Playing Host to Controversy

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lee Bollinger, president of Columbia University, explains the comments he made when he introduced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday.


Lee Bollinger

Comments [54]

peter from switzerland

amen lamont! i also agree with the above posters who state that bollinger was rude and came off as insular. what a shame.

Sep. 26 2007 06:03 AM
talat from Alanya, Republic of Turkey

Hi Folks
I have always proposed(if you believe the U.N. is worth anything)moving the U.N. to another country and a friendly city, New York city never was clean, polite, green, having enough space, and its people are even less what the city is.
talat muskara,

Alanya, Republic of Turkey

p.s. these npr shows are great, it gives a peek into the American Empire' s Political Correct(PC) thinking and mass indoctrinations, that would make Stalin blush.

Sep. 25 2007 10:52 PM
Peter from Park Slope

In all seriousness, I am curious if Bollinger would have invited Hitler to speak as well. That would have been a great question to ask him. Where would Bollinger draw the line?


Sep. 25 2007 06:41 PM
Lamont from Harlem, NYC

Once again, this is testimony to the ignorance that plagues this country. Here we are calling him evil, yet what does anyone know about this man other than what is fed to us through BS newspapers and media feeds. Get real people, you or I don't know anything about this him, but I do respect him for coming from far to talk to us, despite the harsh sentiments against him. And I also respect him, for coming alone in the midst of the crises going on around the world. If he wanted to do something to us, he would have done it already. So let's get our ish together, and learn something from this.

Sep. 25 2007 04:57 PM

Brian hit the nail on the head with his early question: Have you ever introduced someone in this way? (He did not.) In making the hostility of his introduction the story, Bollinger obscures what he claims to be fighting for, namely Ahmadinejad's right to be heard. In demonizing the country of Iran in the personality of someone who's actual executive powers are in fact very constrained, Bollinger made the same "mistake" (the good faith read) / uses the same tactic (bad faith read) as the Bush administration, paving the road for another war of ignorance.

Sep. 25 2007 04:45 PM
Don from New York

My comment (#48) to WNYC is my first to the station. I apologize for exceeding the word limit (having just noticed and read the Comment Guidelines).

Sep. 25 2007 03:52 PM
Don from New York

I have not had an opportunity to hear or read all of what Lee Bollinger said (except for his introduction of Amedinejad). I do believe that basic courtesy demands that at least the first words of Bollinger not be rude. For example, he could have opened with: "Welcome to Columbia as a fellow human being who we believe has the right to free speech here. Be forewarned, however, that what follows at this forum is a series of tough and unvarnished questions about your public statements." Bollinger’s responses to his being rude when he defends free speech regarding the forum generally beg the basic issue--his rudeness at the beginning of the event. Courtesy and free speech are not mutually exclusive. They can coexist.

The questions and answer part of the program could be a completely no-holds-barred forum (even with rude, discourteous, ad hominem, and other possible distasteful aspects of debate or discussion). These sharp outcroppings, even with someone like Amedinejad, perhaps are still to be avoided in any debate or discussion. That is a separate issue.

Anybody can lose control in the heat of argument–I have–but I find Bollinger’s introduction of Amedinejad hard to justify before the heated discussion began. I agree with the various listeners’ comments to this effect. We should be better than what happened to an invited guest at the beginning of the program.

Sep. 25 2007 03:27 PM
Lorenzo from NY

While reading first page titles these days one gets the impression that they are probably not very different from Iranian propaganda; one might also argue that both societies show signs of hysterical insecurity. What could have been viewed as an opportunity to implicitly showcase "western values" was almost squandered by Bollinger's fear of loosing his job and by students unaware of the historical role of Universities.

