Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Your Newsstand, Your Values

As a member of the publishing industry, I hold the First Amendment in very high regard. However, it is important to remember, that they only protect your write to speak and write freely. They do not grant immunity from possible consequences. That is a point many irresponsible members of the media would like to obscure in their attempt to avoid the consequences for their own dubious actions.

These issues have obviously come to a head after the New York Times decided in effect to pander to their terrorist readership by exposing secret operations designed to protect American (and particularly New York City) lives. Supreme Court rulings may bar the government from halting publications beforehand, but not prosecution after the fact, for revealing classified information. Whether Keller et al will take the proverbial frog march remains to be seen, but I expect calls for a nationwide boycott will gain steam. (Of course, I’ve been boycotting them for years now.)

The recent experience of Michael Yon and Shock magazine is instructive. As blog readers are now well aware, HFM launched Shock magazine (sort of a Life magazine for Beavis and Butthead) with Yon’s striking photo of an American soldier cradling an Iraqi child in his arm. The problem was they neglected to get his consent to use his photo for their magazine, permission he would not have granted for a story with an anti-military spin.

When HFM showed bad faith after their settlement talks Yon urged his readers to contact distributors and retailers, urging them to yank Shock from their shelf. When Yon’s campaign started showing success, HFM CEO Jack Kliger accused him of . . . you guessed it: censorship.

This is disgustingly disingenuous. No government storm-troopers are pulling Shock off the shelves. Yon and his readers have a First Amendment right to call for a boycott of Shock. HFM has no Constitutional right to publish stolen images, nor does it have a Constitutional right to distribution at any particularly outlet. Retailers and wholesalers are not obligated to sell Shock or the NY Times, if they believe it does not reflect the values of their customers.

Which brings us back to the NY Times. The chances of a successful boycott here in the City are somewhere between slim and none, but the rest of America may be a different story. Booksellers won’t likely be receptive to NYT boycott calls. However, major mass merchandisers like Wal-Mart and Target are very sensitive to the opinions of their “guests.” If they get complaints asking to pull the Times and Times-branded books from there shelves, it will get top-level consideration.

Likewise, the major independent magazine and book distributors are very sensitive about stocking controversial items. These “ID's” stock mass merchandisers, airport stands, and local newsstands in their broad geographic areas. Often they are given broad discretion over what they put into accounts, provided it does not cause controversy. In the Northeast this is primarily Hudson News. In the Southeast and Northwest it is The News Group. Anderson News services the Rocky Mountain and Border State region, and Levy Home Entertainment services the Midwest and Great Lakes, by and large.

Powerline shows a graphic of the NYT’s declining stock price that you don’t need an MBA to understand. If the Times company starts to lose revenue from national sales and the sales of branded books, it will send a message.

Yon has page of contact info for his Shock protest. It’s a good starting point. If you’re outraged about what Shock and the NYT have done, let your local retailers and wholesalers know about it. That’s your First Amendment right.