May 24, 2000 -- Vol.5, no.1
The News Media & Holocaust Denial
May 16, 2000This is a story of the intersection of the content of history, the Internet, and the news media. It is a story of how a British writer trying to deny decades of madness and human suffering in the last century nearly drove the US & UK news media crazy.
The case in point is the Holocaust denial libel trial of Irving v. Lipstadt which ended on April 11th with a victory for Prof. Deborah Lipstadt over David Irving. It is a story of how an American historian, and her publisher, refusing to settle and take the easy way out, instead drew a line in the sand and emerged from the trial with a triumph of honor over elegance.
This is also a story of how two other people used the occasion of the trial to pursue the issues of historical content and meaning on the Internet, and especially to follow what the news media said about the trial and how well it did its job.
I have written this report on our work which involves the intersection of the news media, the Internet, history, and the efforts by many to turn back the darkness of anti-Semitism in the 21st Century. I worked with Ken McVay, and others, to set up an archive of the media coverage of the trial at http://www.nizkor.org/ which remains available.
Those of us who worked on this Internet and media project were not completely successful in achieving our objectives as it was a gamble of sorts. We were not officially part of the Lipstadt defense team, and had no funding other than what we put in it ourselves. However, there will be instances when the forces of extremism will seek new ways to bring their message of hate to the Internet and in the news media. Who will answer them, and how they will be answered, may benefit from our experiences; where things went wrong, as well as our successes.
Ultimately, we made a contribution to the public's awareness of the trial. The web site media archive, which contains hundreds of entries, topped out at 38,000 hits per day in the closing weeks of March of in this year. Along the way we overcame political intimidation, waves of news media content far beyond our expectations, server crashes, and at the end of the day we were still standing and still online.
This is a personal story for me because I followed the news media reporting on the trial. I located news media stories on the Internet and posted them to a mailing list and a web site throughout the duration of the trial. In this article I will provide a description of the work that was done, the challenges that were faced, and the lessons which were learned during this project.
Shape Shifting in Time
Holocaust denial is a movement which attempts to change our understanding of historical facts, and to re-shape content to suit political ends. In order to spread their message, groups espousing Holocaust denial have used the Internet, including web technologies, with increasing sophistication. The US news media has often treated Holocaust deniers as marginal characters occupying a niche filled with conspiracy theorists of all kinds including people claiming to be abducted by aliens. This changed with the Holocaust denial trial Irving v. Lipstadt.
What would you say about a news story that involved . . .
Paying Attention Wasn't the Problem
You cannot say that the news media ignored the Holocaust denial libel trial concluded in London on April 11, 2000. With more than 500 separate news reports and commentaries the volume was certainly there. If you take a look inside the content, a more interesting picture emerges. Most significantly, in a story populated with fringe characters of all kinds, it is not surprising that the mainstream news media got hung up on the ropes in a boxing match with shadowy figures. Worse, the media often as not failed to grasp the essentials of some aspects of the trial until it was hit over the head with major historical events like the release of the Eichmann Diaries and the Pope's visit to Israel. There were also some high points, but some of them were found online rather than in the mainstream press. The story of this trial was as much told through commentary and "Op Ed" pieces as it was hard news reporting of daily events.
Background on the Trial
In her book Denying the Holocaust; The Growing Assault on Truth & Memory, Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt accuses David Irving, a British writer, of deliberately misrepresenting the facts regarding the Holocaust. In his writings and speeches Irving denies that six million people died in the Holocaust. He denies that the Nazis gassed Jews in concentration camps. In 1994 Irving filed suit against Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for defamation in a British court.
Under British law the burden was on Lipstadt to prove she did not "defame" Irving in her book. Proving the Holocaust, which was the theme of the trial, focused a spotlight on the issues and the deniers. The outcome of the trial will have impacts on perceptions of the history of the Holocaust for years to come.
The cutting edge of the trial, heard before a judge but no jury, was brought to bear on four key issues.
Background on the Media Project
In early January 2000 Ken McVay, the webmaster of Nizkor http://www.nizkor.org/, and I felt strongly there was a need for an Internet presence about the trial. Prof. Lipstadt had announced through her legal defense team in London that she would not be making any statements to the press for the duration of the trial, which was expected to take at least 12 weeks. Obviously, her lawyers had no plans for a web site, mailing list, chat rooms, or any of the other usual Internet tools of publicizing a cause.
McVay and I shared the opinion that David Irving would exploit his website to the maximum extent during the trial for propaganda purposes. This meant unless we, or someone else, came up with something, and quickly, there was little chance there would be any voice on the Internet about the case except Irving's.
The challenge was to proceed in a way which would not interfere with the legal strategy. There could not be publicity prior to or during the trial which might affect the judge's view of Lipstadt's legal position. The approach I took, which McVay supported, was to collect news media coverage about the trial proceedings and bring it up on the Internet in an archive of media content.
