Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Books As Catalysts In A World Where Information And Points of View Are Often Suppressed

We were recently telling our library defenders about film maker activist Michael Moore and the connections he makes between libraries and the political freedoms essential to the underpinnings of Democracy.  One of the stories we told was about how his own censorious publisher was going to suppress and pulp unpublished a book he wrote that was critical of George W. Bush.
The happy ending to that story was that Moore’s book, “Stupid White Men: ...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!,” was rescued by a courageous librarian who mobilized her comrades and the book went on to top the best seller lists and may be helped people start thinking more circumspectly about the George W. Bush off-to-America’s-longest-ever-war administration when it was critical for Americans to do so.  See:  Michael Moore’s Anti-George Bush Book Was Saved From The Censorious 9/11 Tyranny by A Courageous Librarian Mobilizing Comrades, December 4, 2017.

In world where information and points of view get suppressed books can be a catalytic part of the media ecosystem that should never be underestimated . . .  even when it appears they are on the ropes losing the fight to pummeling suppression.

Another book suppressed by its own publisher was “JFK and Vietnam,” by Dr. John Newman, a retired U.S. Army Intelligence Officer and historian.  The book broke ground in documenting how president John F. Kennedy was engaged in significant preparatory steps to withdraw the United States from Vietnam just before he was assassinated.  The book has since been championed by James K. Galbraith, son of economist and writer John Kenneth Galbraith who served Kennedy as Ambassador to India and from whom Kennedy sought help to steer toward withdrawal from that war.  The book received praise from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. and former CIA head William Colby.

The National Security Agency didn't have a basis and couldn’t stop publication, but the publisher cooperatively pulled it from the book store shelves anyway.  The public lost access to it for 26 years.  See: National Notice- As The Kochs Acquire Ownership of Time Inc.- More About Where On The Spectrum Of Left/Right Politics That Publishing Organization Was Once To Be Found Plus More About What Once Did and Didn’t Get Said/Published In The U.S. Media, December 31, 2017.

But here’s what is odd to relate about the book’s sort of round about victory as it wended its way around to republication.  According to it’s author, Dr. Newman, the book became the catalyst for much of the content of Oliver Stone’s film “JFK.”  That led to the Congress acting to get documents declassified, which then helped Dr. Newman to be able do his research for his next book and that helped his original book finally get published.

Another example of a book being a catalyst for the publication of suppressed news was described recently by former New York Times reporter James Risen who now works for The Intercept.  He and another Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau, wrote a story about the  secret illegal and unconstitutional surveillance of the American public by the George W. Bush administration that won the New York Times a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.  But that story was published by the New York Times only because Risen was about to publish a book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” that would disclose the story (the story that ultimately unfolded even further with the Snowden disclosures).  The Times, even though it didn’t want him to publish the book, wanted even less to be scooped.

Before that, in 2004 in the months running up to the Bush/Kerry presidential election and up until Risen’s move to publish his book, the Times was cooperating with the Bush administration to suppress the story that ultimately won it the Pulitzer Prize.  That cooperative suppression of information no doubt affected the course, if not the final outcome, of the Bush/Kerry election.  The saga of how Risen was threatened with prison by the Obama administration for not revealing his source became the basis for his next book, “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.”

Risen says that, in the very end the Times actually accelerated the publication of the story because there was word that the Bush administration was considering going to court to seek prior restraint on the story, the first time the government would have been doing so since the Pentagon Papers.

Right now there is a movie about the publication of the Pentagon Papers, “The Post,” that is vigorously contending for Oscars.  That film arguably has its catalytic genesis in a book that was pulped unpublished by its publisher, “Katharine the Great : Katharine Graham and the Washington Post,” a biography of Washington Post publisher written by Deborah Davis for publication in 1979.  The film is not based on that biography, which Graham considered unflattering and had a hand in keeping away from the public when first written.  The film began with a script by Liz Hannah, who “fell in love with” reading Graham’s autobiography “Personal History” that came out in 1997 not long before Graham died in 2001.

