July 24, 2014

Dan Rather is No Stranger to ALA | Blatant Berry

It won’t be the first time Dan Rather of CBS News fame has appeared at an ALA Conference when he speaks at the ALTAFF President’s Program on Monday, June 25 at 8:30 a.m (see also LJ’s Guide to the ALA Annual 2012 Conference Program).

Back in June 1976, the ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee hired Vision Associates to make a film to demonstrate the importance of freedom of expression to the general public. The result was a film called The Speaker about a racist professor who believed black people are genetically inferior to whites. A high school club invites this professor, obviously fashioned after the controversial William Shockley, to come address the students. Everyone in the fictional town is upset, especially the stereotyped black students, unfortunately portrayed in the film as angry and a bit stupid.

A great debate broke out in ALA over whether or not the film should be released. As we now know the film was released unchanged, but it was never very popular. At the time I came to believe the film was racist and simplistic (see “A whimper for Freedom,” LJ June 1, 1977,  p. 1227 – embedded below).

So when Dan Rather and a camera crew from “60 Minutes” showed up to cover the ALA Council debate, I confronted him just before it began. “How can you do justice to this debate with your sound bites and short takes?” I loudly asked Rather. “These people feel very deeply and strongly about the film on both sides!” I asserted.

Rather may have forgotten his very wise answer to my angry bluster: “Berry,” he said. “I don’t see how you can lose, you’re either going to come out against racism or against censorship.”

John Berry. Editor-at-Large, Library Journal

Original editorial from 1977
LJ Editorial, ‘A Whimper for Freedom’, from 1977

Background on the controversy

From Library Ethics, by Jean L. Preer (ABC-CLIO, Oct. 2008)

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.

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