As we had no official connection to the defense team we reasoned, correctly it turned out, this approach would not constitute publicity by Prof. Lipstadt. nor her legal defense team, in the eyes of the court. The archive was brought up on Nizkor on January 11, 2000, the first day of the trial. http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/i/irving-david/press/irving-v-lipstadt.html
Description of the Work
Each day I would search the Internet for media content about the trial, and send it to a private mailing list ( Holocaust on Trial or hot-l ) residing on the Nizkor server. Ken McVay, myself, and a few other people I'll mention later were subscribed to it.
Each time I sent a media clip to the list McVay would strip it off the server and put it up on his website. During the course of the trial, which lasted from January 11, 2000, to April 11, 2000, I posted 551 original media reports about the trial and closely related Holocaust issues.
For the first three weeks of the trial this was just gut work. I was checking more than a dozen individual sites, mostly in the UK, on a daily basis. Eventually, I was able to set up multiple web bots, alerts, and other semi-automated methods of searching for and tracking new media content about the trial. This made life easier in terms of searching, but as the volume of media content about the trial increased steadily over time this advantage was less of a factor in getting the work done.
We probably over-achieved since, in retrospect, I doubt everyone wanted to read everything that was available. As a practical matter if you just checked the Guardian's special website http://www.newsunlimited.co.uk/irving/ about the trial once a week you could pretty much keep up with the proceedings. However, McVay and I were determined that there would be a voice on the Internet that was not Irving's, and so we went to work with a will. We wanted everything newsworthy we could find about the trial to be on the site.
There was a reason for this. We didn't know which news media sources would provide the best coverage consistently over time. We reasoned we'd get everything we could and sort out the wheat from the chaff as the trial proceeded. After all, the trial was expected to take at least twelve weeks, which meant there was plenty of time for reporters and their editors to be heroes or bums, or both. As it turned out this assumption proved to be closer to the mark than we expected.
Five Waves, No Wading
The news media coverage of the trial came in five huge waves. These were opening day, the verdict in Lipstadt's favor, the release of the Eichmann diaries by the State of Israel, reports about the Pope's visit to Israel, and testimony in open court about Irving's racist "pram poem."
Each episode of news media coverage would start with a leading set of breakers of wire service reports followed by rolling waves of reports in the major newspapers in the UK and the US, and completed by a backwash of editorials and commentaries. It would take from three-to-six days, and sometimes more than a week, for each sequence of reporting to wash onshore and then retreat from media consciousness and attention. More than a few of Irving's political sand castles were washed away by the trial and the media reporting. For example, Irving claims there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz and that Hitler did not know about the final solution until 1943.
Media coverage of the opening day of the trial on January 11th was our first big surprise. It was just huge in volume, and it didn't slack off until later in the month. The only time media coverage actually slacked off altogether was during a period in February when Irving was cross-examining several noted historians brought as witnesses by the defense.
Clearly, I was in for a Nantucket sleigh ride if I was going to continue the project. In deciding to track media coverage of the trial I felt I'd in effect harpooned the great white whale of Holocaust denial and all of the monstrous controversy surrounding it. There's a lot of mixed metaphors about this trial that bring to mind images from Melville's classic novel Moby Dick. For instance, with the verdict against him, one could say Irving's ship, his reputation as a historian, was destroyed by the very creature he created and pursued with the same demonic intensity as Captain Ahab.
While I concentrated primarily on coverage of the trial, there were some closely related events occuring at the same time. These events included the Stockholm, Sweden, Holocaust conference held in January (which Lipstadt attended), the release of the Eichmann memoirs by the State of Israel in February, and the visit of the Pope to Israel and especially Yad Vashem in March. It seemed like the whole world had gone nuts about the Holocaust. Was the world rediscovering it 50 years later because of the trial, or was some other factor at work?
Reading the media reports I quickly realized some reporter's articles were accurate and other reports ranged from awful to incoherent. Starting January 16, 2000 I began to write and post media reviews on a weekly basis. My objective was to identify trends in media coverage and also find out over time which sources were most likely to offer quality coverage of the trial. When I got into this project I had no perspective on how the US or the UK media would cover a libel trial about Holocaust history. I'm not sure anyone else did either. This was terra incognita.
In addition to keeping track of news reports, I also documented editorials and commentaries, which turned out to be almost as numerous as regular news stories. I segmented the media review information by country, content type, and media type. I added analyses about the media, where it was warranted, but I steered away from comments about the trial itself. I added a section at the end of each media review on sources and methods. This explained which search engines I used, how good they were at finding content, and what each offered in terms of advantages or limitations.
The mega site for media coverage, Nando Times http://www.nando.net/, turned out to be the best site followed by Yahoo. The Yahoo portal http://www.yahoo.com/ offered excellent access to the Associated Press and Reuters. Plus, it offered email alerts based on key word searches. The portal site Excite http://www.excite.com/ offered a news clipping service that did a great job of catching content from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and from newspapers in mid-sized cities around the US.
All these services are free, and free access to the news media was what counted since we did not have subscriptions to commercial services. The proliferation of free news on the Internet made this project possible. Five years ago we wouldn't have found nearly the same volume of material online.