Sep. 25 2007 02:55 PM

Next, I am finding it ironic that we (the public) are trying to strong-arm a sovereign nation's leader to concede to our nations will without a fight. It is rather unbelievable considering the fact U.S. has went out of its way to start and propagate half the problems in the Mideast for its own interests. The interests being that of large cooperation's and such not necessarily the same as majority of the people as is becoming increasingly clear these days. Anyway, U.S. has to have better foreign policies that are not threatening but respectful of other nations and cultures.
I think being citizens of this country we feel a sense of duty to our country. Therefore, individuals like Bollinger will feel impassioned to make statements, which may be true but not the right time or place. The only way anything is going to change for the better is to have people in our office that we can agree with and that which respects the people it was elected to serve. Our job is to fix the problems at home and most of which was caused by the current administration. In the meantime, let Bush do his own dirty work.

Sep. 25 2007 01:42 PM

I am fascinated by the way President Ahmadinejad has been treated by the people who have welcomed him to come talk and express his opinion. I understand that he is a difficult man to talk with and he refuses to play by the rules. Therefore, it is difficult not to get upset with the man. But, we have to get to know his perspective as much we can, at least as much of what we get to be our policies (Bush administration's) are towards Iran right now.

Sep. 25 2007 01:42 PM
Chad Harris from Ridgewood

Notice how WNYC changed "The Host with the Most" to "Playing Host to Controversy"

Apparently they realized he wasn't the host with the most.

Sep. 25 2007 11:57 AM
Erik from Broooklyn

Context, can we get a discussion that recognizes that this was simply one discussion amongst many.

I'd also be interested to hear how the Berdymukhammedov (illegitimate son of prior turkmenistan soviet leader) session went.

Contrast both to Michelle Bachelet ( socialist single monther head of Chile) conversation last night.

Sep. 25 2007 11:44 AM
Solomon Kumpf from NY, NY

Let's see who Bollinger invites next. Is there a long enough list of psychotics for him to choose from? Some university.

Sep. 25 2007 11:40 AM
mgdu from hell's kitchen

Re #32:
Because we are such delicately attuned social animals, what will be said, even what can be thought, at a public meeting is largely determined by the prevailing ambience. Thoughtful analyses that many people would advance in an impartial intellectual discussion do not even enter their heads in a demagogic circus. Perhaps you would find some value in reading Reich’s “Mass Psychology of Fascism”.

Bollinger, to his ineradicable shame, betrayed his university and his vocation, pandered to political pressure, doing all he could to demonize Ahmadinejad and Iran, thereby stifling honest discussion and exchange of ideas, in order to help herd America down the chute toward another vicious war. For America to save ourself from that, we are going to have to pinpoint the sources of that political pressure and expose them for the treachery that they are

Sep. 25 2007 11:35 AM
Solomon Kumpf from NY, NY

Bollinger came off like a dork.

Sep. 25 2007 11:35 AM

Yesterday was only the center of the universe if you think this was important. It seemed to me business as ususal in the USA. Bollinger invites the Iranian leader and then insults him after being criticized for inviting him, bowing to political and finanacial pressure. The media covers the story typically, we let the boogie man make a speech, aren't we great here in America. Get out your flags.

Sep. 25 2007 11:19 AM
Lee from Molloy College

I find the provincialism of President Bollinger positively astounding. Did he consider how is ad hominum attacks would play on the world stage, especially in the Middle East?

Enough of the political grand-standing that does nothing more than to polarize and divide peoples.

Sep. 25 2007 11:02 AM
Lee from Molloy College

I find Bolligner's provincialism positively astounding. Did he once consider how is ad hominum attacks would feed into anti-Americanism abroad, especially in the Middle East?

The world needs more dialogue and less grandstanding.

Sep. 25 2007 10:59 AM
Jon from NYC

The harsh rhetoric of bollinger's introduction dissapointed me, because it gave ahmedinejad the ammunition to turn his talk into a tirade of criticism against columbia university-Bollinger responded to local conservative political pressures to disengage with adverse political figures and tabloid media criticism of columbia's decision, more than giving truly incisive and critical introduction. Columbia, as represented by Bollinger's introduction, should have acted on the higher moral ground on which it stands, rather than stoop to the level of Ahmedinejad

Sep. 25 2007 10:59 AM

and ......

Brian, Brian, i think that you were not very objective yesterday, and i think you wanted to fan the flames as well

Sep. 25 2007 10:58 AM
ab from nyc

Wow....a lot of sympathy for Ahmadinejad. THAT'S shocking!