It’s easy to argue that one thing that compelled Graham to write the much more flattering official version of her life (and it won a Pulitzer Prize too) was her wanting to overwrite the version of facts in the Deborah Davis book.

Liz Hannah also reportedly read and relied on other sources flattering to the main characters in her film like the autobiography of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.”  Ben Bradlee also worked to prevent the publication of Deborah Davis’ book.  There are quite a few very interesting, not easy to explain, things about things about Bradlee’s life that Davis and others have inquired curiously about that are far less flattering than the Bradlee of Hannah’s script of that of the earlier Washington Post film, “All The President’s Men.”  Fascinatingly, Hannah intends her next script to be a 9/11 story: “Only Plane in the Sky,*” about some of the strangest aspects of the panoply of very strange and bizarre things that happened that day, what was going on with George W. Bush.  Much of the content that would need to be used as her source must be material that is widely considered unflattering.  Hannah is readingThe Pet Goat.”  It’s a children’s book, the famous one.  Hannah says she empathizes with Bush that day.
(* There was a previous 9/11 film made about an airplane, an -accurately?- theorized docudrama?: “United 93.”  “Come From Away” is a Broadway 9/11 airplane musical.)
Hannah says that although she grew up in a household that was worshipful of figures like JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, (all of them assassinated) her script still “calls out John F. Kennedy” for his responsibility for the Vietnam War.  ("Lying is bipartisan," says Hannah.)  If she had been paying attention to Dr. Newman’s book about JFK’s plans to pull out of Vietnam that were overturned by Johnson or the fact that the Pentagon Papers contain a 60 page chapter devoted to those plans maybe her script needn’t have been so hard on JFK.  (Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were all opposed to the war.)

In Hannah’s script Katherine Graham comes across as opposed to the war as the Pentagon Papers came out.  Davis’ book says that is not the case and that government deception of that kind didn't necessarily bother her either.
Davis, who reviewed Katherine Graham’s autobiography says that it is “in many ways, a remarkable book—startlingly honest in some places and profoundly dishonest in others” revealing some of the same things that made Graham “furious” when Davis was writing about them.  That includes, among the more difficult, discussion of the strange and odd story of her husband Phil’s mental illness and August 3, 1963 suicide, “which must have been a very difficult thing for her to relive while she worked on the book, is quite thorough in some ways, and takes up a good hundred pages.”  Indeed those hundred pages include out takes from quite a few letters between her husband and others plus lots of long contemporaneous quotes of what Graham says her friends said at the time indicating that Graham, writing well over thirty years later either kept a crushingly detailed diary (or legal notes) or has a prodigious memory.  (Or did she, like Nixon, her one time antagonist, have her environs wired to provide posterity with a recorded history?)

Deborah Davis sued her publisher for shredding her biography of Graham and won an out of court settlement.  In addition to financial compensation it involved reacquiring full rights to her book.  Her book has since been published in two more editions, in 1987 and 1991, each adding to the tales Deborah Davis has to tell with additional events of major consequence transpiring in the ensuing years.

Graham’s book was finally published so that public could read it by National Press, “a small Washington publisher.”  Davis includes an introduction to the version of her 1991 edition titled: “How This Book Was Censored.”  At the end of that introduction she explains that before her 1987 edition went to press Graham and Bradlee were “asked to notify the new publisher of any changes they would like to have made to the original text” and that they “responded by reiterating their general disapproval of the book, and declined the request.”  Davis notes that since publication “neither Bradlee nor Graham made any public comment” about the book and that “no one has ever sued for libel.”

