Wednesday, July 14, 2010

It's a Small World After All

I was poking around the web for information about Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's pamphlet Counter-Revolutionary Violence, which was suppressed by Warner Communications in 1973. Because of contractual obligations, Warner couldn't destroy the stock, so some copies were distributed; I read a copy from the university library in 1980. The full text is available online here.

It's not all that common for books to be suppressed in this way in the US, after they've already been printed and published. While I was looking for more information about Counter-Revolutionary Violence, I came across this account of the pressures that limit the range of material that's published in the US. Notice the phrase I put into boldface:
This understanding of the ideological limits of mainstream publishing firms is not far-fetched conspiracy theory. There have been instances in which books were refused publication for strictly ideological reasons. Such was the case with Counter-Revolutionary Violence, a critique of U.S. foreign policy by Herman and Chomsky that was to be published in 1973 by Warner Modular, Inc., a subsidiary of Warner Communications. According to Claude McCaleb, after Warner Publishing president William Sarnoff read an advance copy, he "immediately launched into a violent verbal attack . . . saying, among other things, that [Counter-Revolutionary Viloence] was a pack of lies, a scurrilous attack on respected Americans, undocumented, a publication unworthy of a serious publisher. . . . He then announced that he had ordered the printer not to release a single copy . . . and that the . . . [book] would not be published" (qtd. in Bagdikian 33-34). Sarnoff had ads for this book cancelled and the Warner catalog listing the Herman/Chomsky book and the entire 10,000 copy press run destroyed. Christopher Hitchens narrates the fate of Counter-Revolutionary Violence: "The twenty thousand copies might have been pulped if it were not for a legally binding contract. Instead they were sold to an obscure outfit named MSS Information Corporation, whereupon Warner . . . washed its hands of the entire deal and of all responsibility for advertising, promotion, and distribution." Similarly, in 1979, McGraw-Hill published Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran, an account of the overthrow of Iranian premier Mohammed Mossadegh written by former CIA officer Kermit Roosevelt. Roosevelt asserted that the coup had been undertaken at the behest of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Upon complaints from British Petroleum, successor to AIOC, McGraw-Hill recalled the book from stores and reviewers (Bagdikian 39). Another example of corporate pressure affecting a book’s publication is Marc Elliot’s Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, signed by Bantam in 1989 and dropped in 1991. (It was eventually published by Birch Lane Press/Carol Publishing.) Jon Wiener speculates that Eliot’s book was killed because Bantam had contracted with Disney to publish children’s book versions of Disney movies (744).
As you can see, BP's unsavory history goes back quite a ways.