By Manley, Will
American Libraries , Vol. 31, No. 4
Several years ago I predicted that the problem of filtering out Internet pornography would be a difficult. and bedeviling issue that librarians will have to cope with for a long time under the red-hot glare of the media spotlight (AL, Nov. 1997, p. 112). For once I was right. In the past six months it seems as though every radio talk-show host and newspaper editorial writer has targeted the American Library Association for its strong stand against censorship and its continued opposition to filtering software for the Internet.
The highly esteemed Wall Street Journal on January 14 featured an editorial titled "X-Rated" that hammered ALA for being far too permissive toward youths' access to pornography. "Welcome to the American library," it declared, "where Marian the Librarian is fast making room for the Happy Hooker!" It went on to say, "One gets the sense that the activists at ALA consider Larry Flynt less of a threat than Dr. Laura, who's complained about ALA opposition to efforts to ensure that minors are protected from pornographic Web sites."
It takes a lot of stubborn courage for ALA and its officers to stand up to this kind of big media attack. The First Amendment has no bigger friend than the American Library Association. There is a certain nobility about the Association's willingness to sacrifice positive public relations in its campaign to protect something as unpopular as the First Amendment rights of Web-based pornographers. Given this kind of institutional bravery, I wonder if there is any situation in which ALA would not defend the First Amendment right of an individual to express the most distasteful thoughts imaginable. But that begs the question: What is more distasteful than Internet pornography?
How about John Rocker? He's the Atlanta Braves relief pitcher who was fined $20,000, suspended for two months, and ordered by Major League Baseball to undergo a psychiatric examination for making disparaging remarks to a sportswriter about homosexuals, African Americans, immigrants, Asian-American women, and single mothers. Rocker Was severely punished by his employer for exercising his First Amendment rights in a particularly repulsive manner. But what if Rocker's employer were a staunch defender of the First Amendment, such as the American Library Association? …