Nevertheless, that introduction tells a harrowing story about how her Graham and Bradlee put pressure on her original publisher successfully blocking publication of her book and disparaging her own reputation in the process.  Much like what happened to Michael Moore, her publisher suspended publicity tour plans intended to make it a major book with hopes it would win or be nominated for the American Book Award.   David writes that her lawyers “thought the CIA might have something to do with the books destruction.”  Documents obtained by Davis in the lawsuit showed how much Bradlee and Graham had to do with the suppression efforts, but did not show any involvement of the CIA, unless you might consider Bradlee or Graham an extension of the secret agency.

Part of Davis’ book, and part of what has been subsequently revealed was about things that Bradlee did for the secret agency.   Bradlee came out of Naval Intelligence as did Bob Woodward, who he hired.  Woodward’s name, also a reporter for the Wall Street Journal was invoked in the tactics to stop publication of her book.  Davis’s lawyers counseled her that so long as Bradlee and Graham were acting as private citizens, not the government, they had protected free speech rights when trying to attack her book.  The personal appeals Bradlee and Graham made to the publisher to achieve their censorship read like coded messages about how the publisher and they are all in the same club.

At the end of the first chapter of her book introducing Katherine Graham Davis writes that, “One who writes about Katherine Graham’s life is led unavoidable to a study of the political uses of  information.”  A big topic for Davis in writing about this subject is the news that Graham, cooperating with high government officials, didn’t want to share with the public.  That was despite her popularized Watergate scandal coverage persona. 

Davis said that one theory of her lawyers was that:
publishing companies control information as a public trust, and so have an implicate First Amendment responsibility to make controversial ideas available to the public.
And that her lawyer planned to argue:
the publisher must publish it “in its full sense,” which involved “placing and keeping the book before the public” and letting it enjoy its full life.”
We at Citizens Defending Libraries would like to think that essentially that same “public trust” and “implicate First Amendment responsibility” applies to libraries too, and that just as librarians came forward to rescue Michael Moore’s book from suppression, librarians will stand as guardians to our access to controversial ideas, especially those that make the powerful in government (and their handmaidens) uncomfortable.

We thought it would be a good time to spot check the relative availability in our New York City Libraries of some books that present such ideas.

Here is the result of some spot checking:
•    “Katharine the Great : Katharine Graham and the Washington Post,” by Deborah Davis is available as follows: The NYPL has a copy of the 1987 edition and a copy of the 1991 edition in its 42nd Street Central Reference Library.  It has no circulating copies available and neither do the other two NYC library systems.  The Brooklyn Public Library has one non-circulating copy indicated to be the 1979 suppressed edition as does the Queens Library.

•    “Personal History,” the flattering Katherine Graham autobiography, albeit a Pulitzer-Prize winner, is amply available.   The 42nd Street Central Reference Library has two copes and the NYPL has 29 circulating print copies.  The BPL has two print copies and 5 ebook copies.  The Queens Library has 7 print copies.  Which is to say that if you wander into the stacks of a city library looking for a biography of Katherine Graham you may well find a copy of “Personal History,” but don’t expect any serendipitous discoveries of   Deborah Davis’s biography of Ms. Graham sitting beside it.

•    “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” by James Risen, that got he Times moving to publish his article and collect their Pulitzer has one copy in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library.  The NYPL has another three circulating print copies.  It has about 20 ebook copies that practically nobody seems interested in reading, perhaps with good reason given that this book is about secret surveillance and the reading of electronic books is not a private affair.  The BPL has one circulating copy.  The Queens library has 17.

•     “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and the Endless War,” James Risen’s follow-up book has one copy in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and the NYPL has another sixteen circulating copies.  The BPL has twelve.  The Queens Library has twelve.

•    “JFK and Vietnam,” by Dr. John Newman is pretty scarce.  There is one copy in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and the NYPL has no circulating copies.  The BPL and the Queens Library have one copy apiece.

•    “Stupid White Men: ...And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!,” Michael Moore’s almost suppressed nest seller fares only a little better.  There is one copy in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and the NYPL has no circulating copies, but the BPL and the Queens Library have two copies each.