In all 12 media reviews were written and posted on the Internet and in discussion groups like soc.culture.jewish in Usenet. A group of unknown persons, using masked, e.g., anonymous remailers and identities in Usenet, reposted the media reviews #10, 11 & 12, respectively, to over a hundred newsgroups. They did not alter them in any way nor did they communicate with me about their activities.
Prof. Lipstadt, Anthony Julius and Laura Tyler, members of her legal defense team, sent email notes praising the media reviews. However, the media reviews also attracted the attention of David Irving who sent me an email note on January 23, 2000 which I, and others, interpreted as an attempt to intimidate me. Irving said, "I know who you are and what you have written." I wrote in reply, "So what?" Subsequently, Irving posted media review #5 on his web site http://www.fpp.co.uk/ where it remains as of today.
Observations About the News Media
The UK news media was virtually obsessed in terms of its coverage of the trial. In particular the Guardian and the Times of London were relentless in their attention to daily testimony. The surprise in the US news media turned out to be the Chicago Tribune which published under Ray Moseley's byline more reports on the trial than any other US major daily newspaper. http://www.chicagotribune.com/
A bright spot is Yahoo's sustained online coverage of Holocaust issues and its "full coverage" of the trial and the judge's decision at http://fullcoverage.yahoo.com/fc/World/Holocaust/
In the end the UK media was far and away much more interested in the trial than their US counterparts. While there were daily news stories in the UK, in the US the best coverage, aside from the Chicago Tribune, was in the Jewish Telegraphic Service, a weekly news service that does not reach the major circulation big city dailies http://www.jta.org/ The US Jewish press, mostly small circulation weeklies [less than 100,000 readers], by-and-large simply took the coverage of the trial by Douglas Davis of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Davis' coverage also appeared in the Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/
US media coverage of trial can be described more-or-less as a giant dumbbell with huge numbers of reports at the start of the trial and at the end. Only a hand full of Associated Press wire service reports in late January connect most of the US coverage between the trial's opening in January and Judge Gray's closing decision in April. There were many editorials and commentaries during this time, but these did not convey the details of the day-to-day proceedings to readers. If you wanted to know what was going on you had to read the UK press on the web, and that meant the Guardian and the Times of London.
There was virtually no television coverage in the US about the trial except one in depth package aired on CNN on January 16, 2000. A full transcript of the program can be found at http://cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0001/16/impc.00.html
Radio coverage in the US was limited to just three reports on National Public Radio http://www.npr.org/ As a practical matter it would have been next to impossible to track TV news coverage of the trial through freely accessible Internet search engines. While the television industry does index its news coverage, getting this information requires having paid subscriptions through commercial publishers.
Two Wake Up Calls
Some have said that the decision by the State of Israel to release the Eichmann diaries made the night move, a reference to Elie Wiesel's characterization of the Holocaust as "night." It took the release of the Eichmann diaries by the State of Israel for much of the US news media to finally understand what the trial was all about.
The official reason the State of Israel released the diaries was to help the legal case of Prof. Lipstadt. However, from a media perspective, it completely altered Irving's presence in the press. Instead of filling the headlines with daily testimony and unapologetic bombast, he was now mentioned in the US and UK media in the same breath as Adolph Eichmann, a war criminal executed by Israel for his role as chief architect of the Holocaust. It was a sledgehammer blow to Irving's media image.
It also turned out to a major shift in the way the US media dealt with the trial. Most significantly, it brought coverage of the trial to the pages of the Washington Post and USA Today which had previously not spilled any ink on the case. Both papers published reports with datelines filed from Jerusalem, where the Eichmann diaries were released, rather than from London, where the trial was taking place.
The Pope's visits to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, and to the Western Wall were astonishing in terms of their transformative and redemptive power and as symbolic events. The combined significance of these events in shaping public opinion about the Holocaust generally, and the trial specifically, should not be underestimated. Thomas O'Dwyer's column titled, "Death Blow to Deniers" published in Ha'aretz on March 24, 2000, quotes the Pope's statement made during his visit to Yad Vashem. The Pontiff said this,
"Here, as at Auschwitz and many other places in Europe, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rendering laments of so many. Men, women and children, cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they knew. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can forget or ignore what happened. No one can diminish its scale."
As the Pope spoke in Jerusalem, I was reminded of a speech made by Benjamin Ferencz in Rome two years earlier. Ferencz, who was a US prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes trials, said,
"I have come to Rome to speak for those who cannot speak - the silent victims of monstrous deeds. The only authorization I have comes from my heart."
Of course I have no way of knowing if the Pope ever read or heard Ferencz's speech to a UN conference on international law. It is interesting to me that the Pope said he came to Jerusalem with the same thoughts.
The Varieties of the Media Experience
By far the most substantive analyses of the trial was in commentary, editorials, or signed columns in the newspapers or in magazines. Here are some examples.
Who's On First? Some Media Coverage Goes South
The lesson we learned is that in a libel trial dealing with profoundly tragic issues, with an very high media profile, fringe characters can and will come out of the woodwork to seek a moment in the limelight. Further, newspapers you would least expect it of will fail to grapple with the issues and in very disturbing and visible ways. Here are some examples.