Sep. 25 2007 10:47 AM
Diana Manister from Staten Island NY

Ahmadinejad did NOT say there were no homosexuals in Iran. Brian misquoted him. The translation of that statement was "we do not have homosexuals in Iran the way you do in the United States."

That is quite different. Perhaps he means that most homosexuals are in the closet in Iran, which would make sense if they suffer consequences for overt behavior. I am no admirer of Ahmadinejad, but there is no excuse for misquoting him just to make him look like an idiot.

Sep. 25 2007 10:46 AM
Peter D.B. from New York City

How does Bollinger's critical introduction of Ahmadinejad interfere with his free speech? It seems that the complaint is merely that it was rude. So what?

Sep. 25 2007 10:44 AM
Susan from New York

I too am shocked at the bad and uncivil behavior of Lee Bollinger, the President of Columbia University. Instead of using the opportunity to conduct a dialogue with the Iranian Leader, he shut the dialogue down before it started. It makes me wonder if he is not bowing to the political pressures of the Conservative Right and the powerful Jewish lobby in this country. There are more to world history and contemporary events that the Holocaust. And Brian Lehrer, you have tendency to shut down the dialogue when this issue is discussed. Shame on you!

Sep. 25 2007 10:40 AM
Norman from New York

As one of the callers said, we have free speech in this country in theory but not in practice.

Institutions like Columbia are getting a lot of money, in exchange for which they've given up a lot of their freedom to discuss subjects that are unpopular among the people they get their money from.

So it took a certain amount of courage (if you define courage down) to have Ahmadinejad at all.

Brian is a nice guy, and makes good points, but as usual if you want the progressive perspective as most people on this list do, you can get it from DemocracyNow!
(with the luxury of a transcript posted around noon that you can read carefully).

Sep. 25 2007 10:39 AM
Lori from Kensington

What have I learned? This is a pretty poor indication of the state of affairs in Ivy League academia. Bollinger came off as constrained by the likes of FOX News and the Post. Depressing.

And it doesn't take away from the horrendous homophobia and anti-Semitism displayed by a world ruler.

Sep. 25 2007 10:38 AM
Fred from Soho

Brian I would aBrian
I would appreciate you stop saying that he questions the validity of the Holocaust. He said quite clearly that he wanted further research into the particulars of the event. No one ever questions the legality of the displacement of the Palestinian people. What are the historical records regarding how the decision was made? Why would anyone not want the full story? The dirty little secret is that the European countries and the USA did not want masses of displaced Jews living in their countries because of anti-Semitism.

Sep. 25 2007 10:38 AM
Margaret Fell from Queens, NY

Has anyone seen any media coverage on the reactions of Columbia alumni-- especially donors-- to the Ahmadinejad invitation?
This may have been a really important in shaping Bollinger's attack-- it was a way of going back on the invite without rescinding it, thus mollifying important audiences, particularly those with money.

Sep. 25 2007 10:37 AM
Dan from Kearny, NJ

No diplomatic diplomacy (What?!).....the average person asking dopey questions and putting the head of a country on the spot. I like that. The gay thing was unnecessary though. Sounds like we';re going to have the Gay thing shoved down our throats (no pun intended) like having Blacks in every TV commercial. Can't we all just get along?

Sep. 25 2007 10:35 AM
justin from Manhattan

His comments about Homosexuality or womens rights or human rights would not have added up to the attention he is getting for discussing the Jewish question.
What does it say about he Jewish lobby, we dont hear about the Gay and Lesbian Movement or Womens Rights organizations etc having a chance to have their views be heard vis-a-vis Iran heard but you can always see the Jewish lobby strongly represented.

Sep. 25 2007 10:34 AM
obi from Queens, NY

I didn't learn much more about Ahmadinejad from his appearance at Columbia, in fact his comment about there being no homosexuals in Iran reinforced for me his loose grasp on reality, but the way he was treated by the Columbia president was reprehensible and it makes our country look horrible, particularly in the muslim world

Sep. 25 2007 10:34 AM
A. Mills from Jersey City, New Jersey

My concern is that there is too little discussion as to why Ahmadinejad wanted to make this speech. I think we're taking too much for granted that he would feel the need to defend himself to Americans. He knew he would be excoriated, what did he gain?

