by James Corbett
1 May, 2012
Ray Bradbury’s classic 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 tells the story of a fictional society in which books are not read, but burned, and the populace is distracted by television and radio. In this dystopian world, reading books is outlawed to prevent the public from thinking independently and “firemen” are employed to burn the remaining books in the quest to rid the world of all literature.
Bradbury himself insists the book is about the replacement of book reading by television and other forms of media, and the effect these modern media have on reducing the level of discourse in and independent thought in society. Still, the book is more commonly read more literally as an allegory for the ills of state-sponsored censorship. Ironic, then, that Fahrenheit 451 itself has been banned from school libraries numerous times over the years.
Less well known than these ironic acts of censorship that arise in the public school system, however, although arguably much more ominous, are the ways that the book publishing industry itself is becoming more and more controlled by fewer and fewer media moguls. In this process, the ease with which political and governmental bodies have been able to block the publication of books that are uncomfortable to the Washington elite, and even to destroy entire print runs of tell-all whistleblower stories, has greatly increased. Simultaneously, books that fulfill a social function of rallying the populace around the flag and supporting the dominant narratives of our time, from the war on terror to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, are given copious attention by a fawning lapdog press.
Earlier this year, Navy Seal Chris Kyle released his autobiography, an account of his years as a sniper in combat. Published by William Morrow and Company, an imprint of Rupert Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, Kyle’s title of the “deadliest sniper in US military history” with 150 kills to his name–glorifying the entire American military combat experience as it did–was given glowing praise and wall to wall media coverage in the controlled corporate press.
That the feel-good flag-waving “heroics” of a Navy Seal who brags about slaughtering Iraqis in a turkey shoot from hundreds of yards away is portrayed as wholesome family entertainment on prime time and late night tv should come as no surprise to those who, like Bradbury, realized the stultifying, lowest-common-denominator effects of television as a medium. That Kyle’s book is heavily promoted by the very television stations owned by the same media mogul who controls the book’s publishing company should come as no surprise to those who are aware of the spider’s web of connections that guarantee that 90% of the American media are owned by the same few corporations.
More surprising and insidious altogether, however, are the ways that people of questionable morality, and even outright criminals, are allowed to not only flaunt their criminality in the corporate-media sanctioned books published and promoted by the big name media moguls, but to actively profit from their admissions of guilt. Such is the case of Jose Rodriguez, an ex-CIA agent who has just released a new book, Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives. As Glenn Greenwald notes in a recent article, particularly galling about this ode to torture is the fact that this is the same Jose Rodriguez who made the decision to destroy 92 videotapes of CIA torture practices that numerous federal courts and even the 9/11 Commission had ordered the CIA to produce. When 9/11 Commission co-chairs Kean and Hamilton discovered the destruction, they wrote a New York Times Op-Ed outright accusing the CIA, and thus Rodriguez, of the criminal offense of obstruction of justice. Still, no punishment of any kind was handed down by Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who himself had ordered the CIA to produce the tapes. Now, Rodriguez is profiting from a book in which he actively and aggressively defends his decision to break the law by destroying those tapes.
Still, Rodriguez is given the full court press for his new book launch, and what little pushback he gets during interviews is of the jocular, non-threatening variety that is destined to cause just enough controversy to increase book sales. Not disclosed to viewers of the 60 Minutes piece on Rodriguez is that the Simon & Schuster imprint that publishes Rodriguez’ boastful criminal confession is owned by the same CBS Corporation that broadcasts 60 Minutes.
Even more worrying than these puff pieces, however, is the ways that books that would threaten the status quo rather than support it are effectively suppressed by the very same system of corporate and judicial control.
Last year ex-FBI agent Ali Soufan attempted to publish a book critiquing the agency’s use of torture techniques in the so-called war on terror and the decision to withhold information on two of the alleged 9/11 hijackers openly living in the US for a year before the attack, from the FBI. In return, the CIA launched an all-out attack on Soufan’s book, attempting to cut and redact significant portions of the book that they called “classified” but were in fact part of the public record.
In perhaps the most alarming example, the Pentagon literally burned the entire first print run of “Operation Dark Heart,” the tell-all book of Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, a US Army intelligence officer who attempted to blow the whistle on “Able Danger,” a data mining program employed by the Defense Intelligence Agency which has been alleged to have identified and let go alleged 9/11 lead hijacker Mohammed Atta one year before the attacks:
Earlier today I had the chance to talk to Sibel Edmonds, famed FBI whistleblower and author of the tell-all memoir, Classified Woman, about her own experience attempting to publish her book in the mainstream press.
It is ironic that it has been six centuries since Jonannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press, freeing the masses to access the printed word for the first time, and we are once again at a spot where the printed word can be so thoroughly controlled and restricted. However, thanks to the Internet and print-on-demand technologies–our own version of the Gutenberg revolution–the self-publishing industry is not only a viable alternative for suppressed and dangerous works, but often the only outlet for books that truly challenge the status quo.
And now, as we edge closer to the nightmare dystopia of Bradbury’s 451, we must ask whether those brave souls who dare to challenge this system of control toil in vain to bring this information to the public. Because, ultimately, if the efforts of whistleblowers and truth-tellers like Sibel Edmonds go unrewarded, even this last hope for circumventing the systems of state censorship may be squelched out of existence, not by force, but by the apathy of a public that is more content to be distracted by entertainment than to stand up for the public’s right to know.
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