Censorship in America: Stopping the Presses

By Bennett, James R. | St. Louis Journalism Review, November 1994 | Go to article overview

Censorship in America: Stopping the Presses


Bennett, James R., St. Louis Journalism Review


The thirteen books here under review present a comprehensive analysis of censorship and secrecy in the United States. The first four books -- by Moffett, Burress, DelFatorre and Karolides, et al.--challenge the school textbook censorship now rampant. The next three -- by Bernstein, Garry and Rauch -- confront various aspects of "politically correct" censorship. The books by Bagdikian, Mazzocco and Baker expose the worsening corporate monopoly control over media. And the books by Kofsky, Parry and Alterman show how government dominates immensely important policies and how Washington pundits adopt the views of those in power and suppress criticism. Control of information in a nation can be divided into two kinds: censorship (including secrecy) and propaganda. These books survey the alarmingly wide and deep range of the processes and the apparatuses of suppression and persuasion.

Censors fear the reality of life

Storm in the Mountains: A Case Study of Censorship, Conflict, and Consciousness. By James Moffett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1988. 264pp. Battle of the Books: Literary Censorship in the Public Schools, 1950-1985. By Lee Burress. Metuchen, NJ & London: Scarecrow Press, 1989. 385pp. What Johnny Shouldn't Read: Textbook Censorship in America. By Joan DelFatorre. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. 209pp. Censored Books: Critical Viewpoints. Edited by Nicholas Karolides, Lee Burress and John Kean. Metuchen, NJ & London: Scarecrow Press, 1993. 498 pp.

Moffett, Karolides, Burress, Kean and DelFatorre participate in the campaign to turn back the book censors. Moffett gives us a case study of the schoolbook controversy which broke out in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in 1974. He analyzes the mountaineer fundamentalists from psychological, educational and "spiritual" perspectives, pointing out how poverty, ignorance, rejection and exploitation had created bigotry, racism, violence and book censorship in that rural, disadvantaged and destitute county. The oppressed became the oppressors. But his approach to these fundamentalists, whose efforts to censor books arose from a "spiritual framework" and opposition to materialism, is deeply sympathetic, and a large part of the book presents their side through transcripts of interviews and written objections to the disputed books.

In the first half of Battle of the Books, Burress provides eight chapters on a case study, a national survey, a comparison of regions, explanations of the increase in censorship, censorship by the left and attacks on the alleged secular humanism of the public school core curriculum. In the second half, he lists about 900 titles challenged between 1965 and 1985, giving the objector, the objection, the results and any subsequent legal cases.

DelFatorre explores how censorship lawsuits involving attempts by religious fundamentalists to influence the content of public education combined with the elementary and secondary school textbook adoption process to increase book censorship in the public schools during the 1980s. She examines six federal textbook lawsuits in the context of the rising power of religious fundamentalism.

Because of their dedication to the eternal salvation of American children, fundamentalists are effective far out of proportion to their numbers. Since "the textbook development process has less to do with educating a nation than with selling a product" and school textbooks are chosen by school boards, who are "vulnerable to lobbying by pressure groups," publishers listen to fundamentalists.

The negative publicity produced by the lawsuits caused publishers to become increasingly careful about what their books include, so that now even Romeo and Juliet has as many as 300 lines excised in anthologies.

Karolides, Burress and Kean open with essays by censored authors. For example, Arthur Miller discusses the elimination of segments of King Lear from school texts by those who wish to suppress some truth. …

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