves as mere chroniclers of events but also as people whose call is to search for the truth. Professional journalists try to minimize harm in pursuit of the news, believe that prima facie all people deserve concern and respect, stay cognizant of the public interest, give voice to the voiceless and aim to heal society’s wounds. They exercise good judgment and demonstrate character when they empathize with others (pp. 256-258; Waisbord, 2013). Professional journalists are capable of differentiating between good and evil and should work to promote the constructive elements in society.
In the episode at hand, the CBC journalists showed little empathy to Citron. Her well-being and emotions were not in the forefront of their consideration. It would be highly dubious to think that they were in pursuit of truth when they invited Zündel to the show. Schatsky and his producers failed to recognize the ethical problem they had orchestrated; they did not try to minimize harm but rather gave voice to a bigot so he could hurt “the Jew.” Certainly they did not help healing society’s wounds. If at all, they only compounded them.
The CBC thought more about ratings, acting against their better judgment and exhibiting clear-eyed akrasia regarding the consequences of its conduct, especially its impact on Citron. Furthermore, ignorance, overconfidence, arrogance, dogmatism, laziness, dismissiveness, self-indulgence, or insensitivty cannot justify such a behavior. When Aristotle spoke of the Golden Mean, he did not have ratings and profit in mind.
One who searches the Internet using the term “Holocaust” would get information on the Holocaust and also on Holocaust denial. On September 29, 2011, I conducted a Google search of the term “Holocaust.” The search yielded 5,490,000 results. Some of the sites are not about the Holocaust; their aim is to deny the Holocaust. Among the most visited sites promoting Holocaust denial are the Institute for Historical Review (http://www.ihr.org/), originally established for this purpose, Historical Review Press (HRP), (http://www.ety.com/HRP/revisionholocaust/holocaustindex.htm), Bradley Smith and his Committee for Open Debate of the Holocaust (http://www.codoh.com/,focusinglargelyonU.S.collegecampuses), and sites sponsored by Arthur R. Butz, David Irving, Ahmed Rami, and, of course, Ernst Zündel (http://www.zundelsite.org). All portray themselves as gutsy political libertarians who develop hubs, even paradigms, of unbiased, unorthodox historical research. As the number of Holocaust survivors is becoming smaller and smaller, more people perceive the Holocaust in historical terms, and history is open to many interpretations. Master manipulators such as Zündel understand this well and use the Internet to propagate their ideas freely, sometimes with an academic facade to gain desired respectability and credibility. Facade might transform falsehood into “data.”
Furthermore, people, especially young people, in the Millian spirit are open to challenge truisms, ask questions, raise concerns, refute, and debate. The next generation may hold debates on the Holocaust as today we hold debates on the Armenian genocide/massacre, bringing different voices. Some will confirm there was a Holocaust, while others will refute this statement. Young people may grow to think critically about the Holocaust. As some say there was a Holocaust while others say there was not, they might be inclined to think the truth is in the middle. Downsizing the Holocaust is most probable. It is also most troubling. Of course, on this issue, the natural logical tendency of seeking the middle ground is fundamentally mistaken.
This trend is especially worrisome because (1) within a few years there will not be any Holocaust survivors among us; (2) the Internet sites launched by hate mongers are numerous and graphically compelling, attracting the youth who excel in surfing the Internet and enjoy the exploration of its marvels; and (3) the media’s inclination to balance between views. This unqualified inclination in the name of objective reporting might lead to balancing between a historian who probes the horrors of the Nazi racist constitution and the subsequent mass murders, and a revisionist historian who denies that any of the harsh consequences of racist hatred actually took place.
Thus, the media should not treat hate-mongers in a neutral fashion. To do this constitutes clear-eyed akraisa. The media are oriented to public questions. Their prime roles are to inform and report. At the same time, they should be committed to basic norms of social responsibility. To be absolutely clear, here I speak of individual responsibility of reporters who cover contentious issues with integrity and responsibly, and of collective responsibility of media organizations that are cognizent of the likely outcomes of their conduct. Individually and collectively, media professionals should be able to act ethically and responsibly. The public can and should expect such a behavior.