Sep. 25 2007 10:30 AM
Samuel from Chicago

Bollinger proports to engage in free-speech advocacy and yet his notion of "free-speech" is a rather violent, bully-pulpit style of ad hominem oratory. Yes, such speech is "free" but then at the same time Bollinger's style is not the same as "free-exchange" of speech. Ahmadinejad, whose views I find quite terrible (and here I agree with Bollinger), was nonetheless right on when he started his speech by saying he was off put by such an introduction: yet another lost chance for open dialogue. Raise the questions, but preserve more than just a "formal" space for exchange.

Sep. 25 2007 10:29 AM

I'm a Columbia University SIPA student, and I'm very disappointed in how Mr. Bollinger conducted this event. He used this stage to protect his status and to keep the University's patrons happy. What kind of an academic institution is this? This has nothing to do with "freedom of speech" as he pretend it to be. I don't believe in what Ahmadinejad stands for, but it's rude to invite a head of state and criticize him. Columbia may not receive any more visits from heads of states.

Sep. 25 2007 10:26 AM
Brian from Manhattan

Bollinger's comments also make a stronger case for why Columbia U. should NOT be allowed to pursue its campus expansion program via eminent domain -- he totally skewed the 'dialog' with his judgement and conviction of another state's leader.

This does not reflect an impartial, institution serving the public good as required by eminent domain.

Sep. 25 2007 10:24 AM

The NEW YORK TIMES of Monday, Sept. 24, 2007,, page A4 Really presented the criteria that might have presented a reasonable debate. Dr Bollinger is full of crap and is rationalizing his very rude opening remarks ; if he was interested in discourse with M>A> then it should have been a debate between M>A> and himself and some other people appointed to panel members ; he got to dump on someone out of favor with the U.S. -- I would ask that when george walker bush comes to columbia to "replenish the old coffers" that he read the exact same remarks...
The young man recently tasered in Florida conducted himself in a much more civically mature manner.

Sep. 25 2007 10:23 AM
mgdu from hell's kitchen

Bollinger's self gratulatory blather is some of the worst drivel wnyc has ever aired. And of course Brian sucks it up approvingly.

Sep. 25 2007 10:21 AM

It is very dissapointing that Brian is fully supporting and approving the shamefull conduct of Bollinger.

Sep. 25 2007 10:21 AM
Nancy from New York

I missed the beginning of your program but I wanted to say that Bollinger's remarks left me more dispirited than I have been in a very long time. I would expect so much more from the president of Columbia University. My disappointment at his language and tone is enormous.

Sep. 25 2007 10:18 AM
Kitty from Brooklyn

The University invited President Ahmadinejad to speak. Instead, President Bollinger bowed to political pressure and introduced him in a manner that was not appropriated and was utterly disrespectful.

While President Ahmadinejad's views are morally reprehensible and politically dangerous, respect should have been given to him to be able to represent those views, no matter how much we disagree.

Sep. 25 2007 10:17 AM
mgdu from hell's kitchen

Bollinger’s performance yesterday makes Heidegger at Freiburg look politically courageous. Bollinger showed himself to be an enemy of free speech and honest intellectual discussion. The major impact of Bollinger’s actions is to help trick intellectually limited Americans into supporting another vicious war. A war for which Brian Lehrer is also beating the drums.

Sep. 25 2007 10:17 AM
Sara Basermen from Bronx


Is ridiculously biased when it comes to any dissent on Israel. Heck so are most of the guests.

America is waking up from this bias. Palestine should be given equal support from the USA.

Sep. 25 2007 10:15 AM
Brian from Manhattan

In Bollinger's comments he notes "I am just a professor..." -- they WHY did he feel compelled to pre-judge, opine about, lambaste, and pre-characterize the guest speaker PRIOR to the speaker's speech?

