Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Did Random House publisher Bennett Cerf promote "obscene trash"?

Good evening, my guest tonight leads a double life. He's a well known figure in two controversial fields, television and book publishing. His name is Bennett Cerf. Bennett, in a moment I shall ask you, what do you think is wrong with television. And I shall confront you with a charge that book publishers are wantonly exposing young readers, to obscene trash. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.

And so begins an interview from 1957 between reporter Mike Wallace and then Random House publisher Bennett Cert.

If you think much has changed in 51 years -- aside from the smoking -- it hasn't:

WALLACE: Bennett, here's an interesting statistic. According to a Gallup poll, the United States has the lowest proportion of book readers of any major English-speaking democracy. In 1955 only thirty nine percent of us, read even one book or more, despite the fact that we have the highest level of formal education in the world. How do you account for that?

CERF: I don't know that we have the highest level of formal education; I think something's got to be done about our school system... It's gotten a little bit slack, and lacks. But, the... the fact that we don't read more books in America, can be traced squarely to the fact that we have newspapers that are about a hundred times as big as the newspapers anywhere else. Take Soviet Russia, its best years a four-page paper. Look at The New York Sunday Times, it weights about four tons, yet you drop it on your foot, you brake a toe.

That sounds exactly like what is now being said about the internet.

The archive of other Mike Wallace Interviews is online courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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