Holt Uncensored

Holt Uncensored

 

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  #369
by Pat Holt

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

 







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'BEHIND EVERY CHOICE IS A STORY'


NEWS I NEVER KNEW FROM THE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS FRONT
LETTERS

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'BEHIND EVERY CHOICE IS A STORY'

Here's a fun quiz - well, perhaps not as fun as it is informative and timely. Guess who's saying this:

"My first interaction with a local police chief was not good. I told him a mass demonstration had been planned against us on the coming Saturday, and that it could turn violent.

"'In that case,' he said, 'close your office on Saturday.'

"'Chief,' I said. "I don't think you understand. *We're* the law-abiding citizens. *They're* the perpetrators. We need protection.'

"The chief didn't get it, so I went to the mayor. Since then I learned that we have to provide for our own security. It's the best there is, but what annoys us all is that so much of that money could go into services for our clients."

Death threats, bombings, snipers, vandalism and violent demonstrations continued against the speaker's (new clue) clinics throughout the nation - so much that "finally we had to force the FBI, the U.S. Marshal, the federal attorney and the local police to sit down together and listen to us."

Have you figured out who she (gender tip) is? Here's another clue:

ANTHRAX THREATS ROUTINE

On the same day that Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle received the now-famous anthrax letter shortly after 9/11, our mystery woman walked into her Washington, D.C. headquarters and was told that a letter containing suspicious powder had been found in the mail that morning.

"The letter said something like 'We are going to kill you all,' " she says. "It was signed by a group familiar to us - probably 'The Army of God.' " She can't remember exactly because the note resembled about 500 other threatening letters that had been sent to clinics as well.

"Since 1998 we have trained our staffs to follow particular protocols for handling suspicious letters," she adds. "They know how to use masks and gloves when opening the mail. That day in D.C.,they had secured the suspicious letter in a plastic container, then called the FBI. Then we all went back to work."

Meanwhile, the media, the D.C. police, the Department of Justice, the Secret Service, the FBI, the ATF and others were "flipping out" about the anthrax letter sent to Daschle on the other side of town.

THE BOOK

You may have guessed that the speaker is Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood and author of the eye-opening and invaluable title, "Behind Every Choice Is a Story" (University of North Texas Press; 242 pages; $19.95).

Feldt's book couldn't come at a more crucial time. For one thing, the Bush administration is proceeding with its intention to criminalize abortion, bring in the "sex police" (see NEWS below) and "shift family planning funding to useless abstinence-only sex-education," as Feldt says.

For another, following the attacks of 9/11, the approach by Attorney General John Ashcroft has been to empower federal law enforcement so much that civil liberties have been weakened. While Ashcroft believes this is the only way to deal with terrorism, other approaches represented by private groups such as Planned Parenthood have proven that security protections *and* civil liberties can be strengthened at the same time.

ASHCROFT'S LESSON

We learn from the book that an example of Ashcroft's blind spot occurred a month *before* 9/11, in August of 2001. Feldt writes that a doctor who had been providing abortions had been targeted by an extremist group during an upcoming mass demonstration in Wichita, Kansas.

The Department of Justice knew of "hit lists" and murder threats against physicians who performed abortions - for example, Dr. Barnett Slepian had been killed by anti-choice assassins in his own home. Nevertheless, Ashcroft "declined to send federal marshals" to protect the targeted doctor in Wichita, Feldt writes.

The irony is not lost on the author: "Mind you, the last time this kind of mass protest was held in Wichita, the same doctor was shot and wounded," Feldt explains.

"Mind you also that Mr. Ashcroft had just addressed a conference on domestic terrorism, declaring his intent to make eradicating it a priority."

Only when "a news conference was held by pro-choice organizations in Washington, D.C.," was Ahshcroft forced to act. And while the federal marshals "were a big help" in Wichita, Feldt adds, "what made an even greater difference was the community support and preparedness, especially the coalition of clergy from many faiths, organized by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, in support of the doctor, civility, and a woman's right to choose."

