Steven Zeitchik writes in Publishers Weekly:
- An op-ed by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times earlier this week that suggested restricting publishers who distribute information on chemical weapons provoked an angry response from the AAP and the presses.
The column, Recipes for Death, argued that because these books are getting more sophisticated, the legal test established by the Hit Man case several years ago requiring publisher intent is too weak. “Our small presses could end up helping terrorists much more than Saddam ever has” Kristof wrote. In addition to war, he said, we should “consider other distasteful steps that could also make us safer.”
Despite recommendations that were more than a little vague, the column prompted an extended and pointed response from Pat Schroeder, who wrote, in part, “If we agreed to suspend the First Amendment and broadly criminalize the dissemination of ‘dangerous information’ in books, where would we begin? With information about chemical and biological agents? Where would we end? With schedules of commercial airline flights?
“Who would determine what constitutes ‘dangerous information?’ The Justice Department? The Defense Department? The Director of Homeland Security? What criteria would be used for making such determinations?”
She ended her statement, “Even if Mr. Kristof’s premise seems valid, there is still only one answer to his question. The unsettling realization that our own freedoms of expression and information can be sometimes turned against us should not persuade us to turn away from them.”
Underground publishers and retailers had an equally strong, though less philosophical, critique. Frank Salerno, who runs the retailer FS Book Company, said Kristof is working with a number of false assumptions. “The books aren’t really getting better; in fact, most of them haven’t been rewritten in a long time. Besides, all of this information is available on the Internet anyway.”
Billy Blann, who publishes Delta Press and its popular Poor Man’s James Bond – a book that, as “a kind of Reader’s Digest of do-it-yourself mayhem,” would certainly catch Kristof’s eye – said that arguments like Kristof’s don’t take into account that “you can ban every book in this country and you’ll still have terrorism.” Blann then added that his company “was in the dumps with the rest of the economy.”
If terrorists are looking, the books are not hard to find: they’re in Amazon. This reminds me of the Abbie Hoffman Steal This Book flap of the early ’70s, of which an anonymous reviewer writes:
- This book was the BIBLE for street survival. The cons, tips, etc. are SEVERELY DATED by todays standards. But as a runaway, living on the streets of N.Y.C. in the early 70’s, ALL THE SCAMS WORKED. I probably would have ended up having to GO HOME, were it not for the information in this book. Todays readers may find it a comical view of the “Revolution”, but the people in the know, will tell you it was the greatest thing since the “Welfare Check”. I STILL have my original copy (stolen from a bookstore, of course). REQUIRED READING for anyone studying the hippie revolution of the 60’s.