USA TODAY Columnist Says Sony Should Take a Page From Booksellers

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In the face of threats to Salman Rushdie, independent booksellers refused to be intimidated

Sony Pictures, which decided to pull The Interview from widespread distribution after threats from cyber-hackers, “should take a page from America’s booksellers,” wrote Ken Paulson, the president of the First Amendment Center, dean of the College of Mass Communication at Middle Tennessee State University, and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors, in a December 19 USA TODAY column.

Paulsen was referring to the response of independent booksellers who “stepped up” in 1989 when the Iranian government issued a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses and chains like Barnes & Noble, B. Dalton, and Waldenbooks took the book off their shelves.

“Cody’s Books in Berkeley, California, prominently featured the book, which led to a pipe bomb being thrown through the front window,” Paulson wrote. “They — and independent booksellers across the nation — didn’t back down.”

Today, booksellers continue to demonstrate that courage, he continued, “often defying pressure from interest groups trying to cancel in-store signings by authors of controversial books. While those rarely involve violent threats, they often involve economic retaliation, no small issue for a bookseller.”

But as Chris Finan, director of the American Booksellers for Free Expression, told Paulsen: “Booksellers have a deep commitment to making the books available that their customers want to buy and that’s a matter of first principle for them.”

Of Sony’s response to the hackers’ threats, Paulson said, “We live in an extraordinary country where freedom of creative expression is guaranteed. But of what value is free speech if we’re afraid to use it?”

Sony must release The Interview in some form, he said. “This movie can’t go unseen. At the heart of creativity is the courage to express yourself freely. Sony needs to summon up that courage right now.”

Read the full column on the USA TODAY website.