•    “Understanding Power : the Indispensable Chomsky,” by Noam Chomsky is the book that Aaron Swartz  wrote was “The Book That Changed My Life.”  He said it was “completely shocking, at odds with everything you know, turning the way you see things upside-down.”  Swartz was a proponent of libraries who died while being persecuted for his efforts to get information out more broadly and shared with the public.  He said he read this book when he picked it up “at the library.”  There is no copy of the book in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library, but the NYPL has seven circulating copies.  The BPL has no copy of it at all (apparently it's not "indispensable" to them).  The Queens Library has two.

•    “Timber Wars,” by Judi Bari is a book very important to the activist history of the northern California yet it was inexplicably part of a massive book purge from the California's Berkley Public Library (along with other books on social issues and activism).   Judi Bari was an environmental activist importantly active in that Northern California region who paid a price when Bari, apparently under federal surveillance, was severely disabled by a suspicious, unsolved car bombing that was probably inadequately investigated by the FBI.  There is one copy in the 42nd Street Central Reference Library and, other than that there are no circulating copies at the NYPL, BPL or the Queens Library.

•    “Red Alert” aka “Two Hours To Doom” by Peter Bryant (a pseudonym for Peter George) is the book from which Stanley Kubrick made “Dr. Strangelove.”  It was published in 1958 in the United Kingdom and preceded the more popular “Fail-Safe” published in the United States.  Terry Southern, screenwriter for “Strangelove,” asserts that because “national security regulations in England, concerning what could and could not be published, were extremely lax by American standards” George was able to “reveal details concerning the `fail-safe’ aspect of nuclear deterrence . . . that, in the spy-crazy U.S.A. of the Cold War era, would have been downright treasonous” and thus give all the “complicated technology of nuclear deterrence in Dr Strangelove” a base “on a bedrock of authenticity” that gave the satirical film the strength of credibility.  This one is interesting: The only copies available in the New York City libraries are ebook copies (if you want to risk reading them), 2 at the NYPL and one at the BPL.  Those copies may evanesce when the libraries’ lease of them expires.
PS (Added December 3, 2018):  The C.I.A. and the Cult of Intelligenceby Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks.  This book published in 1974 is another one the C.I.A. worked to suppress, reportedly the first the agency worked to suppress.  If New Yorkers want to read Mr. Marchetti’s groundbreaking book, the NYPL has one copy in its research collection that cannot be borrowed (or discovered by browsing the shelves) and it keeps it off-site so that it must be requested in advance; the two other public library systems in New York City, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Queens Library do not have any copy of the book.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Defenders,

    I am a human rights author (two books), activist and outsider (26yrs) from Auckland, New Zealand. Can you advise me what I should do? My recent book (see below) while selling on Google Books and Amazon is being suppressed – libraries will not take it and it is too expensive for bookshops to sell.
    It contains vitally important information for humanity. It describes major decisions made by the United Nation which the mainstream media did not report. It shows how the UN on 10 Dec 2008 has determined western civilization for a decline while promoting the rise of totalitarian and repressed States. It describes a major rebalance of global ideological and economic power from the West to the Rest which I consider resulted in the global financial crisis 2008.
    My book is not conspiracy theory – it is based on fact not opinion and is verifiable.
    My suppressed book, 'Ethical Human Rights: Freedom's Great Hope' (American Academic Press, 2017). Ebook link provided by my publishers: https://books.google.com/books?id=Z3nYDQAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
    Youtube video: Suppressed author exposes UN agenda.

    Thank you,

    Anthony Ravlich MA, BSc, Dip Crim (Hons)
    Human Rights Author (two books), Activist, Outsider (26yrs)
    Human Rights Council (New Zealand)
    10D/15 City Rd., Auckland City.
    Ph: (0064) (09) 9409658. My phone does not always work but can be emailed on Anthony_ravlich@yahoo.com. I am also on twitter, facebook, and linkedin.