CODOH and the Campus Project (1987-2001)
In 1987, while serving as the director of IHR's Media Project, Smith, along with IHR Editorial Advisor Mark Weber, founded the Committee for Open Debate of the Holocaust — a somewhat misleading name, for the two “directors” were the only members of the “Committee” (Weber has since left). Its stated goal was to “encourage public awareness of the controversy that has developed about the truthfulness of the claims that Germans systematically exterminated some six million European Jews during the Second World War.”
CODOH's most ambitious and important effort was its Campus Project, a semiannual campaign undertaken by Smith to place Holocaust-denying advertisements in college newspapers. Smith's first major offering in a student paper was headlined “The Holocaust Story: How Much is False? The Case for Open Debate.” In the text, he railed against “thought police” and the “politically correct,” and argued that students and professors should “be free to investigate the Holocaust story in the same way they are free to examine every other historical event.” Smith's first ad was submitted in the fall of 1991 to the student newspapers of about 40 of the nation's larger colleges. More than half the schools rejected the ad outright. Over the course of several months, however, enough papers ran the ad to trigger nationwide controversy. The New York Times and The Washington Post weighed in with editorials, and many of the nation's prominent columnists produced op-eds on the subject. Public sentiment, as reflected by the media, was mixed. Most applauded those college editors who had refused the ad, which was almost universally recognized as a piece of specious anti-Semitic propaganda; some defended the editors, however, claiming that despite its offensiveness, newspaper editors had a First Amendment obligation to print the ad. Furthermore, they argued that the best way of discrediting the views of Holocaust deniers was to publicize them and expose them to rational criticism.
After 1991 Smith was unable to attract the national coverage that his cause received during his first campaign. Since 1991 he has conducted eight major campaigns, each one featuring an ad of his own composition. Smith's other ads in college newspapers have included similar calls for “free inquiry” into the Holocaust while denouncing attempts to “censor” Holocaust deniers (1991); attempts to discredit photographs, documents and eyewitnesses (1991-1992); and attacks on Elie Wiesel (1999-2000), the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (1994-1995), the Simon Wiesenthal Center (2000-2001) and mainstream historians who study the Holocaust (1992-1993).
Two of his ads posed public challenges: in 1998 he announced a $100,000 cash award for anyone who could arrange a prime time network broadcast of a video on the “disputed Auschwitz ‘gas chamber’” produced by his protégé, David Cole. In 1999 he upped the ante to $250,000 for anyone who could arrange a prime-time debate with a representative of the Anti-Defamation League, to be broadcast on a national network. Neither of these challenges met with success.
In the January 2001 edition of his occasional newsletter, Smith's Report, he admitted that the Campus Project “has been in decline for perhaps the last three years.” Smith attributed his lessening effectiveness not to increasingly savvy student communities, but to an organized attempt at repression.
As a result, Smith said that he decided to change his strategy. Instead of his regular ads, he intended to rely on subtler, op-ed-style pieces, which would deal with Holocaust denial in a more oblique fashion, and which he would “frequently” submit to the “300 biggest and best universities in the land.” Substantive obstacles notwithstanding, Smith's plan would save him the expenses of an ad campaign. In addition, he said that he planned to branch out into the commercial press as well (at the time he had already published one piece (“Hard to Know What's Right and Wrong“), combining anti-Israel polemic with Holocaust denial, in a January 2001 issue of The Asian Reporter).
Smith was disappointed, however, when he found that there was almost no interest in these his articles. He eventually abandoned this approach as well, and for a time limited his activity to posting occasional pieces of Holocaust denial or anti-Israel propaganda on his Web site.