Andrei Codrescu grew up with censorship. He ran up against it at 16 when a government censor in his Romanian village challenged him over a line of a poem he had written.
"The red cow grazes the hay of a hopeless dawn," Codrescu had written. The censor suspected an indictment of Romania's communist regime in that line and demanded an explanation.In the decades since he fled Romania for America, Codrescu has watched winds of freedom blow through the Communist bloc while the shadow of censorship has fallen across some parts of the American culture.
He condemned that shadow, at the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah's annual dinner Saturday night in the University Park Hotel. The dinner also celebrated the 200th birthday of the Bill of Rights.
Codrescu urged the hundreds of Utahns in attendance to hold fast to the Bill of Rights as a shield against encroaching censorship. "Make sure it doesn't become a forgotten piece of history," he said.
He cited several recent attempts at censorship in America, attacking with particular force the pervasive censorship that muffled U.S. media coverage of the Persian Gulf war. He congratulated the media for creating a "total sense of crisis with a near total lack of news."
Americans know the names of the weapons used in that war, but they still don't know how they work, he said. We still don't know how many Iraqis died.
The media's passive response to the censorship shows how accustomed America has become to censorship. When members of the media were told to wear uniforms in the gulf area, only a few refused. Few lawsuits have been filed by the media against the military over the suppression of news.
Codrescu contrasted the growing freedom in communist countries with the erosion of such freedoms here. Allen Ginsberg's most famous poem, "Howl," never will be heard on U.S. radio because it contains some of the seven words banned from radio, he said. Yet that poem was read over Romanian radio in May 1990.
"At the same time, 2 Live Crew was busted in Florida and the Mapplethorpe art exhibit in Ohio was put on trial for obscenity," Codrescu said.
Conservative columnists like James Kilpatrick called for the abolishment of the National Endowment of the Arts at a time when the U.S. government's financial support for the arts is only half of Berlin's support.
America is "slipping into the soft sands of censorship," he said.
The ACLU honored Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley with its Cliff Cheney Memorial Journalism award for his insightful and biting editorial cartoons.