As a result, the demonstration was peaceful, civil rights were protected, and the community itself felt emboldened in its resolve to defend democratic principles that could no longer, they insisted, be threatened by terrorism.

'TERRORISM IS TERRORISM'

To some, Planned Parenthood's methods of security were too good. Clayton Waagner, an escaped felon who had been convicted for stockpiling weapons against doctors who provided abortions, announced that because doctors were difficult to kill, he was going after easier targets - "it doesn't matter to me if you're a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper or janitor...I know where you live; I know what you drive."

After Waagner was seen stalking Planned Parenthood clinics, Feldt began hammering away at what should have been an obvious next step for law enforcement. Why was Waagner "seen, but not caught?" she asked. Here was a fugitive who had bragged that he had mailed "500 anthrax threats to reproductive health clinics" across the country.

Perhaps more important, when he announced his plans to go after clinic staff members, he wrote, "I'm going to kill you. We'll get this terrorism thing started in earnest."

And there it was, the t-word: terrorism.

Feldt had for years campaigned to "elevate" the status of attacks against reproductive health clinics as "hate crimes." Dealing with terrorists like Waagner, she was equally insistent that the Department of Justice officially list these crimes under "domestic terrorism," which the DOJ did, but only after 9/11.

Did this help? "I am convinced that Waagner was captured because of the elevated status," she says.

"I could not say with certainty that 9/11 itself was the cause of that elevation, but I would say the fact that reproductive health providers received the almost 500 letters claiming to contain anthrax in the wake of 9/11 as the federal government was grappling with receiving anthrax letters drove home the inescapable point: terrorism is terrorism."

HER OWN STORY

The book is loaded with letters to Feldt and to Planned Parenthood from clients, staffers and observers who make one realize how profoundly reproductive rights have shaped American culture and history, as Feldt contends.

But Feldt's own story is perhaps the most astonishing: Growing up in a small town in Texas, she was pregnant at 15 and a mother of three by 20. It took Feldt 12 years to graduate from college, working at Head Start and Planned Parenthood in the meantime, and discovering the world outside her home in Odessa, Texas, by watching Jack Paar from her ironing board.

By the time Feldt was taking a double load of courses in graduate school, she had become her own advocate for reproductive rights. She describes her indignation when informed in a doctor's office that her husband had to sign permission forms before she would get a tubal ligation. After refusing to leave, she waited for the furious technician to call Feldt's doctor, who "calmed" the staff down and insisted the procedure be performed.

As she became director of regional clinics, Feldt saw first-hand "invasions" of Operation Rescue protestors, who swarmed Planned Parenthood offices and chained themselves to desks after calling TV stations, which arrived just in time to film demonstrators being dragged away.

Then came the hard stuff - the lethal protests. Just off the phone with a Florida woman whose "husband was murdered as was the doctor they had been escorting," Feldt remembers receiving another horrifying call from the grandmother of a volunteer at Planned Parenthood's clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Later, Nicki Nichols Gamble, president of the Massachusetts Planned Parenthood League, told Feldt that a man had walked into the facility, killed one person and injured three others, then went down the street and killed another person, all "in broad daylight." Another physician's home was picketed. "She had small children," Gamble writes in a letter for the book. "There was enormous anxiety and fear that was created for her because of this. There was a constant sense that somebody close was not far from violence."

John Ashcroft knows of these realities but nevertheless has refused to meet with Feldt, even when she publicly asked for a meeting after 9/11; even after his own Justice Department has officially classified these attacks as "domestic terrorism."

Surely he's seen the wisdom of a meeting in the last few years, I thought. After all, Eric Rudolph, who hid out in the North Carolina forests for five years after allegedly bombing reproductive health clinics, a gay bar and the 1966 Olympics, is certainly a person of mutual interest.

But no. "I never did get that meeting with Ashcroft," Feldt says, "though I tried in my own capacity by enlisting Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ and a strong supporter of Ashcroft - I remain an Arizona resident and voter)." No luck there, either.

