TESTIMONY OF SAMUEL BLACK, VICE PRESIDENT, ATLANTIC COAST INDEPENDENT
DISTRIBUTORS ASSOCIATION, SPRINGFIELD, MASS.
Mr. BLACK. My name is Samuel Black. I am a wholesaler and I reside at 3 Elwood Drive in Springfield, Mass., and do business at 31 Winter Street, Springfield, Mass.
Mr. BEASER. You are a wholesaler of what?
Mr. BLACK. Wholesaler of newspapers, magazines, books, and periodicals.
Mr. BEASER. You are also a representative of an organization of wholesalers?
Mr. BLACK. Yes, I am a vice president of the Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association and chairman of committee 1, which deals with indecent literature.
Mr. BEASER. How many members would that organization have, sir?
Mr. BLACK. We have approximately 270 members in 21 States, and the District of Columbia.
Mr. BEASER. Now, you testified some time ago before what is known as the Gathings committee on the distribution of materials. We are concerned here with crime and horror comics. I was wondering whether you would not want to make a brief statement in relation to that in addition to what we know already from the testimony before the Gathings committee.
Mr. BLACK. We had a meeting of the board of directors of our association here in New York last week. At that time I was instructed to prepare and deliver to this committee a statement which, with your permission, I would like to deliver now, and insert in the record.
The CHAIRMAN. You may have that permission.
Mr. BLACK. This is the statement of the Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association on the matter of pornographic and otherwise objectionable reading matter.
The Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association appreciates the invitation to participate in the hearings of the subcommittee of the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, and submits the following statement with the request that it be made part of the record:
1. The Atlantic Coast Independent Distributors Association is a trade association of approximately 270 independent wholesale distributors, located in 21 States in the eastern part of the country, and in the District of Columbia, who are in the recognized, legitimate business of distributing newspapers, periodicals, magazines, and pocket sized books to retail outlets for sale to the public.
2. There are six other such associations of independent wholesale distributors throughout the country, regional in their membership, all of which have as one of their common objectives the mutual enlightenment of its members, the furtherance of the best interest of the independent publishers, the improvement and standardization of methods and systems, and the development of a closer and more intimate relations hip between in dependent distributors and independent publishers.
3. There are approximately 950 wholesale distributors in the country selling to more than 100,000 retailers and newsstands.
4. There are many hundreds of publishers, both large and small, in many instances doing business under many names and business forms, and in some cases publishing dozens of titles.
5. In general, all the publishers sell their products to the independent wholesale distributor through 16 national distributors, some of which are interlocked with the publishers and others of which are independent sales agencies or outlets for the publications put out by the publishers.
In addition to the 16 national distributors, there is the American News Co, which distributes the publishers’ product through its branches located in most of the principal cities of the United States.
6. The wholesale distributor occupies, therefore, a position between the publisher ─ or the national distributor ─ and the retailer, including the newsstand proprietor. In addition to the daily newspapers he carries in stock at any one given time thousands of different titles of magazines, periodicals, and pocket sized books, which may come to him from all 16 national distributors and which in turn have come to the national distributors from the hundreds of publishers.
7. In this connection, it is particularly important to note two things in connection with the wholesale distributor’s business:
(a) He is in no way consulted about the editorial or reportorial content of the magazines and books he distributes; he simply is the active source of supply through whom the retailer receives the publisher's product.
Mr. BEASER. Has he any method in selecting what he gets?
Mr. BLACK. He can reject.
Mr. BEASER. And send back, you mean?
Mr. BLACK. He can refuse and send back and reject.
(b) The time element in the handling of the publications is such that, not only is it physically impossible for the wholesale distributor to read the books and magazines before shipment to the retailer, but even of no lesser importance is the fact that he may not be qualified to appraise their content from the standpoint of ethics, morals, or the law.
8. The wholesaler recognizes and admits that some publishers publish and some wholesalers distribute magazines, books, and other reading material which may contain immoral and otherwise offensive matter or place improper emphasis on crime, violence, and corruption and does not deny that this may have an impact upon the mind of the juvenile, adolescent, and impressionable, and that harm may result therefrom.
He is unable to state the degree of this harm and submits that this is a matter of scientific study and examination. He has openly stated and agreed that the industry ─ must take heed of these conditions and that concrete and active steps should be taken within the industry to curb the abuses and eliminate the evils.