Trading History for Peanuts
The Atlanta Constitution began covering the trial with in-depth reports from London-based correspondent Bert Roughton, Jr. Atlanta is Lipstadt's home town where she teaches at Emory University http://www.emory.edu/ so one would assume this would generate more coverage. These and many other stories were blasted off the Atlanta paper's pages by the combination of unseasonable snow and ice storms in America's deep south arriving simultaneously with the occasion of the Superbowl championship football game held in that city 01.30.00.
Two weeks later on 02.14.00, in response to a reader's complaint about the continuing lack of coverage, an editor responded in that day's edition the trial was not considered newsworthy. The editor wrote that reports by Roughton would be printed "when developments warrant coverage." The paper kept its word publishing nothing until 02.28.00 when wire service reports were used to cover the release of the Eichmann papers.
The Atlanta Constitution's choice to ignore the legal defense of a home town author wasn't the only counter-intuitive act by the news media. During the course of the trial a number of instances came up that were radical departures from the ordinary.
Inflaming a Community
The Los Angeles Times coverage of the trial, reported by Kim Murphy of that paper, and published 01.07.00, generated a bitter response in the Jewish community in Southern California. The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles ran three special articles on 01.14.00 criticizing the LA Times story including one by noted Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum and another by the Journal's editor-in-chief. Berenbaum called the LA Times article "misleading, inaccurate, distorted, and uninformed reporting," and that was just the headline. Berenbaum later got 900 words to tell the LA Times more than one million readers about Holocaust denial and the trial. http://www.jewishjournal.com/cover.berenbaum.1.14.0.htm
Berenbaum describes the methods of Holocaust deniers in his 'Times column in chilling detail.
He also points out, "hard core denial [of the Holocaust] is more pernicious, more evil . . . If the magnitude of the crime can be diminished, then fascism can enjoy new prominence."
Journal editor Gene Lichtenstein wrote that the LA
Times coverage "inflamed some members of LA's Jewish community." No other US
coverage of the trial attracted such a negative or strong response. http://www.jewishjournal.com/gene.1.14.0.htm
Repose of Medieval Historians Disturbed by a Modern One
In what has to be a curious dialog related the trial, plaintiff David Irving got involved in an online shoving match with a group of academics who are medieval historians. Posting on the mediev-l list hosted by the University of Kansas, Irving accused historian Gordon Fisher, and others, of criticizing him behind his back. http://www.ukans.edu/~medieval/melcher/20000201/msg00302.html
This set off a cascade of messages pro-and con about Irving, his virtual time travel from modern to medieval history, and an accusation of "cowardice" made against Irving for allegedly threatening one of the academics with legal action in a private email note. An exasperated list moderator finally got the message traffic under control and returned to its charter. For the moment, Irving is not in Kansas anymore.
No Talking During the Movie
The Jewish Week, NY, published an article in February asking whether anyone even cared about the trial. Later the paper would offer to collect letters of support for Prof. Lipstadt. The Los Angeles Jewish Journal, which instigated community reaction to the LA Times piece of January 7th, claimed to have collected 115 letters of support in one week and published some of them in February.
Jewish Week reporter Steve Lipman said he stands by the story that people simply were not interested in news about the trial. While Lipman didn't try to understand the reason for this lack of interest among his readers, perhaps it is due to exhaustion on the subject generally of the Holocaust. Consider this - in popular media terms, and for a generation born after the 1950s, once you've seen the movie "Schindler's List how much more "content" do you need on the final solution? Or, consider this, Moment a major Jewish magazine, specifically tells potential authors not to submit articles on the Holocaust because the magazine believes too much has been published on it already.
You Had to Be There
About.com, an Internet portal, sponsored a set of sophisticated web pages about the Holocaust including media clippings about the trial and a moderated chat room http://holocaust.about.com/ The Holocaust site collapsed in late February 2000 when it was reported by the Forward, a Jewish newspaper in New York, that people falsely claiming to be survivors of the Holocaust, were heavily involved with the site's content and in its chat rooms. Further, the Forward reported, the site's webmaster and chat room moderator tolerated their online presence for some period of time after their true identities became known. The collapse of the site truncated its coverage of the trial prior to the release of the Eichmann papers in late February. The Holocaust site never recovered from this event, and its material was archived. About.com continues as a commercial entity, but without a special set of current and updated pages on the Holocaust or the trial.
The Helen Darville Side Show
The most significant episode of fringe characters seeking center stage came with the exposure of the masquerade of a committed anti-Semite from Australia. She successfully infiltrated the court room press box for more than three weeks during the trial. Helen Darville told reporters in the London courtroom she was accredited to the Australian, one of Sydney's largest papers. No one knew until 02.27.00 this was not true. What tipped us off was that Darville also masqueraded online as a high school student posting pro-revisionist essays about the trial in the Usenet discussion group alt.revisionism. The maturity of the writing style, the command of the subject matter, and frequent references to Darville herself got my attention. When Darville, posting online under her pseudonym, revealed details of a chance conversation held in the press gallery with D.D. Guttenplan, another journalist covering the trial, the ruse was exposed. Hilary Ostrov, a colleague of Ken McVay's, and I "discovered" Darville after exchanging emails trying to figure out who the online student was and why "he" was promoting Darville's work. After some "cyber sleuthing" on Darville's literary history, we turned up the connection on 02.27.00.