"I also requested meetings in coalition with the other organizations that represent reproductive healthcare providers (Feminist Majority and National Abortion Federation). Our three organizations have been working collaboratively with the Justice Department for many years and met with Janet Reno several times.

"All that said, our staff people are in frequent contact with the FBI, ATF and the Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice, all of which work on these issues, as you have probably seen in regard to the recent capture of Eric Rudolph." So at least somebody's answering the phone.

THE FOUR 'LIFE LESSONS'

But what could Feldt say to the Department of Justice that would help federal law enforcement in the aftermath of 9/11?

Here are the four "life lessons" that "we in the reproductive health and rights movement have learned in the crucible," Feldt explains "as we all struggle to heal and move forward from the terrorist attacks of September 11." (She summarized these at the BEA panel but I'm quoting from the more extensive statements in the book.)

1) "It is possible to recover from such a tragedy [deaths and damage from terrorists' attacks] and keep the integrity of mission and purpose intact; indeed, to recover with our mission and purpose even stronger." Even as they mourned, she says, the families of assassinated clinic doctors "recommitted themselves to securing simple justice for women" by giving them the choice over their own bodies.

2) "It is possible to balance absolute commitment to personal freedom with an equally absolute commitment to the safety of our people." Go to a Planned Parenthood clinic, she says, and you'll have no idea that behind the comfortable and inviting homey atmosphere is a fortress constructed of bullet-proof glass and reinforced walls "that no one can drive a truck through.

Outside, friendly and tough-as-nails escorts accompany clients into the clinic, regardless of how loud, interruptive or obscene the shouts and catcalls ("Are you here to murder your child?") may be from anti-choice protestors.

3) "The best way to achieve that balance between safety and freedom is for leaders in the community - and all the rest of us - to stand together courageously against the violence, regardless of their stance on abortion. This alone can create the social climate in which violence is extinguished because it simply never gets any oxygen."

Instead of reverting to an Operation TIPS program in which neighbors spy on each other and report suspicious findings to the government, Feldt's third principle means that our greatest defense occurs when everyone affirms "the highest moral values of a pluralistic democracy: freedom, respect, personal integrity." That affirmation was renewed, as law professor David Cole indicated, when public uproar forced Ashcroft to curtail Operation TIPS.

4) "All terrorists are joined at the head." Feldt continues. "Their aim is to create mass hysteria and stop us from doing our work. When they do deter us, they have won. Action is the best antidote to the powerless feeling that comes after an attack, and remaining on course is our best revenge against terrorism."

One wishes that's what George W. Bush meant when he encouraged Americans to "get back to normal" after 9/11. More important than shopping or traveling, Feldt believes, is our insistence that civil rights protections allow us to take the "high moral ground. We can feel strengthened by the very thing the terrorists hate; our diversity, our tolerance for each other, and our intolerance of intolerance."

A CHANGE IN THE MEDIA'S APPROACH

Here's another "life lesson" Feldt believes the prochoice movement can teach us: In its very good intentions to report all sides of a story, the American press has lost sight of what it means to "show the other side."

It's one thing to report that the prochoice movement is opposed by an antiabortion movement; quite another to *create* another "side" for the sake of controversy and ratings, as Feldt believes happened when she appeared on CNN to discuss the killing of Dr. Barnett Slepian, a doctor who had performed abortions.

Assured by the producer of CNN's "Talk Back Live" that she would appear alone with host Bobbie Batista to discuss the murder and its implications, Feldt, who was speaking from a remote studio, found herself onscreen with a woman from a group called National Right to Life.

There to represent "the other side," this woman "told America that she understood how the murderer could have become so frustrated at his inability to outlaw abortion that he murdered another human being," Feldt writes.

" 'The other side?' There is no other side to murder," retorted Feldt.

The problem is a kind of journalism that polarizes complicated issues into two black-and-white sides - that legitimizes ridiculous if not criminal points of view. "It has made abortion sensationalized, even sex education controversial. It obscures the real sides, the many sides, to women's health and reproductive rights."

