The Harvard Crimson ran an advertisement Tuesday questioning the use of gas chambers during the Holocaust.
Crimson President Maxwell Child said in an editor’s note issued online Tuesday night that the Harvard University student newspaper, considered to be one of the nation’s most prestigious, had not originally intended to run the ad and accepted responsibility for the error.
‘Unfortunately, with three weeks of vacation between submission and publication, that decision fell through the cracks,’ Child said in a statement published online Tuesday night. The ad, which was originally scheduled to run all week, has been pulled.
Child said the ad was printed through ‘a logistical failure and not a philosophical one.’
The advertiser, Bradley Smith, said his ad asked for the name of a victim of the gas chambers as proof they were used, intending not to deny the Holocaust, but to provoke debate on what he called a ‘taboo’ subject.
‘For me, it’s a free speech issue,’ he said. ‘Open debate on the Holocaust is banned by the professorial class in America.
‘This question makes the same promise to those who believe as to those of us who doubt,’ he said. ‘A free exchange of ideas in the light of day.’
He said he recognized the demographics of the ad’s audience and the reaction it was likely to cause.
‘I could be made a fool of very easily,’ he said. ‘It’s an uphill struggle, and this isn’t something that’s going to be finished in my lifetime.’
Despite potential controversy, he said The Crimson allowed his organization, the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust, to prepay the ad over a month ago. He said he would like to deal with The Crimson in the future and plans to follow up with them about their business relationship.
‘The story is just beginning,’ he said.
College of Communication Dean Tom Fiedler said The Crimson had the legal authority to reject the ad when it was first submitted.
‘The newspaper is responsible for all the content, whether it is paid advertising or news content,’ he said. ‘There is no right of access or right of speech to someone who wants access to a newspaper.’
Fiedler said while The Crimson’s editors took the right first step in issuing an editor’s note, they must also formally investigate the cause of the error and revise their procedures to prevent it from reoccurring.
‘It is absolutely incumbent [upon] them to understand how this error occurred and put some procedures in place so this would not happen again,’ he said. ‘The ad must have come up in proofs. I would assume someone was responsible for reading these proofs.’
Smith submitted an ad asking the Holocaust Memorial Museum to provide proof of people killed in gas chambers at Auschwitz to the Daily Free Press in March. The Free Press declined to run it.
Harvard students had mixed feelings on the incident, its handling and its implications.
Sophomore Peter Truog said though the ad should never have been allowed to go to print, The Crimson addressed the mistake correctly.
‘For an ad of such potency, it’s really irresponsible to have that leak through,’ he said. ‘Even though it did get in, I obviously think that it’s a good move to apologize.’
Sophomore Abby Schachter said the paper needed to issue an ‘explicit’ apology.
‘I think the apology letter was well-handled, but it didn’t actually apologize,’ she said. ‘It accepted responsibility.’
Truog said the ad may have had good basic intentions regarding free speech, but the specific content was not appropriate for the Harvard audience or in general.
‘I don’t think that any people here are deniers of the Holocaust, so I’m not really sure where [Smith] was going with that,’ he said. ‘The idea behind it might have been good, the promotion of the free exchange of ideas, but he might have chosen a topic where ideas could be exchanged more freely.’
Despite the poor content, he said he was not concerned that the incident could be an embarrassment to Harvard.
‘I personally don’t care that much about what The Crimson reports,’ he said. ‘I’d say that sure, it’s the school newspaper, but I don’t think it represents the views of the school.’
Schachter said she thinks the paper is a large production and an ‘icon’ that should not have its full reputation brought down by a more individual error.
Ultimately, she said she thinks the ad overstepped the bounds of speech and what is acceptable at Harvard, which she said ‘prides itself on being a place for open debate.’
‘Whether or not he intended it to explicitly deny the Holocaust is beside the point,’ she said. ‘These things happen in the world. People are very open to discussion here but some things are just [off-limits].’