Isn't a real academecian's objective to solicit views and information that foster thought-proviking analysis of his/her students?

Bollinger's comments were a pandering, reprimand -- similar to scolding a 1st grader -- a real embarassment to one of the U.S.'s leading academic institution.

Are we sure he's not a politician in professor's clothing?? He reminded me more of John Bolton than the president of a leading university.

Sep. 25 2007 10:13 AM
regina from aberdeen,nj

Name calling surely does not equate to dialog. I am disappointed.

Sep. 25 2007 10:12 AM
elle from New Jersey

I think Pres. Bollinger of Columbia rude beyond belief in his introductory remarks. Setting up someone for public humiliation is inexcusable - no matter the circumstance.
I am continually embarrassed by my government on the world stage and now by a leader of a prominent U.S. university. Shame.

Sep. 25 2007 10:12 AM
Fred from Soho

Mr. Bollinger’s tirade yesterday was shocking in its brutality. I am saddened that the atmosphere of character assassination perpetuated by the news media affects even academia. It was inappropriate for him to voice his personal opinions in the introduction an invited speaker. The cheering of the crowd after his 15 min speech propping up populist sound bites was embarrassing and frightening. The idea that adults at an event of an institute of higher learning could exhibit such approval for such cruel insulting behavior is ridiculous in the extreme.

Sep. 25 2007 10:11 AM
Mayo from Brooklyn

What kind of coward invites a guest, then is unable to uphold the rules of decorum because of caving in to public pressure? The man should be ashamed of himself.

Sep. 25 2007 10:10 AM
hjs from 11211

Bollinger's comments were awful. he is a bad host. what was the point. to teach a petty dictator how rude US citizens can be.

Sep. 25 2007 10:10 AM
Marion Banzhaf from Manhattan

Bollinger was exceedingly boorish and impolite, arrogant and not helpful in opening dialogue with this country that the US has just a checkered past with.

Imagine if he had started off apologizing for the CIA overthrowing democracy in his country!

Sep. 25 2007 10:10 AM
Ana Belle from Soho

Good point Brian,

Would he introduce Bush that way? He is responsible for the death 1 million Iraqis and 5000 Americans.

Sep. 25 2007 10:10 AM
whoindatgarden from brooklyn

What comes clearly through this discourse is that the Jewish Lobby is strong and well.
My friends and I were discussing earlier about the Military Weapons sale to Saudi Arabia and the subsequent Military Aid to Israel, and as we discussed it we all lowered our voices, and the consensus was that in the US it is very difficult to have a discussion about Israel/Palestine without immediately being labeled a Anti Semite.
It is under this cloud/fog that everything gets filtered. Dr. Ahemedinijad was elected by the people of Iran and is not a dictator, is labeled by the Media in the West as being a brutal dictator and all the other adjectives.
Well by not being able to have a constructive dialog at the University the organizers were placating those who fund the Endowment.
Outside of the US and Western European countries none of the other UN members are crtical of Iran's desire to have nuclear power .
In this country no elected official is ever going to admonish Israel on any account and thus the US can never be consider an honest broker to mediate.
As a society that prides itself on freedom of speech and open environment we lost an oppurtunity to have a true dialog. The thoughts expressed by Dr.Ahemedinijad may not be liked by people but there maybe some basis to have a honest dialog and that was missed.

Sep. 25 2007 10:10 AM
Irving Jacks

While I admire Pres. Bollinger's frank comments in his introduction of the Iranian president, wouldn't it have been more useful to have demanded a quid-pro-quo, in which an American representative would present a democratic argument on an Iranian platform.

Sep. 25 2007 10:09 AM
Irving Jacks

While I admire Pres. Bollinger's frank coments in his introduction of the Iranian president, wouldn't it have been more useful to arrange a quid-pro-quo involving an exchange between the Iranian at Columbia and an American at an Iranian platform.

Sep. 25 2007 10:06 AM
Chad Harris from Ridgewood,

This man is not the leader of Iran. The papers are calling him evil and protests. etc.

What about the BUSH protests today???????????????

Sep. 25 2007 10:02 AM

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