To those who object to her book, "there is no 'other side' to women's stories," she says. "We owe it to people to allow their voices to be heard without opposition. Many of the stories are about things other than abortion. Is there 'another side' to a Pap smear? Is there 'another side' to telling your kids about sex?"

What about such coverage as the recent Newsweek cover story, "Should a Fetus Have Rights? How Science Is Changing the Debate," in which the same old questions - when does life begin? - are seen through the lens of new high-tech fetal surgery and ultrasound?

"I think the *media* is saying that science is changing perceptions," she suggests. "As a woman who has given birth three times, I think women know exactly what is going on in their bodies, and that nothing has changed except the growing complexity of making decisions about fetal surgery, etc.

"But indeed a major anti-choice political strategy is to elevate the fetus to a legal status equal to or higher than the woman. That would make Roe vs. Wade moot, and 'The Handmaid's Tale' nonfiction."

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

I thought Feldt would describe the dreariest of futures when it comes to the chipping-away by courts of Roe vs. Wade and a deference to states rights from Reagan to Bush Jr. that has led to a reduction of abortion services in 88% of counties in the United States. Happily, she's of two minds:

'THE WORST I HAVE EVER SEEN'

"Right now, the political situation is the worst I have ever seen," says Feldt. "There is no question whatsoever that we're going to lose a lot more before we start winning again. And we could lose Roe v. Wade. That's not at all unthinkable."

In a way, after all the weakening done to prochoice by the courts, that would be a relief. "It's true, Roe has become a fragile shell, and maybe one reason is that we won it 'from the top down' the first time; The Supreme Court made a decision, and everybody relaxed. We thought a woman's right to choose would forever be protected. That was a bit premature, to say the least.

"Now I think we have to re-win Roe, and this time 'from the bottom up ' - we have to get a grassroots movement going that will pass freedom of choice acts state by state until we can eventually pass it at federal level."

That movement appears to be underway through the Planned Parenthood Action Network, an activist network that has aggressively lobbied against President Bush's nominations of conservative, antichoice judges (Priscilla Owen, Miguel Estrada), against senators like Rick Santorum (who believes married couples do not have the right to use contraceptives), and for candidates who are prochoice. The website is a delight and an inspiration - go to http://www.ppaction.org/ppaction/home.html.

ON THE POSITIVE SIDE

"There also have been some very big steps forward in last few years. You have to look larger than abortions; you have to see women's health and family planning as the bigger picture because we have to be working on other issues, too.

"For example, the movement to get contraceptive coverage by insurance companies has been very successful. Some say the emergence of Viagra shamed them into it, but because we had legislation already pending, insurance coverage for contraceptives passed in 20 states where more than half the population lives, and we're winning lawsuit after lawsuit over major companies. I'd say in a few more years, contraceptive coverage will be routine, a nonissue.

"Technological advances have been extremely important. Emergency contraception like mifepristone (taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse; see NEWS below) now exists in a branded product, so we can talk about it, advertise it, get people to know about it. We're getting laws passed where pharmacies can actually prescribe emergency contraception because it's so time-sensitive.

"For Planned Parenthood, with its 900 health centers, of which only 160 provide abortions right now, if we can get our clinics to provide mifepristone, the early abortion pill, then suddenly, that sad fact of 88% of counties no longer offering abortion providers will no longer be true."

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WHAT *IS* THE PROBLEM

There can be no question that a climate of hatred surrounds extremists' reactions to Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health centers. One need only visit a website like that of National Right to Life or Army of God to see the vitriol with which accusations are made and "hit lists" are kept.

"The hate feeds the violence and both are fed by fear. Our adversaries are terrified of us because they fear that what we do changes the roles of women and elevates women's status, and they think this will change their world irrevocably.

"They are, of course, right about that.

"They can clearly see how today's world has been shaped by the reproductive rights movement - and they don't like it one bit. That part I can understand. I am not able to grasp why they think that gives them the right to attack violently those with whom they disagree."