Once Darville's presence in the courtroom was known it caused an uproar in Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald took the extraordinary action of publishing a critique of Darville's expected article two days ** before ** it was published in Australian Style Magazine. The 'OP ED' piece by political commentator Robert Manne took her to task for her sympathy for David Irving's position. Titled "Tears for David Irving," it was also posted on the Internet on 02.28.00 at http://www.smh.com.au/news/0002/28/features/features1.html
D.D. Guttenplan, the author of the major article mentioned earlier, (published in the Atlantic in February 2000) covered the trial start-to-end for the book he is writing about it. He wrote in an email to me on 02.29.00 that he became suspicious of who Darville was "after listening to her make bizarre remarks about Richard Evans," the historian who testified for the defense. Guttenplan estimated that by the time he talked to her Darville had been in the court press gallery every day for about two weeks or more. He said, "she knew perfectly well who I was and also the names and affiliations of several other people in the press section." This included, he said, Eva Menasse, who covers the trial for the Frankfurter Allgemeiebe Zeitung in Germany. I'd been exchanging email with Guttenplan since 01.19.00, just three days after the first media review was posted on the Internet. I don't always agree with what he writes, but in this case the urgency of getting a ringer out of the press box over-ruled any literary preferences.
Darville has a long and odious history in Australia as an anti-Semite and perpetrator of literary frauds. Darville's literary ambitions had earlier been wrecked after her prize winning autobiographical novel "The Hand that Signed the Paper" published in Australia in 1994 turned out to a hoax.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency on 03.01.00 described Darville's book, written under the name Helen Demidenko, as "a fictionalized oral history of how the Jews brought the Holocaust on themselves due to their mistreatment of Ukrainians . . . After an inquiry into the writer's background it was learned that Darville had taken "Demidenko" from a real perpetrator of one of the most notorious incidents in the Holocaust, the massacre at Babi Yar."
Darville is not Ukrainian and had no relatives involved in the Holocaust. Her former editor at the Courier Mail told the Vancouver Sun in January 1996 Darville holds extreme right wing views and is anti-Semitic.
The Darville escapade was really just a sideshow to the main event, but it illustrates just how weird some things really got.
The media coverage itself became bizarre in some instances, and threatened to become an issue along with the trial itself.
Things That Went Bump in the Night
Tracking the news media had its problems. This is a collection of observations, some connected, others not, about things that went bump in the night as we worked. Remember, our objective was to create a presence on the Internet about the trial which was objective, and which was uncontaminated by revisionist propaganda. Out of our experience came some lessons. While there may not ever be another Holocaust denial trial, there undoubtedly will be instances when the forces of the extreme right will wave the black flag of anti-Semitism on the Internet. Who will answer them, and how they will be answered may benefit from our experiences, including where things went wrong.
Who Sets Content for the Website?
McVay owns the Nizkor website. He's been doing this for a long time on a shoe string, and feels a powerful sense of ownership that goes beyond mere web hosting. This affects the way he works with people who contribute content to his site. He is deeply committed to his project, and is the final decision maker about what content goes on his site. As such, I had little or no say about how he presented the media content I sent him, and he rarely asked for my input. To this day I still don't have much insight into his sometimes idiosyncratic methods for choosing what content to display and how he packaged it. For instance, he posted very little about the Stockholm conference or the Pope's visit to Israel. He ignored some US media coverage of the trial, but posted other content.
In some cases I think the decision maker was time rather than taste. Also, McVay had at least two other contributors sending him content. He didn't identify them to me, and was not responsive to my suggestion we collaborate to divide up the work. Again, this may have been more a case of not having time to make the arrangements rather than resistance to the idea. A month after this project ended McVay finally identified one of the other contributors as John A. Drobnicki, an Assistant Professor and Research Librarian at the City College of New York.
Frankly, and to be fair, there wasn't much time to talk about any of these issues. The media content was pouring in faster than I could keep up with it. I sent everything I could find as fast as I could get it on the wire. He posted whatever he could get to. Of course the hot-l list got everything so that effort wasn't wasted. Further, due to McVay's views on technology, he initially objected to getting HTML formatted material from me. This required me to process every posting from HTML to plain vanilla ASCII. Eventually, he accepted some HTML formatted content.
A Server Crashes
This was a volunteer operation which included McVay's website. No funds were received from any source to cover my time or supplies. However, I think my extra out-of-pocket costs were less than $100. When Nizkor's server crashed on March 23rd I learned McVay had no backup tapes and no way to recover the list of addresses for hot-l for the distribution of emailed media clippings. The reason is, as a shoe-string operation, he could not pay a technician to do the backups nor restore a crashed server. A smaller list was put together, and I ran it from my PC at home as an outbound only distribution service from March 24th until April 14th.