9. This association, as well as the other regional associations of independent wholesale distributors, deplores the publication and dissemination of offensive and obscene literature. Having taken actual and realistic cognizance of this problem, it has, taken certain steps, both collectively and individually, to curb the issuance and dissemination of reading material deemed objectionable.
Mr. BEASER. How recently were these steps taken?
Mr. BLACK. Right up to the past week. For example:
(a) In the fall of 1951, this association established committee No. 1, so-called, on obscene literature, to deal formally and officially with this problem. This committee has been very active in focussing attention on this problem and alerting the members to doing something about it.
(b) In its conventions and district meetings this problem is No. 1 item on the agenda where, again, the problem is brought forcibly home to the members of the association.
(c) It has circularized bulletins to its members and by word of mouth and personal contact has kept the subject very much alive and urged its members to take an adamant position against the dissemination of any borderline or offensive material.
(d) So-called committee No.29 of the Bureau of Independent Publishers and Distributors, consisting of the presidents of the 7 regional independent wholesale distributors associations, has met with the publishers involved to discuss individually the matter of offensive reading material and the necessity of taking corrective action at once. This bureau has recently established committee No. 32, which is charged with the responsibility of establishing a code of ethics to cover this problem.
(e) It has urged cooperation on the local level with such local groups as Committee on Indecent Literature, the prosecuting officials, parent-teacher associations, and others.
(f) It has gone on record denouncing the publication and dissemination of this kind of literature and offered its cooperation to a congressional committee, the Gathings committee of the House of Representatives (H. Res. 596, 82d Cong.), and incorporates herein by reference the testimony of its then vice president, Mr. Samuel Black.
(See pp. 34─57 of the hearings.)
(g) The individual wholesaler has been prodded and encouraged to refuse to distribute and return the "objectionable" or "borderline" material to the national distributor or the publisher, assuming the wholesaler catches this type of magazine or book before it reaches the retailer, or, having been distributed to the retailer, to recall it from the retail stands and then return it to the national distributor, once the wholesaler becomes aware of this objectionable material.
Mr. BEASER. Mr. Black, when X crime comic comes in, it comes in in packages to you, in your warehouse?
Mr. BLACK. That is true.
Mr. BEASER Is it not possible then to just ship all of X magazines back?
Mr. BLACK. It is not only possible, but it is done.
Mr. BEASER. In other words, the only thing that would have to be decided in advance is that you do not want to distribute X magazines?
Mr. BLACK. That is correct.
Mr. BEASER. It does not come in all mixed up as far as you are concerned?
Mr. BLACK. No, sir.
Mr. BEASER It comes in mixed up as far as the dealer is concerned?
Mr. BLACK. That is true.
Mr. BEASER So that he has a greater job than you as a wholesaler as far as sorting them and saying that this magazine I want, this I don't want.
Mr. BLACK. By the same token his responsibility is the same as mine. He has to decide whether he wants to handle what I give him, the same as I have to decide what I want to handle what the publisher gives me.
Of course, his responsibility is lessened because I have already made some of the decisions for him.
Mr. BEASER. Your decision, carrying out your decision, it is a little easier in the sense that the magazines are physically together?
Mr. BLACK. Yes.
Mr. BEASER. Or you can even refuse to accept all of X magazines?
Mr. BLACK. That is not necessarily a point here because the dealer in opening his bundle has to place the copies on his stand. He would not place them as a group as he gets them. He must sort them out and more or less put them in various pockets. So in taking his bundle apart he must take this bundle apart and check the various items to see whether or not he is getting the right count and everything else.
Mr. BEASER. But when the bundle comes in to you it is identified in some way as to what the content is?
Mr. BLACK. Yes.
Mr. BEASER. So that without opening up the bundle you can tell what the title is?
Mr. BLACK. That is right. The outside label indicates what is in the bundle.
Mr. BEASER. So it is not a question of bundling it up again; it is a question of shipping it back?
Mr. BLACK. That is right.
It is difficult to estimate how effective this has been and to what proportions this practice has developed but it is fair to say that the wholesaler has become of recent time increasingly and voluntarily committed to this practice.
