WSJ “Censorship” Reponse

by on Oct.01, 2009, under media

As I mentioned, last week the Wall Street Journal published a really exceptionally stupid critique of a) the ALA, b) Banned Books Week, and c) the Google Map of Banned Books that I created with Alita Edelman from ABFFE’s records of book bans and challenges.

I contacted their letters editor, who today ran an edited version of my rebuttal bookended by a lengthier piece from the President of the ALA. Because their letters page is impermanent, I’m posting the full thing here below the fold.

Mitchell Muncy’s critique of the American Library Association (ALA) and its Banned Books Week misrepresented many facts. It is neither my duty nor my desire to defend the ALA. However, I would like to make a brief point about the “online censorship” map he mischaracterized.

I created the map that was the focus of Mr. Muncy’s anger. I have no affiliation to the ALA, and took my marching orders from no Manifesto, real or imagined.

Instead, I wanted to see which books were banned or challenged where, by whom, and for what reasons. I thought it would be interesting to visualize these reports rather than merely reading them, and was curious about what sort of patterns might arise from the chaos of data.

I created a free Google Map and began adding reports. Some of these were completed based on ALA records – but only because no one else compiles them. True, my map was prominently featured on the Banned Books Week website – but on countless others as well, since Google allows anyone to copy and paste its code without my endorsement or control.

Mr. Muncy and I disagree on many things. He seems to think that censorship can never come from private individuals, forgetting the populist conflagrations of Savonarola and the Philadelphia Nativist Riots. He argues that Banned Books Week could be “prior restraint”, a claim which lacks both legal and logical coherence: characterizing an attempt to raise awareness about censorship as censorship requires an incredible infidelity to reason.

Though these are issues about which reasonable people can disagree, one fact is inarguable. The map which moved Mr. Muncy to such profound distress was not some calculated attempt to mislead or misapprehend the American people by a scheming and secretive cabal of librarians. It was, instead, an attempt by a private citizen to facilitate the free flow of information, in the hope that individuals might access it and make decisions for themselves. And though the ideals of intellectual freedom may escape Mr. Muncy, I trust these are values that Americans everywhere – including readers of the Journal - value and understand.

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