A Well Founded Complaint
In April I received a complaint from David Goldman the project director of Hatewatch, http://www.hatewatch.org/ who objected to the frequency and volume of material sent to the post crash list. He wanted a proper server-based list set up with digests going out just once a day. By that time Nizkor had still not recovered from its crash, and I was sending media updates from my home PC. There was little I could do for Goldman except apologize for his inconvenience.
Goldman's complaints about the volume of material, and its frequency, legitimately raises the issue of how much people really wanted to read about the trial. The whole subject of the Holocaust is gruesome. When is mass murder not? Holocaust revisionism isn't pretty either, and dialogs about gas chambers are tough going. So, when a trial comes up that is expected to settle the issue of Holocaust revisionism, how much media coverage is enough? Is the battle against the resurgence of nationalist socialism a high enough priority to justify this effort? What about "never again?" What would you have done?
Irving Acted as Predicted
Irving posted media content about the trial from the German, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, US, and UK papers on his website http://www.fpp.co.uk/ Also, he posted transcripts of the trial, albeit fitfully at times, based on his financial condition and interactions with the company doing the trial work. For most of the trial his site was a source of information for people who wanted to know what was going on. Irving's site was graphically rich. Nizkor's site content initially consisted of a directory of ascii text files. Finally, Irving had the Eichmann diaries on his site faster than Nizkor because the court gave him an electronic copy when it was sent there by the Israeli government. By comparison, the Nizkor site did not have access to transcripts, and we did not publish commentaries on the proceedings, just on the media coverage.
A second Holocaust denial web site run by one Rae West in the UK also had the transcripts and a large collection of revisionist material. Irving denied in a email message to Ken McVay at Nizkor that West was his webmaster despite a report in Ha'aretz to the contrary. As a practical matter West's site was essential to Irving's cause. Irving said he was posting transcripts of the trial proceedings, but in fact had a link on his site to West's where the files were physically located and accessed by readers. Irving had a third site in the US which contains information about his upcoming US lecture tour.
Irving updated his site(s) each day the trial was in session with heroic descriptions, in diary form, of his day in court, his interactions with supporters, and his feelings about the trial. In short, people reading the transcripts also got bombarded with the revisionist message. As Lipstadt, on the advice of her legal defense team, was not making statements to the press, Irving's bombast went unanswered outside the courtroom except to the extent the Nizkor site could act as an independent source of media reports on the trial.
In summary David Irving used his web site for propaganda purposes as we predicted, and got noticed for it by the judge and the UK news media. Paradoxically, lead defense counsel Richard Rampton used some of the material directly from Irving's website in his presentations to the court attacking Irving's case. You have to wonder about Irving's common sense putting material on the Internet which could be used against him in litigation that he initiated. I should note that the defense team also convinced the court to order Irving to hand over his private diaries which produced a sensation in the media when a racist poem in one of them was read out in open court. Irving reportedly read this diary to his daughter which got labeled the "pram poem." This testimony resulted in more media coverage than some of the defense team's scholarly review of Irving's phony footnotes.
Some writers argued that this kind of publicity only fanned the flames of Holocaust denial because coverage of the trial gave Irving a platform for his views. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph a week after the decision commentator Andrew Roberts went so far as to say that Irving lost the case, but gained ground for his position in terms of publicity.
Drop Dead Dates for Online Content
Working with publicly accessible search engines and daily content was time consuming. Even meta-search engines like Copernic didn't completely cover the waterfront Much of the media content was perishable. Once it rolls off newspaper websites it goes into archives which require fees of $2-4 an article to access them. This puts a time premium, or deadline, on rapid retrieval of content which was not always met.
Eichmann on the Internet
McVay and I felt the release of the Eichmann diaries represented an important opportunity for the world Jewish community to address Holocaust denial issues on the web. As it turned out excerpts from the diaries, translated from German to English, became widely available in the news media and on the Internet.
The State of Israel kept the diaries secret for 40 years fearing they would be used by Holocaust deniers or neo-Nazi groups. A few years ago Eichmann's son asserted ownership of the copyright to the diaries saying his intention would be to publish them. When the State of Israel archivist released the diaries to the court, copies were also made available to the press, but with a fence straddling release statement about future copyright issues.
McVay refused to sign a release faxed to him by the Archives on the grounds that it was not truthful. In point of fact the release was a muddle, and anyone who did sign it could be on thin ice if there are future copyright infringement disputes. On the other hand, the State of Israel might eventually assert that Eichmann's jailhouse diaries are in the public domain. In the end a more cosmic form of justice prevailed in that the diaries were not used to fuel the cause of neo-Nazi movements, but instead helped put out the lights of Holocausts denial.
The Lessons that We Learned
The most important lesson is that keeping track of every web site of every media outlet that puts content on the web is different. This in terms of how they approach what content they choose, where the content is located, and how the site's search capabilities work, if in fact the site even has one.
There are no "rules-of-the-road" that are common across either US or UK media sites. In fact, sometimes you cannot even count on a newspaper web site having a front page. Instead, you find a page full of promotional material and you have to drill down in the site to find the news content. Just check the websites of the Atlanta Constitution or the Boston Globe to see two examples of this approach. Another major challenge is that UK papers take their headlines differently than their US counterparts. Some are outrageous by US standards of "journalistic objectivity," and others are simply obscure owing to differences in idiom and usage.