10. It reasserts, however, the position, namely, that the responsibility for this objectionable material lies primarily with the publishers who produce it. They cannot escape the charge that they are unaware of what goes into the story, the comic strip, et cetera. They are the very writers and producers who have the firsthand knowledge of the content, title, or the cover of the book. It is on their shoulders that this responsibility lies and it is therefore at this core that the remedy should be.
Certainly, as contrasted with the wholesale distributors or the retailers, the publishers of the material and the 16 national distributors are in a much better position to sort the objectionable from the commendable.
Therefore, it is on the publishers and the 16 national distributors that the onus should fall.
Reference is had to an editorial in the Toronto, Canada, Globe and Mail of March 3, 1954, commenting upon the conviction of three publishers and a wholesale distributor for publishing and distributing objectionable reading material:
With all due respect for the courts, we do not believe Mr. Bryan's [wholesale distributor] conviction was reasonable. What appeared in three crime story magazines was not his responsibility. He could not be expected to have read all the stories and articles in every one of the numerous magazines he distributes, or if he had, to recognize those which were legally offensive. That responsibility, in our view, rested squarely with the people who edited and published them ─ the people who, quite properly, were heavily fined * * *. The full and final responsibility for material appearing in newspapers, magazines, and books surely belongs with the people who edit and publish them. They have time which the people who distribute them have not, knowledge which those people cannot be expected to have, legal advice which is not available to them.
11. This association is opposed to censorship or legislation which permits of censorship as the answer to the problem.
This is the most drastic of all remedies and should be resorted to when all other cures have been given a trial and failed, for it is in this area that our traditional cherished concepts of freedom of the press and speech may necessarily be done violence to by such governmental action.
The CHAIRMAN. Mr. Black, the Chair assumes from that statement, that phase of your statement, that you would be opposed, your association would be opposed, to the enactment of a law such as was described here today by the member of Parliament from Canada.
Mr. BLACK. I would say, sir, that any law that would infringe on any individual's freedom must necessarily─
The CHAIRMAN. You heard Mr. Fulton's testimony, did you not?
Mr. BLACK. I did.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you consider from his presentation that the enactment of that law in Canada has weighed heavily against the right of freedom of the press?
Mr. BLACK. I would have to study the law and I would have to have it studied for me; I am not a lawyer, sir. But I would be very fearful of any law that would infringe, as I say, on the basic freedoms of the Country. There is a tendency to expand laws that could be most harmful.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you.
Mr. BLACK. The Gathings Committee majority report states that:
Censorship definitely is not a practicable or adequate answer to the problems in the field of obscenity.
Mr. Justice Douglas, of the United States Supreme Court, speaking in the case of Hannigan v. Esquire, Inc., said:
But a requirement that literature or art conform to some norm prescribed by an official smacks of an ideology foreign to our system.
12. The entire industry must constantly take steps to clean its own house and continually be alerted to policing itself. While admittedly the independent wholesaler can contribute to some degree to this scheme of things, for the most part it is to the publishers and their immediate outlets, the 16 national distributors in addition to the American News Co., that the public must look in order to stop at its source the objectional material being issued and sent on its way for reading by the public.
Mr. BEASER. Mr. Black, the wholesaler actually does not see the magazines themselves until after they are off the press. You are the first one who gets the magazine. They come in to you from the printing plant at the order of the distributor do they not? He does not see it until an advance copy comes to him.
Mr. BLACK. He certainly sees them before the wholesaler.
Mr. BEASER. But he does not see the actual copy. He sees an advance copy. They are mailed to you, or sent to you from the printing plant?
Mr. BLACK. That is true. They are ordered through us by the national distributor, or the publisher from the printing plant.
But the national distributor or publisher certainly sees them.
Mr. BEASER. Do you think it is possible for the 16 distributors to do a more effective job of reading all the stuff that is coming off the press than the two hundred odd wholesalers or is that not everybody's job?
Mr. BLACK. Isn't it easier to have 16 national distributors police this situation than it is to ask 950 wholesalers or 100,000 retailers if we want to get down to the basic problem, the core of it, if we want to reduce it to the least common denominator?
Mr. BEASER. I am wondering if you would not think that the burden fell all up and down the line rather than just a particular set of individuals.
Mr. BLACK. As I state here, we can contribute to some degree in the scheme of things, but the primary responsibility rests on the publisher and the national distributor.
