Ralph Ginzburg and the First Amendment Ralph Ginzburg, an editor and publisher who became an icon of free speech in the 1960s, died Thursday in New York of cancer. He was 76. Twice in his career his publications wound up targeted by lawsuits that went to the Supreme Court.
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Ralph Ginzburg and the First Amendment

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Ralph Ginzburg and the First Amendment

Ralph Ginzburg and the First Amendment

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SHEILAH KAST, host:

Ralph Ginzburg, an editor and publisher who became an icon of free speech in the 1960s, died Thursday in New York of cancer. He was 76.

Ginzburg rose to prominence in 1962 with the publication of Eros, a hardcover magazine of literate eroticism. It lasted only four issues before Ginzburg was charged with promoting obscenity. He appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction in one of the last major federal obscenity cases to go before the Court.

He eventually spent eight months in prison in the early '70s. In 1964, Ginsburg's Fact magazine published a special issue on The Mind of Barry Goldwater, that year's Republican presidential candidate. Because the issue indicated Goldwater was psychologically unfit to hold office, the senator sued him for libel. Ginzburg again was convicted, and that case, too, went to the Supreme Court. He paid one dollar in compensatory damages and $75,000 in punitive damages.

Joining us is VILLAGE VOICE and syndicated columnist and first amendment advocate, Nat Hentoff, who wrote for EROS. Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. NAT HENTOFF (Columnist, VILLAGE VOICE and Syndicated Columnist): Thank you. In fact, I wrote for the very first issue in the spring of 1962, and the result was I got a knock on the door. A man appeared, identified himself as a detective from the Manhattan District Attorney's office. He was packing a gun; I could see it. I had to go with him immediately, he said, on a very serious problem. And the problem was Eros.

What he was convicted of, essentially, was advertising because he had asked for mailing privileges in Blue Ball, Pennsylvania, and also because the magazine was advertised as indeed dealing with sexual matters.

KAST: Tell me about Ralph Ginzburg. What kind of man was he?

Mr. HENTOFF: He was very straightforward. He was very dedicated to what he was most interested in, which was not only keeping language straight and honest, and beneath that, of course, he was dedicated to the First Amendment because he was strongly benefiting from it.

But he also, indeed, published a magazine that has not been given much attention. It was called Fact, and that was the first time that Ralph Nader was published. Ralph Ginzburg was, in the best definition of that term, which I've always tried to use in terms of myself as a journalist, he was a muckraker, as the early, you know, journalists were back in the turn of the century, last century. And he kept fighting all the way.

But the problem in his career was as he said - he's quoted in the New York Times obituary - he said, once he was released from prison, I quote, my publishing potential after release was severely circumscribed. I always felt, he said, I might've become a major force in American publishing had it not been for my conviction. Instead, I am just a curious footnote. Well, he's a lot more than that. Eros magazine, if you can find it, is a collector's item. His other publications are in books on journalism, and the fact that he wasn't just a curious footnote is indicated by the four-column lead obituary in the Friday, last Friday, New York Times.

It was a - it did sidetrack him. I mean he could've gone much deeper and stronger in his publications, but he didn't give up and that's what I always respected about Ralph.

KAST: What would you say the legacy of Ralph Ginzburg is?

Mr. HENTOFF: The legacy of Ralph Ginzburg is intertwined with that of Lenny Bruce. I found out from Ralph's widow that during Ralph's time of troubles, so was Lenny Bruce, and he was about to be sentenced to prison here in New York, and that destroyed him.

KAST: And that was a sentence on obscenity.

Mr. HENTOFF: That's right. And Lenny eventually, well, he was - I say, he died - he was posthumously pardoned by Governor Pataki, but that was rather late. But anyway, what he - what Ralph did is link to - Lenny opened the window for people who followed, like Chris Rock and George Carlin, etc., but Ralph opened the window for a lot of journalists even though he was sent to prison. He has a strong legacy, he's going to be remembered, and he's certainly much more than a curious footnote.

KAST: Nat Hentoff on publisher Ralph Ginzburg, who died last Thursday. Thanks for speaking with us.

Mr. HENTOFF: Thank you.

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