Wal-Mart Standards Aren't Censorship

By William J. Bennett and C. DeLores Tucker Copyright New York Times | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 12, 1996 | Go to article overview

Wal-Mart Standards Aren't Censorship


William J. Bennett and C. DeLores Tucker Copyright New York Times, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


There is news worth celebrating on the popular-culture front. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, has refused to stock compact disks with lyrics and cover art that it finds objectionable. If the artists and the record companies want Wal-Mart to carry their albums, they can alter the product to eliminate the offensive material.

Wal-Mart has a lot of clout - it accounts for 52 million of the 615 million compact disks sold in the United States each year - and it is using that power to help clean up the music industry. For this the chain deserves great praise.

But Wal-Mart's stand has sent many in the artistic community into a tizzy. Some say that Wal-Mart is imposing a new form of censorship. But it is not forcing anyone to remove songs, change lyrics or alter artwork. It is simply saying that there are minimal standards a record company must meet if its compact disks are going to be sold at Wal-Mart. In short, Wal-Mart is exercising quality control - which it does every day for every product. It is absurd to call this censorship. Such claims are akin to accusing a homeowner of censorship for keeping someone out of his house who intends to step all over the sofa and curse the in-laws. The issue cuts both ways: Gospel singers are not invited to perform at raunchy nightclubs, but the fact that they are not welcome does not mean they are being censored. Many artists consider any change to their original work an assault on their artistic integrity. But they have a choice: Clean up your lyrics, or your product won't be sold at Wal-Mart. Some artists refuse, but they are the exception. Of course, some changed their work for financial reasons but have the chutzpah to whine that "Wal-Mart made us do it! …

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