Marian and Me

When Michael Moore’s publisher insisted he rewrite his new book to be less
critical of President Bush, it took an outraged librarian to get it back in the
stores.

2002.01.07

When Michael Moore’s publisher insisted he rewrite his new book to be less
critical of President Bush, it took an outraged librarian to get it back in the
stores.

It was the kind of battle that provocateur journalist Michael Moore would
ordinarily consider red meat: a major media corporation threatening a writer’s
freedom of speech.

Moore’s new book, “Stupid White Men and Other Excuses for the State of the
Nation,” which pointedly criticizes President George W. Bush and his
administration, was due in stores on Oct. 2. As with many books scheduled for
release in the weeks that immediately followed Sept. 11, plans to ship the title
to stores were put on hold.

According to HarperCollins, “both Moore and [Judith Regan’s HarperCollins
imprint] ReganBooks thought its publication would be insensitive, given the
events of September 11.”

By mid-October, there were 50,000 finished books (out of an announced first
printing of 100,000) collecting a month’s worth of dust in a Scranton, Pa.,
warehouse, and ReganBooks had yet to schedule a new release date for “Stupid
White Men.” It was holding off in hopes that Moore would include new material to
address the recent events, and would change the title and cover art.

Moore says he readily agreed to these requests. But once HarperCollins had his
consent, it asked Moore to rewrite sections — up to 50 percent of the book –
that it deemed politically offensive given the current climate.

In addition, the Rupert Murdoch-owned publishing house wanted Moore to help
defray half the cost of destroying the old copies and of producing the new
edition, by contributing $100,000 from his royalty account.

Moore was aghast. “They wanted me to censor myself and then pay for the right to
censor myself,” he declared. “I’m not going to do that!”

After close to three months of relentless negotiations that threatened to
embarrass one of the country’s leading publishing houses, the potentially
explosive drama was suddenly resolved when HarperCollins announced on Dec. 18
its plans to publish “Stupid White Men” as is, slating the title for early March
2002.

What motivated the publisher’s change of heart? Not, as some might well expect,
an ugly public fuss orchestrated by Moore.

Instead, the author remained uncharacteristically quiet, and the protest over
the holdup on “Stupid White Men” came from an unexpected source.

In fact, the turnabout was a surprise to Moore, but then so were HarperCollins’
initial reservations about publishing “Stupid White Men.” After all, Moore
observes, “They not only bought the book, but they accepted the manuscript and
printed it.” But after Sept. 11, the satirical bite of Moore’s book was too
sharp for his publisher.

In particular, HarperCollins flagged an open letter to George W. Bush, in which
Moore asks the president whether he’s a functional illiterate, whether he’s a
felon and whether he is getting the necessary help for his drug and alcohol
problem.

“They said it would be ‘intellectually dishonest’ not to admit that Bush has
done a good job, and that the other things in the book wouldn’t be believable if
I didn’t at least give Bush that much,” says Moore.

HarperCollins also wanted him to take out the chapter “A Very American Coup,”
about Dubya’s dubious victory in Florida, and it objected to the title of an
essay about race in America, “Kill Whitey.”

According to Moore, his editor at ReganBooks, Cal Morgan, explained, “It’s not
the dissent we disagree with, it’s the tone of your dissent. You can’t question
the president about his past felonies or alcohol problems right now.” (Cal
Morgan did not respond to requests for comment.)

The publisher’s request came at a chilling moment, on the heels of presidential
spokeman Ari Fleischer’s Sept. 26 warning (later retracted) that “all Americans
… need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” Given the tenor of the
times, Moore had reason to assume that his publisher would follow suit.

After two months of uncharacteristic silence (“I spoke to no one in the media. I
didn’t want to upset anyone at News Corps [HarperCollins’ parent company] and
tip the scales toward the decision of pulping my book.”), the author discussed
his struggle with a crowd of 100 during a keynote speech at a New Jersey
Citizen’s Action private event on Dec. 1. He even read passages from the book:

“It may be the only time it’s ever heard by anybody,” he explained at the time.

“As far as I knew, there wasn’t any press there, so I told people what had
happened. They asked, ‘What do you want us to do?’ I said, ‘Don’t call the
publisher, don’t call the press. Let me deal with it.'”

But one person in the crowd refused to heed Moore’s request. Ann Sparanese, a
librarian at Englewood Library in New Jersey and a board member of the American
Library Association (ALA), returned to work that Monday and posted a message on
several ALA listserves — among them, Library Juice — detailing Moore’s
predicament.

According to the ALA, libraries represent big money to publishers, spending over
$2 billion a year for books and electronic information, and because of it,
librarians have publishers’ ears.

In her posting, Sparanese explained, “This is NOT a question of the CIA or the
government demanding that a publisher stop publication for national security or
some other well-known reason.

“The publisher just decided to walk away from the money — the book’s
ALREADY printed and sitting in a warehouse — because of the current
war-inspired, anti-dissent atmosphere. Even satire is biting the dust, by the
publisher’s own hand.”

Within days of the Library Juice posting and a Publishers Weekly article, a
HarperCollins editor told Moore that they were receiving a lot of email from
angry librarians about “Stupid White Men.” Moore hadn’t realized Sparanese had
attended the Citizen’s Action event (the two never met), but he partly
attributes the publisher’s shift in stance to her mobilization of other
librarians.

“Librarians see themselves as the guardians of the First Amendment,” says Moore.
“You got a thousand Mother Joneses at the barricades! I love the librarians, and
I am grateful for them!”

Throughout it all, Moore insists he has kept his relations with HarperCollins
friendly and intact.

“This is a fascinating story because it shows what a free society does when
confronted with a crisis. Do we maintain our sense of freedom and liberty and
dissent and open discussion of the issues? Or do we start putting the clamp
down? I waited it out to see. And HarperCollins eventually did the right thing.

“I’m really proud of this book, and I’m dying for it to get out there.”

[ also see related items:

Michael Moore: Death, Downtown – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1475

Special: Interview: Michael Moore: ‘Moore Wants More Ralph’ – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=832


Michael Moore on Abortion as an Election Issue – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=632

Reporter Off Radio After Taliban Story – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1660

Ashcroft Tells Agencies to Resist FOIA Releases – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1567

MEDIA ADVISORY: Networks Accept Government “Guidance” – http://www.theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1519 ]

Author: Kera Bolonik

News Service: www.michaelmoore.com

URL: http://www.salon.com/books/feature/2002/01/07/moore/index.html