Lee Bollinger Is Having the Best Week Ever
Only just yesterday morning, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger was about as popular as Alger Hiss during the Red Scare. His decision to invite Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak during the annual World Leaders Forum was criticized everywhere: In newspaper editorials, by presidential hopefuls, not to mention all the students and protesters who hung around Morningside Heights, handing out flyers saying things like, “Bollinger, too bad bin Laden is not available.”
But since he laid his verbal smackdown on Ahmadinejad, boy has he bounced back! Immediately after the debate ended yesterday afternoon, Columbia’s student newspaper, the Spectator reported the university was being “flooded with calls to congratulate Columbia on the Ahmadinejad invitation talk about a change of heart.” Seriously! It continued this morning.
it just happened
Live-Blogging AhmadinejadWell, well, well. Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has just begun introducing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is talking about the “genius of free speech” and “knowing thy enemies” which is awkward, because, you know, the dude is sitting right there. We’ll live-blog from here. We expect fireworks, so tune in.
2 p.m.: “Mr. President you exhibit all the signs of a cruel and petty dictator,” Bollinger says. He goes on to ask about treating gays, women, and dissidents with censorship and inequality. He’s really getting up some momentum. The audience rewards him with mild applause.
2:03 p.m.: Bollinger brings up the Holocaust-denial stuff. Wow, we’re really getting into the name-calling stuff. Ahmadinejad is “brazen,” “absurd,” and “naïve.” “The truth is, the Holocaust is the most-documented event in human history,” Bollinger says. “Will you cease this outrage?” We kind of wish he would speak slower. If we can’t keep up with this, how on earth will Ahmadinejad, who needs a translator?
Grudgingly, Editors Open the Door to J-School Students
Normally, editors at the city’s august publications roll their eyes when they receive calls from bright-eyed Columbia Journalism School students eager to begin plying their trade. But Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance seems to have created an alliance between those young whippersnappers and their journalism elders. Since attendance for the much-anticipated speech has been restricted to students, who had to register for places in advance, and few reporters, the New York Times and the Daily News, among other news outlets, have hired a few enterprising student stringers to beef up their coverage. “I know a lot of people called the papers and offered their services,” said New York’s own intern-on-the-inside. “It’s a great opportunity for us.” Aw, that’s sweet. But we don’t want to be around when the Times stops returning their texts and changes their Facebook status to “It’s Complicated.”
Columbia President Steals NYU President’s Logic
Was Columbia president Lee Bollinger actually taking his cues from NYU president John Sexton when he decided how and why to host Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a speaker? It seems like that might have been the case and that Bollinger’s much-abused decision to host the Iranian leader would have been the same had it been made by Sexton. Ooh, geek synergy! In a November 2004 speech, Sexton outlined the exact protocol that should be addressed when inviting a controversial guest. “It is hard to make a case that the university’s sacred space should be available to the likes of a bin Laden or a Hitler,” Sexton said then, arguing that bin Laden and Hitler’s disrespect for freedom, safety, and open dialogue should prevent them from taking advantage of a university’s adherence to those exact values. But Sexton, who has been accused of censorship himself, outlines how and why an exception should be made to that rule.
in other news
Ahmadinemania!This morning, the Post couldn’t decide whether “MADMAN” or “GUEST OF DISHONOR” best expressed its sentiments about Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia this afternoon, so they went with both. Uncharacteristically, the tab got its ass kicked by the Daily News whose cover blared “THE EVIL HAS LANDED” (ooh, bet they exchanged high fives in the bullpen over that one). Inside, the News went with the slightly more subdued “Iranian Mad Man Walks Among Us.”
it happened this week
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s request to lay a wreath at ground zero was the unlikeliest wish in a week of ambitious schemes. Hillary Clinton took a second swing at universal health care, laying out a $110 billion program. Rudy Giuliani crossed the pond to London to rub shoulders with Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, and Gordon Brown, then suggested that Israel join nato. Dan Rather sued CBS for $70 million.