From the perspective of people, if I were to do this kind of project on a commercial basis I would staff it with at least six people instead of the two we had working on it. These staff would include a webmaster for overall content and control of the site, a systems administrator for network support and backups, and a content editor on the web site to insure material got placed where it could be found and that incoming material was captured and posted in a timely manner. In terms of acquisition of content I would have included two people to search for content, and one more for a mailing list. External to this team I would have included two people to develop and execute a publicity campaign to promote the site in other online and offline venues and media. Since we didn't have these extra people we didn't do any of these things. Despite all of our work the Nizkor site was never strongly profiled in the news media reports about the trial. Links to Nizkor appeared on the websites of the BBC, USA Today, Guardian, and the Independent. The 12 media reviews I wrote were posted on the Internet, and they served to alert people to the existence of the Nizkor site. However, there was no corresponding print and electronic media campaign to drive people to the site. According to McVay the site briefly topped over 38,000 hits a day after (February 29, 2000) release of the Eichmann diaries. Of this number 40% of the hits that day were for the Eichmann material. Excluding the Eichmann material, McVay estimated the daily hit rate for the Irving trial press archive at between 17,000 to 22,000 hits per day.
Not a Home Run, but Definitely in the Game
At best we were effective in providing information for those people who were deeply interested in the trial, but we have no way of knowing whether we reached audiences beyond this group to any great extent. On the other hand, reaching tens of thousands of people on a daily basis about the trial was certainly better than the zero number that would have been recorded had we done nothing.
My bottom line is that we did represent a voice on the Internet which was distinct from Irving's, and which offered visitors to the Nizkor site the great variety of news media coverage uncontaminated by revisionist propaganda. Certainly, there was value for readers to see the US and UK news media reports, and usually within 24 hours after the events as they transpired. I think that's an accomplishment that comes out of this experience. Also, in terms of real numbers, the first week we were in operation we logged all of 1,700 hits a day. The last week of the trial, April 10-16, with the decision announced, we logged nearly 40,000 hits a day.
A Decision Before Daybreak
On Tuesday April 11th, the day Judge Gray was to announce his decision, I was up at 0430 Mountain time / 1030 GMT to catch the first news feeds about it on Yahoo from the Associated Press and Reuters. At 0456 I had them on their way to Nizkor and the list. It turns out McVay was up as well waiting for me to transmit. It was 0330 his time in British Columbia. That moment was an emotional high point for me and truly captured the spirit of collaboration between us despite all else that happened during the trial.
Trading Irving for Pinochet at the Washington Post
I corresponded via email with numerous journalists during the trial. In one instance I really thought I'd really hit the wall in my exchanges with T.R. Reid, the London correspondent for the Washington Post. He said he did not consider the trial a priority compared to his other assignments which included the Pinochet extradition controversy which was going on at the same time. I sent Reid copies of the media reviews trying to indicate I wasn't whistling in the wind and to show there was enormous media interest in the trial. He said he was too busy.
Eventually, he wrote about the trial and the decision, but after closing arguments. In fact, Reid actually wrote two major articles about the trial. The Washington Post also published an editorial about Judge Gray's decision. Reid made a comment to Prof. Lipstadt right after the verdict was announced in her favor. He said I "badgered him," about the trial, but he also said this, "Dan Yurman was right." It is not true that I badgered him. I was always polite, but I was persistent. I am indebted to Prof. Lipstadt for sending me this feedback.
Two Moments of Eloquence in River City
Internet search engines are pretty good at finding news reports and editorials at online newspaper sites. However, they are less efficient at locating letters to the editor. All newspapers use letters to the editor to measure reader interests and reactions to the news, but few share such information on the web. An exception turned out to be the Columbus, Ohio, Dispatch. On 03.04.00 the paper posted on its web site an eloquent letter from one Karen Moss of that city taking the paper to task for the absence of coverage on the trial. Ms. Moss wrote, "the trial has enormous significance for those of us who care about truth and reason, history, and a just society."
Ms. Moss's plea struck a responsive cord because it echoed our own. While the trial was taking place in the UK, and there was plenty of press coverage there, we were not sure after opening day that the US press would be as interested in the case or stay with it. D.D. Guttenplan wrote me in an email message in late January on a trip back from London to the US that he was worried the US media would give the trial short shift in terms of coverage. At the time I had to agree.
Finally, the Dispatch, like the rest of the US media, published reports by the wire services about Judge Gray's decision. Unlike some other papers, the Dispatch went one step further and published its own editorial on 04.20.00 titled, "Truth be told, Holocaust cannot be erased by revisionists." In language equal to Ms. Moss' plea the paper wrote, "And so did David Irving receive in a British court the denunciation his distortions of the Holocaust deserved." You don't often get closure like that very often much less see it online or from a Midwestern paper far removed from the hyper-ventilated worlds of the New York and Los Angeles media. Sometimes small dramas like this one become touchstones for the larger event. It certainly seemed so to me in this case.