13. There are already on our statute books, both Federal and State ─ New Mexico stands alone in failing to have any punitive legislation ─ which makes it a crime to publish, distribute, mail, or import obscene or objectionable material.
In conclusion it must be admitted that governmental or legislative action, whether on the National, State, or local level, however stringent and severe, will not solve all these problems, just as any self-policing or self-imposed code of ethics will not bring all members into line.
This utopia is not within practical reach. The isolated case of the "bad" book or the "horror comic strip" will be played up in the press and given wide scale publicity, by the pressure groups, and the attention of the public will necessarily be distracted from all the good and value the publishing industry, the distributors and the retailers offer the adult and the juvenile by the informative, educational, recreational, and otherwise much worthwhile reading material it publishes and sells.
Unfortunate as is this fact, and it is a fact, the hope of the industry and of the public must be to cut down measurably on the degree of the obscene and objectionable material which is finding its way into the hands of the public. Where the line must be drawn is, of course, difficult to say.
On this score reference is again had to the statement of Mr. Justice Douglas in the Esquire case where he says:
Under our system of government there is an accommodation for the widest variety of tastes and ideas. What is good literature, what has educational value, what is refined public information, what is good art, varies with individuals as it does from one generation to another. * * * The basic values implicit in the requirements of the fourth condition can be served only by uncensored distribution of literature. From the multitude of competing offerings the public will pick and choose. What seems to one to be trash may have for others fleeting or even enduring values.
The point is that governmental action of censorship must not be lightly entertained.
On the other hand, it does not follow that there is any room in the industry for the obscene and objectionable book or periodical or comic strip which may be considered to prey upon the mind of the youth or the impressionable.
The publishers and the national distributors must constantly be on the alert and take organized, united and effective action on their own initiative to stop the flow of worthless and degrading material and not simply pay lip service to the problem.
The education of all the members of the publishing industry and the national distributors is not an easy job, for there are hundreds of them in the field and, obviously, the greed for profit from the sale of something "hot" is apparently not easy for some of the members to overcome.
But over the years, with proper guidance, education, and the hammering away at the problem, it can be done. The independent wholesale distributor can be depended upon to exercise all due care and restraint. Despite what some local press or some local pressure groups may have to say invidiously about the wholesale distributor and the retailer, the fact is that these men, in the main, are people of good reputation and character in their respective communities who are jealous of their positions in the communities and are anxious to keep up established standards of decency and morality in the eyes of their neighbors. Too often, they have been the subject of unfair and ignorant attacks.
Holding no brief at all for the offensive or the obscene, they have no desire to protect or further the distribution of this kind of reading material, but are necessarily caught in the kind of business where certain members of the public do not want to or cannot understand their problem.
As one of our members so well said:
Remember no business can prosper unless it is built on foundations of a moral character for this is the principal element of its strength, and the only guaranty of its permanence and prosperity.
That is the end of my statement.
The CHAIRMAN. Senator Hennings, have you any questions?
Senator HENNINGS. I have no questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Counsel, do you have any questions?
Mr. BEASER. I have one question.
In dealing with your dealers, do you permit them to select from your total line the magazines, the crime comics, the crime and horror comics, that they want, or are they sent in your total?
Mr. BLACK. They have the right to reject. They cannot select because that would mean each and every dealer would have to come down to the place to determine what is being prepared for delivery, and that would be impossible.
Mr. BEASER. You send each dealer all the titles you get?
Mr. BLACK. No; there are many dealers with restricted lists, the same as I have restricted lists with my publishers.
Mr. BEASER. The restriction is of your choice or of the dealer's choice?
Mr. BLACK. Which restriction?
Mr. BEASER. The dealer who has a restricted list., is he the one who made the restriction?
Mr. BLACK. He has asked to have certain publications deleted from the lists that are being shipped to him.
Mr. BEASER. No further questions.
The CHAIRMAN. Thank you very much, Mr. Black. We appreciate your being with us here this afternoon.
Counsel will call the next witness.
Mr. BEASER. Mr. William A. Eichhorn.
The CHAIRMAN. Do you swear that the testimony you are about to give before this subcommittee of the Committee of the Judiciary of the United States Senate will be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?
Mr. EICHHORN. I do.
The CHAIRMAN. Now, will you state your full name and address and your association, for the record, please?