SOUTH BEND – That goofy Indiana state senator who said teachers must be “impartial” in lessons about Nazism actually accomplished a lot. Was he convincing that instruction about Nazism should be impartial, not aimed at teaching kids that Hitler was bad? No.
But Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville, sponsor of a bill on what and how to teach, had accomplishments. Notable nationally, he brought laughter for late-night TV viewers throughout this troubled land as the Hoosier state was ridiculed anew for the enlightenment of its officials.
Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show” quipped that Baldwin’s proposed restrictions on teaching would “leave shop class and six hours of dodgeball” as all that could be taught in Indiana schools.
In a satirical example of being “impartial” on Nazism, Colbert presented a version of “Saving Private Ryan,” the classic World War II movie, with script altered to have an American officer portrayed by Tom Hanks say, “Don’t shoot, let’s hear the Nazis out.”
Jokes about Baldwin abounded on TV, in print and especially on social media over his disagreement with a high school teacher during committee testimony on the bill and its restrictions on teachers expressing opinions. The teacher contended that neutrality can be carried too far and said it’s important to “take a stand in the classroom,” against Nazism.
Baldwin said that teachers could provide instruction on the existence of Nazism, Marxism and fascism. Then of the “isms” he warned the teacher: “I believe that we’ve gone too far when we take a position... We need to be impartial.”
After hearing what others thought about neutrality on Hitler, Baldwin retreated and apologized, claiming that he actually meant to say he “unequivocally” condemns Nazism, Marxism and fascism and that teachers “should condemn those dangerous ideologies.” Kind of hard to believe that’s what he meant when he called for being impartial.
In addition to bringing the joy of laughter, Baldwin accomplished something else. He brought down his own bill. With controversy over what the bill means, what Baldwin meant and what students should learn about Hitler, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray said of the bill that “there is no path forward for it and it will not be considered.”
There’s still a House version. The issue in some form, presumably with no neutrality for Nazism or equal time for Hitler, will be back later in this session or next year.
Another unintended accomplishment for Baldwin is more focus on what is termed “false balance.” That’s when, whether in education or politics or journalism, a purported effort for fair balance, for equal time, isn’t fair at all. Trying to balance a lesson plan about Hitler to achieve neutrality is of course false balance, just plain goofy. So was the directive by a Texas school administrator for teachers to provide reading materials with “opposing” views when discussing the Holocaust.
Back when tobacco companies were still insisting that cigarettes are safe, despite proof of the link to lung cancer, some news organizations, thinking they were following journalism precepts of balanced coverage, for too long gave equal time to “experts” paid by big tobacco to dispute science. That was false balance.
Climate change, until recently, was another example. Deniers paid by energy interests to spread lies and false theory were quoted at length in some places to give balance  – false balance. Presenting different views on what to do about climate change is proper, but still denying that it exists is like still arguing that the Earth is flat.
There are times when the facts are clear, leaving no moral or intellectual requirement to distort the truth with an “impartial” false balance. Demanding impartiality in discussing Hitler, Nazism or the Holocaust is the extreme of false balance, as goofy as it gets. 

Colwell is a South Bend Tribune columnist.