Several people also helped on this project. Shelly Shapiro, an educator living in Albany, NY, is a loyal listener to National Public Radio and sent me email notes whenever NPR had coverage of the trial. Michael Berenbaum in California helped me understand the issues associated with the LA Times retraction. D.D. Guttenplan was instrumental in uncovering Helen Darville's charade in the court press gallery.
Prof. Lipstadt sent several notes of encouragement about the media archive site despite being surrounded by a whirlwind of activity herself. I am indebted to Ken Stern of the American Jewish Committee for information on the trial schedule, which helped me pace my search time. Ken McVay deserves great credit for taking on the task of setting up and maintaining the media archive which remains as a permanent resource on the Internet. This work could not have been completed without his contributions, and he deserves appreciation and support for his accomplishment.
I think we accomplished some of the goals of providing people with an Internet presence and information about media coverage of the trial. After all putting over 550 news media reports about a 90 day trial on the web was a pretty big deal.
Why did I do it? I was heartened by the promise of Isaiah, "if you remove from your midst the yokes, the stretching out of a finger and wrongful speech ....then your light shall shine forth in the darkness." [Isa 58] Our goal was to bring up a presence on the Internet to illuminate the issues of the trial which we did.
Some books are going to come out of this trial. Prof. Lipstadt will write one, and so will several journalists. If David Irving tried to write a book now, it is unlikely anyone would publish it.
I'm not going to write a book, but now that the trial is over I'm definitely going to have a beer.
You must be a mind reader. I sat next to Helen Darville (at least I now believe that's who she was) last week in court. She was very blond, in her early 30s, with round gold wire rimmed glasses, and claimed she was covering the trial for "The Australian." After listening to her making some bizarre comments about Richard Evans, who was testifying, I became suspicious and asked her if she filed every day. (She had been at the trial every day for about a week or two). She said she didn't but was writing a longer piece and had already written one. I asked if I could read it. She knew perfectly well who I was, and also the names and affiliations of several other people in the press section, but when I asked my colleagues none of them seemed to know her except as "Helen". Since she seemed to be tagging along with some of the women covering the trial I even went so far as to say to one of them that I suspected she might not be a bona fide journalist. Then this morning I got your e-mail, which I have forwarded to two people: Eva Menasse, who covers the trial for the Frankfurter Allgemeiebe Zeitung, and the Kate Taylor from the English anti-Fascist magazine Searchlight. This morning Kate told me that on the first day of the trial, when the press were asked to show their credentials, Helen told the others her credentials were "on the post" and actually borrowed another woman's press card to get in. Her story is marginal to my study of the trial of course, but I am nonetheless curious and would be grateful for any further information about her, including particularly whether she has actually published anything about the trial yet.
Thanks again for keeping me up to speed (I hope you won't mind my acknowledging your help in my book)
Los Angeles Times Retraction of Irving vrs. Lipstadt Trial Coverage 01.31.00
For the Record
Holocaust story--A Jan. 7 article examined the movement to question the extermination of European Jews during World War II. The article cited a 1993 Roper poll that suggested that 22% of Americans thought it possible the Holocaust did not happen. A year later, Roper asked the question a different way because of complaints that the original question was confusing. The result: 1% said it was possible and 8% said they did not know.
The article said academics at respected institutions have supported revisionists. Specifically, they are Arthur Butz, an electrical engineering professor at Northwestern University, which has disavowed his book, "The Hoax of the Holocaust," and Robert Faurisson, a former literature professor at the University of Lyons, which has disavowed his views. The article also said claims that Jewish Holocaust victims' remains were made into lampshades have been dismissed as myth. In fact, a lampshade made from human skin was introduced into a criminal trial and submitted to a U.S. congressional committee.
And some readers may have read the fact that historians have revised the estimated death toll at Auschwitz from 3 million to 1.1 million to imply that the overall number of Jews who died during the Holocaust therefore is lower. In fact, many historians now believe that the number of Jews who died is closer to 5.1 million than 6 million--the most commonly accepted figure--for reasons generally unrelated to Auschwitz.
Berenbaum, Michael, "The Holocaust & History: The Known, the Unknown, the Disputed, and the Reexamined," Indiana University Press, 1998, isbn 0253333741
Guttenplan, D.D., "The Holocaust on Trial," The Atlantic Monthly, February 2000, pgs 45-66. issn 0276-9077.
Lipstadt, Deborah, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth & Memory," Penguin Books, 1993, isbn 0452272742
Stern, Kenneth, "A Force Upon the Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate," Simon & Schuster, 1996, isbn 0684819163
Dan Yurman is a writer and expert on the Internet. During 1994 and 1995 he played pivotal role informing the nation about the menace of the militia movement 14 months before the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. His more than 40 weekly reports were published on the Internet at the Econet Western Lands Gopher which he set up and maintained during this period.
The New York Times printed an report on Mr. Yurman's activities in September 1995. His research and writings have since been used as source material in several books.
Since 1970 Mr. Yurman has made his living as a writer, city planner, and project manager in the use of computer systems and the Internet for business applications.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.