In fact, the joy of Feldt's book is to see that the reverse is true at the places under attack: "A fundamental difference between the prochoice and antichoice positions is that the prochoice position allows for and respects the antichoice position," writes Feldt.

"No one has to have an abortion regardless of what society thinks about that person's appropriateness as a parent. The prochoice position defends your right not to choose abortion."

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NEWS I NEVER KNEW FROM THE REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS FRONT:

Feldt's book offers a number of juicy tidbits about issues of interest (whether we're of parenting age or not) that haven't received much notice, and I learned more in my interview with Gloria Feldt. Here are a few of them:

* Here's an intriguing irony I never thought about before: "In a society where a 13-year-old boy can be tried for a crime as an adult," Feldt writes, "a 17-year-old girl has to get her parent's permission for an abortion."

* How far can they go (1): "Texas has passed a new 'sex police law' that says a minor female who comes in for contraception has been sexually abused because she's underage. Therefore she has to be reported as a victim of sexual abuse."

* Federal funds for abstinence-only sex education have soared to $100 million a year. But statistics show that abstinence-only doesn't work. American teenagers are just as active as teens in France, Sweden, Canada and Great Britain; and yet American teens' rates of pregnancy, birth and abortion are far higher.

* Only 2 to 3 percent of women who have unintended pregnancies give their baby up for adoption.

* "Today's so-called conservatives are sometimes surprised to know that Barry and Peggy Goldwater were [Planned Parenthood's] staunchest supporters," Feldt writes. "Barry Goldwater believed that a true conservative is pro-choice because he or she wants the government to stay out of something as personal and private as whether and when to have a child."

* Guess what happened to RU-486, the French "morning after pill" that hit such a storm of protest in the United States that the French manufacturer refused to market it in the United States? Well, it's here anyway! We simply don't call it RU-486 (too volatile); we call it by its safer, more scientific name, "mifepristone." Thanks to pressure from the Clinton administration, the French company *donated* the rights to the drug to the nonprofit Population Council, and that's how it got past U.S. borders.

* Guess who said this: "We need to make family planning a household word. We need to take the sensationalism out of the topic so it can no longer be used by militants...[who] are using it as a political stepping stone." Oh, dear. It was George H. W. Bush in 1970 (Junior must have been in his teens by then), before he changed his mind during Ronald Reagan's search for a vice president.

* How far can they go (2): "Congress is considering a law that would make it a crime for an adult who is not the parent to take a minor across state lines for the purpose of having an abortion."

* When a lesbian teacher explained to her fifth grade class that she and her partner had decided to have a child, "one little girl asked if the father was a redhead," a contributor of one of the many letters in the book writes. "Another little girl interrupted and said, 'Don't be silly; he isn't the father. He's the donor. A father is someone who plays a role in your life. This is just about semen."

* Hospital mergers in the 1990s have led to an "increased dominance of the Catholic Church in health care," resulting in the "elimination," in Catholic hospitals, of "tubal ligation, vasectomy, abortion, in vitro fertilization, contraceptives, counseling on the use of condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS, and emergency contraception even for rape victims," Feldt writes. "More than 85 million Americans receive care at hospitals affiliated with Catholic health care system, and most of these patients aren't Catholic and don't share the beliefs of that system."

* "It doesn't help when teenagers are told 'just say no' because 'no' is not a value or a goal," Feldt writes. Further, abstinence-only sex education is based on fear: Don't have sex because you'll get a disease, because you'll get pregnant, because you'll lose your reputation. "What ultimately matters in life is what we say 'yes' to," she adds. "Positive attitudes about sexuality and clear expectations for behavior in sexual relationships contribute to responsible teenage behavior."

* How far can they go (3): "Every state allows minors to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases by their own consent. But Texas has parsed out different sections of STD: With the more well-known diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis, a teenager can still get confidential testing and treatment. But with problems that aren't part of the traditional public health action system - chlamydia, HPV, trichomonas - parents must be notified."

