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August 17, 2016

How Ralph Ginzburg Screwed Up the 2016 Election

PHILADELPHIA, Pa.—Tuesday's New York Times, in its "Science Times" section, related an interesting fact regarding the 2016 presidential election: the American Psychiatric Association, in 1973, had adopted what it termed "the Goldwater Rule," which stated that it would be unethical for any member of the organization to attempt to diagnose a public figure's mental condition "unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement." The reason for adopting the Goldwater Rule, as one might guess, had to do with the Republican Party having made then-Sen. Barry Goldwater its candidate for president of the United States—and the almost simultaneous publication, just one month before the election, of an issue of Fact magazine, whose cover read, in large, bold letters, "1,189 Psychiatrists Say Goldwater Is Psychologically Unfit To Be President." Goldwater, of course, lost that election, and though it's unlikely that Fact had played much of a role in that loss, Goldwater nonetheless sued Fact Publisher Ralph Ginzburg and Editor Warren Boroson for libel in 1968. Now, by almost any standard, Goldwater would have made a poor president. For instance, he had openly refused to sign the Civil Rights Act which struck down official segregation laws nationwide, wanted to privatize Social Security (if not get rid of it altogether), and spoke positively about the concept that the Vietnam War could be ended "by one impulse act; you could press a button and wipe out 300 million people before sundown." Nonetheless, Goldwater won his lawsuit—but the reason for that win may have had as much to do with Fact's publisher as it did with the words that were published. The year was 1962, and then-U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy had just indicted Ralph Ginzburg in Philadelphia for distributing obscene literature through the mails—but in fact, what Ginzburg was convicted of was a form of pandering: sending out advertisements that implied that the works for sale—Ginzburg's EROS magazine, his Liaison newsletter and his publication of Rey Anthony's memoir, The Housewife's Handbook on Selective Promiscuity—were sexier and more physically revealing than they actually were. Among the words that got Ginzburg convicted were claims like, "EROS is a new quarterly devoted to the subjects of Love and Sex. In the few short weeks since its birth, EROS has established itself as the rave of the American intellectual community—and the rage of prudes everywhere! And it's no wonder: EROS handles the subjects of Love and Sex with complete candor." Also, "Are you a member of the sexual elite?" read a Liaison ad. "That is, are you among the few happy and enlightened individuals who believe that a man and woman can make love without feeling pangs of conscience? Can you read about love and sex and discuss them without blushing and stammering? If so, you ought to know about an important new periodical called Liaison." Ginzburg was also accused of seeking to bulk-mail his publications from the towns of Intercourse and Blue Ball, Pa. (yes, they're real towns) and finally did send them from post offices in Middlesex, N.J. From a 21st century point of view, it seems incredible that Ginzburg could be convicted for suggestive comments like that, but his case was first tried in district court in Philly in 1962, with the conviction affirmed by the Third Circuit, and later by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1966. By that time, Ginzburg had gotten the idea that maybe making his living with sexually suggestive materials wasn't his best option, so he started Fact magazine, described as a "scathingly satiric journal of comment on current society and politics," in January of '64, and he continued publishing it monthly for the next three and a half years. But the point is, Ginzburg's conviction was big news across the country—after all, what "obscenity" conviction isn't?—and that loss at the Supreme Court level may very well have influenced the jurors in the Goldwater libel suit two years later ... which in turn definitely did influence the American Psychiatric Association, which named its rule after the libel suit's victor. And that's why you won't see many psychiatrists weighing in on Donald Trump's mental state over the coming months—and the American voting public therefore won't have the benefit of their insights into this clearly disturbed individual.

 
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