SEPTEMBER 1987 - VOLUME 8 - NUMBER9
T H E M E D I A M O N O P O L Y
0n the night of February 7, 1980, the second shift workers at Peter Peter Paper Eater in Binghamton, New York, dutifully obeyed the directive from Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, one of the largest book publishers in the country, and tossed hundreds of bundles of Katharine the Great: Katharine Graham and the Washington Post into the hogger, a miraculous and efficient invention of 20th century ingenuity whose sole purpose is to turn books into recyclable pulp.
The order from Harcourt had been simple and to the point: "You are to make sure that these books are not only disposed of, but actually destroyed. After the books have been destroyed, give us a notarized statement to that effect."
Within three hours, a1120,000 copies had been destroyed. The pulp would be processed into clean white rolls, without even the slightest trace of the words its sheets once contained. In a matter of days the rolls would be back on the giant presses in some distant printing plant, churning out yet another book, or a magazine, or a newspaper like the Washington Post.
As the 20,000 copies of her book were being turned into unrecognizable refuse, Deborah Davis, the author of Katharine the Great, had no idea that, a few weeks prior to the shredding, Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin C. Bradlee had sent a letter to her publisher, Harcourt Brace, threatening to put the company "in that special little group of publishers who don't give a shit for the truth," if Harcourt Brace published the book.
The cause for Bradlee's outrage was Davis' contention that the Washington Post had, over the years, participated in the dissemination of political information beneficial to various administrations and maintained close ties to the CIA. She also developed a theory about who the Watergate figure "Deep Throat" was: a man named Richard Ober, a former Harvard classmate of Ben Bradlee's. Ober was in charge of Nixon's "Operation CHAOS," a covert domestic effort to spy on the antiwar movement. Davis concluded, based on her research, that the intelligence community wanted Nixon removed because they were convinced he was mentally unstable and the Post was used to accomplish that objective.
But most disturbing to Bradlee was Davis' allegation that he had cooperated with the CIA in the 1950s while he was press attache at the U.S. embassy in Paris.
On December 10, 1952, the French newspaper, Le Monde, ran a story saying that the United States had framed Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, the couple accused of giving A-bomb secrets to the Soviets. The CIA chief in Paris was outraged. The agency was already having a hard enough time selling the Cold War to a European public which feared that the McCarthy Era was ushering in a new wave of fascism, and it didn't need Le Monde questioning the U.S. government's case against the Rosenbergs.
Three days after the Le Monde article appeared, according to S tate Department documents uncovered by Davis, the Paris CIA chief, Robert Thayer, dispatched Ben Bradlee to New York to get materials from the federal prosecutors on the Rosenberg case so that the agency could develop a counter-attack in the European press. When Bradlee arrived in New York he was supposed to have been met "by a representative of the CIA" but he missed his airline connections. The documents further state that Bradlee had been trying to get in touch with Allen Dulles, who at that time was deputy director of the CIA. Unable to do so, he went to work on the Rosenberg files, preparing a 30,000-word summary and analysis of the government's case against the Rosenbergs.
Bradlee returned to Paris and began distributing the document to the press and interested groups. Within a few weeks the U.S. embassy reported back to the State Department that there had been a turnaround in the French newspapers: they ei they stopped reporting about the Rosenbergs or they softened their stance. The storm of protest had subsided so quickly that the Bradlee document was given the credit and distributed to a couple dozen U.S. embassies around the world and similar propaganda efforts were then initiated.
The Harcourt Brace catalog in late- 1979 had announced that Katharine the Great would be their top non-fiction selection for the fall. The Literary Guild chose it as their featured alternate selection for the spring of 1980. There were so many orders from bookstores that the first printing was already sold out. Harcourt Brace nominated it for an American Book Award.
Bradlee's threatening letter, though, sent Harcourt Brace into corporate crisis mode. William Jovanovich, president and CEO of Harcourt Brace, knew he had offended one of the most powerful newspapers in the country, not a smart thing to do when you're in the book publishing business and you want your books reviewed.