* "Often the medical establishment has been both the problem and the solution," Feldt writes. "It fought to outlaw abortion late in the 19th century because midwives performed them, and that represented money not going into doctors' pockets. And it created on imperfect and patently unfair solution by providing relatively safe but illegal abortions to women with money."

* How far can they go (4): "The next wave of laws I see coming up are restrictions on minors getting contraceptives. We have been able to fight this in Congress under the Title X Family Planning Fund up until now. But we're seeing it pop up in some states, and it appears to be the direction that Congress will take this year."

* One out of 4 girls who are having sex feel ambivalent about it. Common "reasons" for having sex are: "I went along with it," or "I was afraid he would leave me." For these girls, sexual abstinence education means nothing. In their lives, sex is "about who holds the culturally sanctioned power."

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LETTERS

Dear Holt Uncensored:

As much as I enjoyed your summary of BookExpoAmerica in Los Angeles, I have to wonder if we were at the same show. From my limited perspective, the industry is in an accelerating state of melt-down. There appeared to be more resumes being handed out than galleys, and many booths were seriously depopulated. If the summer and fall are nearly as bad for retailers as this spring has been, then we'll all be queued up for a Starbucks gig.

Christopher R. Kerr

Holt responds: Of course you're right. I didn't mention that my heart sank when the American Booksellers Association announced its membership had sunk below 2,000, or when it became clear that booth sizes had shrunk for the big guys and many independent and university presses had stayed home or were doubling up. And yet when I saw those (to me) courageous booksellers on the dais at the ABA membership meeting, I kept thinking, well, who else is taking up the gauntlet for all of us, especially when it comes to state governments reclaiming lost sales tax from chain bookstores, bills aimed to stop the FBI from demanding records of what we read, proof that independent retailing is the backbone of local communities and lists of really good literary and midlist titles going out under the radar of bestsellers to discriminating readers (through BookSense)? I mean, from PMA to the African American, gay and Latino subconventions to political panels (covered in #368) and editor presentations (see next time), what fire spewed forth! What energy captured the literary spirit! Yes, the economy is a killer, the Bush administration unbookish and warlike but heavens, let's not count our guys out yet (and say,do you want to see my resume?)


Dear Holt Uncensored:

I caught Al Franken's talk on CSPAN2 at BookExpoAmerica, and I missed Bill O'Reilly's rebuttal. I figured O'Reilly would do exactly what you quote him saying: harp on the point that Franken made about the Polk/Peabody confusion. In fact, O'Reilly tries to minimize the problem by pointing to Franken's ideology, but doesn't respond to Franken's main contention: that the Polk/Peabody mistake was a perfect example, even writ small, of the kind of error-mongering that O'Reilly engages in.

O'Reilly misspoke on the record several times about the Peabody. When called on it by Franken, he repeated the error, then acknowledged he was wrong and didn't go public to correct it. After a columnist wrote about Franken's finding on the Peabody, O'Reilly goes on his show and denounces the columnist saying that he'd never said anything about a Peabody -- even though Franken has transcripts from the shows in which he did.

A friend of mine wrote a piece here in Seattle a couple of years ago that was eerily prescient of Franken's point. My friend wrote about Michael Medved's strong response to the movie Amistad on his radio program, and then his later denying that he had such a response. Unfortunately, Medved wrote a letter to the editor about the article saying, show me the transcript. My friend not only had the transcript but the video from a TV program on which Medved said the same thing.

The point here is that the folks that Franken criticizes -- and I don't care personally whether they're on the left or right, but Franken's convinced they're all on the right -- either have lied themselves into believing that whatever they say becomes reality (I've had bosses like that), or believe that people are so lazy that they'll never actually investigate the past to determine whether they said what they said they didn't say, or they're so cynical that they believe that none of their audience will believe anyone like Franken calling them on the issues even if Franken has the facts.

I can't wait for Franken's book.

