Friday, May 09, 2008

The Goldwater Lawsuit

A teacher is writing a book about the suit that Barry Goldwater brought against Fact magazine, Ralph Ginzsburg (publisher), and me (former managing editor). Ginzburg had gone to jail for publishing EROS.

Questions for Warren Boroson

1. Describe the year between the end of EROS and the first publication of Vol. 1 No. 1 of Fact. What was the purpose for the new publication? Why did you decide to stay on the staff?

I stayed on—out of sympathy and support for Mr. G. No employees, as I recall, left.

Fact’s premise was that the American media didn’t publish stories that might offend advertisers or other powerful institutions. “The voice of the press is no longer the voice of the people.” We’d publish important, timely articles that might offend certain institutions. Such as an article I wrote about the Reader’s Digest showing that it had in the past been anti-Semitic and anti-black and almost fascistic in its views. And that it wasn’t a “digest” but a disgustingly partisan publication. Unfair and unbalanced.
We also published Arnold Toynbee, Mary Hemingway, Ben Spock, Irwin Shaw, and other well-known people.

2. What do you think was the purpose for the Goldwater issue? What was the response on its publication? Do you know how many issues sold, and if it increased circulation of the magazine once it was published.

I had mentioned to Mr. G. that I had seen references in leading magazines (Newsweek & Time) to Goldwater’s nervous breakdowns. We should do an article on what a nervous breakdown is and whether it might impair someone’s ability to serve as President. We should interview a few psychiatrists, I suggested. “Why not poll every psychiatrist in the country?” he answered. And so he did!
I don’t know the response. The American Medical Association was mad, though!

3. What was your opinion of Goldwater before you wrote the article?

I thought he was out of his mind. Perfectly willing to risk nuclear war with the Soviet Union. In one of his books, he advocates going to the brink of war with the Soviets time after time—because the Soviets are not so devoted to the ideals we hold dear and they will always back down. I thought he was suicidal.

4. How soon after publication did you and Ralph hear from Goldwater’s people/lawyers?

At least a year.

5. Did you think the issue and articles in it were libelous on publication?

Our lawyers approved it. Goldwater’s lawyer argued that we published conflicting views, so we couldn’t have believed them all. A silly argument.
Anyway, we thought that as a public official he could not sue and win.

But Mr. G merged several psychiatrists’ responses together—edited them heavily—he came from the marketing field, not from the journalistic field. He wasn’t a scholar. Rosemary and I were unhappy—Rosemary Latimore, our researcher.

6. Describe the situation in the courtroom. What do you remember about the trial.

• At one point I looked at the jury while I was testifying. A juror was asleep. Another juror looked at him and winked at me.
• At another point…someone told the truth! It was like a bolt of lightning! Someone told the truth! In general, Goldwater lied, we lied.
• I was told by our lead lawyer, Harris Steinberg, that G. and I had to support each other—or we’d go down the drain together. So it was never revealed that I quit the magazine in anger when the article I wrote—which was more sophisticated than what appeared-- wasn’t published. My article was mainly about the findings of the Adorno book, The Authoritarian Personality.
* I didn’t know it at the time, but Goldwater’s lawyer was the fellow who had skewered J. Robert Oppenheimer…..A clever and arrogant and nasty Republican. (See the bookl American Prometheus, about Oppenheimer.)
* Rosemary told me that when Mr. G. testified, he and Goldwater’s lawyer went at each other tooth and claw. And Rosemary, who was a totally admirable person, told me that Mr. G. had acquitted himself with honor. (She died a few years ago.)
* Circumcision. In the main article, the contention was made that Goldwater was doubtful about his masculinity. A cartoon showed him looking at his privates questionably. Harris Steinberg said in court that this simply meant there was doubt about whether he was circumcised or not. A clever interpretation! Surprised even me!
* Steinberg told me that he asked Goldwater, have you ever heard the saying, in your heart you know he’s right? Goldwater smiled and said yes. Then Steinberg said, he learned close to Goldwater and asked, have you also heard, in your head you know he’s nuts? Goldwater, shaken, said no. Steinberg said he had been hoping that Goldwater would slug him!
* At the deposition, I said that Time, US News, and Newsweek had published items mentioning that Goldwater had had 2-3 nervous breakdowns. Goldwater’s lawyer said to me something like: You know that you’re lying, don’t you? I just repeated what I had said.
The next day, during another deposition, Rosemary brought in copies of those magazines—with the quotes! (God bless Rosemary!) Steinberg interrupted the deposition to read them into the record. A Goldwater ally said to Goldwater’s lawyer, soothingly, We didn’t know about that. … Steinberg told me later that Goldwater’s lawyer was clearly depressed to hear those quotes—it took the fight out of him.
* On the witness stand. Goldwater’s lawyer ended his examination by asking me about James Forrestal, who committed suicide while Sec of the Navy, I believe—driven mad by negative press, the lawyer said. That was his last comment to me—and he scored points. But clearly Forrestal was on the brink before any negative press.

*I mentioned in court having spoken to Erik Erikson about Goldwater. The judge said to me, while I was on the witness stand, Do you remember his middle name? I took this to mean: “I think you’re making up that name.” I was startled, and replied very loudly: “HOMBERGER!” Erik Erikson was a noted psychoanalyst, author of Young Man Luther.
7. You mentioned you quit FACT after the article as published. Did you work with Ginzburg after that in any way?
Yes, I wrote articles, freelance, for Avant Garde magazine, which he founded after Fact folded.

9. You mentioned in a previous email that Ginzburg had someone else rework your article in the issue, but this person was not charged in the libel suit. What kind of impact did that have on you?

Mr. G. was friends with David Bar-Illan, the Israeli pianist, who told him that Goldwater was schizophrenic. (Rather meaningless.) Bar-Illan rewrote my article—and I quit. And demanded that my name be taken off the main article. (But it remained on top of an introduction to the survey. Which led to my being included in the suit.)
Bar-Illan later became a fervent right-winger in the Israeli government.

10. This was one of the first times a public official won a libel suit after the New York Times v. Sullivan ruling. Was that discussed during the trial?

I didn’t attend much of the trial—I was working in St. Louis, as the editor of a social-sciences magazine published by Washington University, called Trans-action.
But I doubt that legal issues came up much.

I was very worried during the trial—thinking I might have to work for Barry Goldwater for the rest of my life, in case the jury awarded him millions.

Ralph told me that he and Goldwater’s son encountered each other during the trial—and the son shook his fist at Ralph.

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