On December 19, 1979, the word came down from Jovanovich that Harcourt Brace would dump Katharine the Great. The rights were reverted to Deborah Davis and within two months the unsold books were destroyed.
Katharine Graham was more than pleased with the decision William Jovanovich made to obliterate Katharine the Great. Three days after Deborah Davis got the word that her book had been killed, Graham wrote a thank you letter to Jovanovich saying that she was "tremendously relieved" that he had dropped the book. "The whole theme of the book is so fanciful," she wrote, "that it defies serious discussion: that Ben, Phil (her deceased husband), and others worked for the CIA...!"
Jovanovich replied in a language that only the well-heeled seem to understand. "Dear Kay:" he wrote on January 15,1980. "You are generous to write me as you have. I cannot tell you how pained I am by the circumstances which have caused you, quite unnecessarily, distress and concern. If ever we should meet again..."
Jovanovich concluded by granting that although this "has been a bitter lesson for me, my feelings in this matter are not to be compared with your own... P.S. Tell Donny [her son and current Post publisher] that Stefan - who was at Harvard and in Vietnam with him - is now a lawyer in California; and Peter, who came to your house that day of your birthday with me and my wife, is now himself a publisher... The generations follow fast, don't they?"
This bit of noblesse correspondence required yet another note from Graham on January 22: "Dear B il l: Thank you for your terribly nice letter. I was full of admiration anyway for what you did and for the way you did it. Now I am all the more so." Two of America's most prominent protectors of the first amendment chit-chatting away about how they were able to kill a book which one of them found embarrassing and the other found detrimental to his business interests. It was, to say the least, one of the darker moments in American journalism. And Deborah Davis, the 37-year-old author of Katharine the Great, had learned a critical lesson in publishing: that "freedom of the press" is primarily for those who own the presses. Who better to teach that lesson to her than the publisher of George Orwell and the newspaper which exposed Richard Nixon.
Deborah Davis became a marked woman. She had the disease writers fear the most. She was "an unpublishable." She was that woman who wrote that scurrilous book about that great publisher/liberal/feminist/ Katharine Graham. No one wanted to touch her book. Avon, Warner, Dell, Fawcett all turned down offers to republish Katharine the Great.
"People were afraid to incur the wrath of the Post," Davis remembers.
In June of 1982, she got a lawyer and sued Hareourt Brace. She reached an out of court settlement for $100,000.
In the spring of 1986, Deborah Davis received a call from Joel Joseph, a Washington attorney who had set up a small publishing house called National Press. He offered to re-publish Katharine the Great and promised her that no copies would ever find their way into a shredder. Davis took him up on his offer and added the Rosenberg story and documents to the new edition.
By late August of this year, 10,000 copies of the new, improved Katharine the Great were slowly making their way into bookstores around the country.
What happened to Deborah Davis' book, unfortunately, is not an isolated example. A number of other books in the past few years which have rubbed corporations and powerful people the wrong way have met a fate similar to Katharine the Great.
In 1974, Prentice-Hall published a book called Du Pont: Behind the Nylon Curtain by Gerald Colby Zilg. It was a thoroughly researched and shocking expose of one of America's great family dynasties. The book explored every facet of the Du Pont wealth and explained how much of the American economy the family controlled. Du Pont was met with critical acclaim, and the first 10,000 copies sold out immediately.
The Du Ponts, of course, did not like the book. They complained to Prentice-Hall and to the Fortune Book Club, which had planned to offer it as a monthly selection. The Fortune Book Club was owned by Time, Inc. Du Pont threatened to pull all of its advertising from Time, Life and Fortune magazines. The book club canceled its contract with Prentice-Hall and the publishing house decided that the growing heat was not worth taking. Prentice-Hall stopped promoting the book and did not order a second printing. The Du Ponts had succeeded in squelching one of the only serious investigations into their family and corporate history.
After a four-year lawsuit against Prentice-Hall and Du Pont, Zilg won - but only against Prentice Hall. Last year Zilg republished Du Pont.