Glenn Fleishman


Dear Holt Uncensored:

You said: "Book publishing, which for heaven's sake needs more points of view than any of us ever could count, has fallen under the control of fewer and fewer corporations."

While this is, of course, frighteningly true of "big" publishers, the other side of the picture is the more than 50,000 small independent publishers in America today - reportedly generating over $14 billion in revenue. And like the independent bookstores, many of us are struggling financially - but we're hanging in there for the count.

Fern Reiss Peanut Butter and Jelly Press


Dear Holt Uncensored:

Surely you're not going to let PW's description of Barnes & Noble's shareholders meeting go without comment?

"Framed by two large illustrations -- one featuring Moby Dick, mouth open, rising from the ocean, the other of a giant Gulliver struggling against the tiny Lilliputians who've tied him down -- Barnes & Noble chairman Leonard Riggio told the company's annual shareholders meeting this morning, "Last year was worst year for retail in my lifetime. For the first time I can remember, there is a malaise in publishing. That makes our work as booksellers all the more tough."

A Reader

Holt responds: Isn't that PW naughty! Now let's see: I know whose mouth is always open, but who's the prey and who's the predator?


Dear Holt Uncensored:

I enjoyed your column in the Chronicle for years, but I have to unsubscribe from your current newsletter. I'm sorry, but my interest lies in the book business and not in your political opinions. I get political info elsewhere.

I hope you'll let me know when it's time to go back to the business of books.

Kate

Holt responds: OK! And I also have this resume....


Dear Holt Uncensored:

I agree with those arguing that a small company's decision not to handle a book that it's uncomfortable with isn't censorship, but, as a Brit living in the U.S., must say I have encountered various forms of near-censorship in this country. Far more than in other democracies, including the U.K. While some forms of pornography are still liable to censorship in the U.K., I've never had an editor censor a book there, while I've had two books censored here.

The first was a novel called "The Final Programme," published by Avon in 1969, where considerable minor changes were made both to my Anglicisms and to my statements about what's these days called gender-bending and to my ironies -- i.e. rationalising what the editor found hard to get his head around -- all done without my approval and in many cases getting the conversion from British to American English wildly wrong. But the worst case I've had is with a book called "Byzantium Endures," which is the first in a tetralogy about the origins of the Holocaust. This again is an ironic/comic novel in which the hero is clearly Jewish but is viciously anti-Semitic.

In that book, published by Random House, a great deal of the character's anti-Semitism, as well as his evident paedophilia, was removed because the publisher thought it might give offence not to the public but to their Jewish trade reps! The book, which was written I venture to say with high seriousness, became a travesty of the original. Needless to say, the tradition in which the book was written was understood by every Jewish critic who reviewed it and by every Jewish reader (as far as I know). It was Wasps who failed to get the irony and were afraid of giving offence and acted accordingly. This means that in my experience I have been censored more in the USA than I was in Soviet Russia!

These aren't issues for me any longer, and Random House were careful not to repeat their error in "The Laughter of Carthage," which was mainly set in the American South, but it did bring home the habit of self-censorship which I've noticed pretty much across the whole U.S. media.

The U.K. doesn't have a Second Amendment, and even the original Bill of Rights (1689) which so anticipates the American Bill of Rights, doesn't allow for press freedom, yet people are more able to speak their minds on TV and radio, in the newspapers and yes, it seems, even in books, than they are here. Public approval is more important culturally in this country than it is, say, in France or England, so people have developed a habit of, if you like, self-control. It serves Authority very well, I must say.

At its finest, American eloquence in the service of liberty is the best in the world. Sadly, it seems to me, that eloquence frequently goes unheard, thanks to the caution of radio and TV editors especially. If I were to begin a campaign, it would be to shame those editors into standing up for freedom of debate and the expression of views that perhaps don't always speak to the lowest common denominator. Real debate is the lifeblood of democracy, and real democracy is not only the best system we have for maintaining liberty - it is also the best system we have for creating real wealth. Authoritarian government impoverishes us at every level.

Michael Moorcock
Lost Pines, Texas


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