Web Exclusives: Tooke's Take
a PAW web exclusive column by Wes Tooke '98 (email: cwtooke@princeton.edu)

July 4, 2001:
Pygmy Tennis

The Daily Princetonian and David Horowitz play an uninspired match
By Wes Tooke '98The recent flap between David Horowitz and the Daily Princetonian has served as one more reminder of why I find debates in academia to be so
tedious. Could we at the very least convince the two sides in these
never-ending skirmishes to change the language of their rhetoric? If I
never hear the phrases "left-wing fascist" or "conservative Nazi" again, I
will die a very happy man.

The latest spat began when Horowitz placed an advertisement entitled "Ten
Reasons Why Reparations for Slavery is a bad Idea - and Racist Too" in the
Daily Princetonian. Horowitz had been trying to run the ad in various
college papers for several weeks, and he had been getting exactly the kind
of reaction David Horowitz likes - that being complete outrage from the
academic community. Here in Berkeley, for example, when the student paper
decided to run the advertisement (yes, I can only assume that the editorial
staff was under the influence of some exceptionally heavy sedatives) the
campus reacted by holding its annual Spring Riot.

The Prince also decided to run the advertisement, but in the same issue it
published a staff editorial entitled "A Message to our Readers." The
editorial characterized the advertisement as "an offensive piece of work,"
yet explained that the paper was publishing the piece anyway because "we
don't want to bring further attention to [Horowitz's] message or provide
him with another opportunity to attract the nation's eye‚... In no way do
we support [his] argument. Denying publication of the ad, however, just
gives Horowitz what he is looking for: another reason to cry 'censor.'" The
Prince further explained that it would donate the money it had received for
the ad from Horowitz to a local charity since "We do not want to profit
from Horowitz's racism."

Horowitz, like many subjects of Prince intellectual condescension, went
ballistic. He responded to the editorial with an article in Salon entitled
"Why I Won't Pay the Daily Princetonian." In his article, Horowitz
characterized the Prince's "defamatory editorial statement" as an "auto da
fe" filled with "reckless hate speech" that is merely part of a broader
"witch hunt" aimed at Horowitz and the other upper class white conservative
males who have suffered so much at the hands of a brutally oppressive
liberal society.

At this point I should probably make the obvious confession that I find it
very easy to disagree with David Horowitz on virtually any social or
political issue of our (or any other) day. If Horowitz wrote an article
defending apple pie, by the third or fourth paragraph I'd probably be ready
to swear off dessert for the rest of my life. The man has a gift for making
odious arguments. But if the Prince is going to treat him seriously enough
to print his advertisement, the paper should accord his arguments enough
respect to attack them rather than the author. Labeling Horowitz a racist
without bothering to explain why exactly his ideas are so offensive is
simply gutless name-calling. Sure, Horowitz is a publicity hound who tries
to use ideas like incendiary devices to attack institutions he considers
suspect, but the fact that his mind is only capable of producing bottle
rockets ought to make the task of his critics easier rather than eliminate
the need for a reasoned response.

I suppose what upsets me the most is that the academic community in theory
should be the place in our society where we can debate ideas on the freest
and most intellectually worthwhile plane. But anytime an issue comes up
that engages the tediously labeled "left" and "right," we are instead
subjected to overeducated adolescents with outsized vocabularies trading
insults that would grow tiresome in a schoolyard. The only thing I learned
from the latest debate is that David Horowitz is an intellectual
lightweight with a martyr complex, and that the Prince editorial board has
a gift for combining intellectual arrogance with dangerous
disingenuousness. And the shame is that my insults and Horowitz's insults
and the Prince's insults have all replaced what could have been a
meaningful debate on race in America.

You can reach Wes at cwtooke@princeton.edu