In 1973, Warner Modular Publications, a subsidiary of Warner Communications, was in the process of publishing a book by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman entitled, Counter-Revolutionary Violence. The book detailed U.S. acts of terrorism in the Third World.
William Sarnoff, chief of all book operations at Warner, happened to see a mock-up of ads that were to be placed for the book in upcoming editions of The Nation, The New Republic, and the New York Times. He called the head of Warner Modular, Claude McCaleb, and asked to see a copy of the manuscript. McCaleb told Sarnoff that the first copies were literally just coming off the printing press. Samoff ordered McCaleb to fly to New York immediately with a copy of the book. Within hours after perusing its contents, Sarnoff, according to an account in Ben Bagdikian's book, The Media Monopoly, launched into a violent verbal attack on McCaleb for publishing "a scurrilous attack on respected Americans" and contended that the book contained a "pack of lies."
The officials at Warner Communications had contributed heavily to the reelection campaign of Richard Nixon in 1972. The idea of the United States of America inflicting harm and misery on the poor of the world so that American corporate interests could profit was something the Warner executives deemed unnecessary for public consumption.
Sarnoff called the printer and ordered the presses halted. He then demanded that the 10,000 copies already printed be destroyed.
Kermit Roosevelt, a former CIA officer, found himself facing the shredder in 1979. Roosevelt wrote a book called Countercoup: The Struggle for the Control of Iran. Published just months before the American hostages were seized in Teheran, Countercoup was the inside story of how the CIA overthrew the democratically elected Iranian premier, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 and installed the Shah. Roosevelt detailed how the major oil companies, which had been expelled from Iran by Mossadegh, conspired with the CIA in formulating the coup.
British Petroleum objected to the way its parent company, AIOC, was portrayed in the book. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, without any threat of libel or legal action against it, recalled all the books from the bookstores and had them destroyed.
These four examples of censorship all have the same theme of corporate interference in and control of the dissemination of information and ideas. Ten large companies own the majority of the 2,500 publishing houses in this country. These corporations, most of which have various banking, insurance, industrial and defense-related subsidiaries, have a vested interest in making sure that the boat doesn't get rocked too much. A small group of New York banks and life insurance companies own a controlling interest in McGraw-Hill, Doubleday, Harcourt Brace and Harper and Row. It dces notbenefit them to publish books on counter-revolutionary violence or covert CIA activities, especially when such actions keep their enterprises "safe" around the world.
As the final copies of the new edition of Katharine the Great were coming off the press back in June, Washington was hosting the party of the decade. It is not an exaggeration to say that everyone was there: Supreme Court Justices White, Powell and O'Connor, most of the president's cabinet, senators and members of Congress, West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, the heads of General Motors, Ford, IBM and Sony, the top executives from the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Dow Jones, CBS, NBC and ABC and, of course, President and Mrs. Reagan. "It was the kind of homage usually paid only to the President at an Inaugural," wrote theL.A. Times. But this bash wasn't for the president; it was for the Chairman (as she refers to herself), Katharine Graham.
The occasion was her 70th birthday. Seated between President Reagan and her tennis partner, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Katharine Graham and her 600 "friends" ("I didn't invite Margaret Thatcher because I don't know her well enough") dined from a menu of salmon, beef filet with cucumber sauce and summer vegetables. No reporters were allowed. No one asked her about the CIA, or about a little book once shredded, but now resurfacing from a small publishing house near the Bethesda Metro stop on Wisconsin Avenue in Washington, D.C.
"There is one word that brings us all together here tonight," Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald announced from the stage, to the din of nervous laughter in the audience. "And that word is fear."
If that were the case, someone must have forgotten to send an invitation to Deborah Davis.
Michael Moore is the former editor of the Michigan Voice and Mother Jones magazine. He has written for The Nation, Columbia Journalism Review and Regardie's magazine, where a version of the above article initially appeared. He is currently making a documentary about General Motors and will begin publishing a national weekly covering the media and politics from Washington, D.C., later this year.