Editor’s Note: In August 2015 MHB published, “The CIA and the Media: 50 Historical Facts The World Needs to Know.” The present series seeks to augment this initial article with several dozen additional facts and observations on the relationship between the US intelligence community, the mass media, and public opinion.
Since the 1950s the CIA has exerted a powerful influence over the book publishing industry, sometimes petitioning the heads of major publishing houses to submit manuscripts to Agency officers for review or requesting that titles be withheld from circulation altogether. When a book publisher so compromised acquires a politically volatile or otherwise “troublesome” title it may embark on a process recognized in the industry as “privishing.”
Because of certain publishing houses spurning Agency concerns on, for example, Wise and Ross’ The Invisible Government (1964) and Alfred McCoy’s The Politics of Heroin (1972), these books saw the light of day. On the other hand, the much more recent English translation of German journalist Udo Ulkotte’s 2014 Gekaufte Journalisten (Bought Journalists), appears to have been “privished” by publishing house Taylen Lane. To date there is no accurate estimate of exactly how many such works in the US and overseas may have been subject to CIA interference.
“Privishing is a portmanteau meaning to privately publish, as opposed to true publishing that is open to the public,” writes investigative journalist Gerard Colby. It is usually employed in the following context: “We privished the book so that it sank without a trace.” The mechanism used is simple: cut off the book’s life-support system by reducing the initial print run so that the book “cannot price profitably according to any conceivable formula,” refuse to do reprints, drastically slash the book’s advertising budget, and all but cancel the promotional tour.” The publisher’s goal is to eliminate a book that has the potential to attract controversy. “This widespread activity,” Colby continues, “must be done secretly because it constitutes a breach of contract which, if revealed, could subject the publisher to legal liability.” This is because the publisher’s typical obligation for exclusive rights to a title involves printing and successfully promoting the work in its anticipated market.
Gerard Colby, “The Price of Liberty,” in Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press, Kristina Borjesson, ed., Amherst NY: Prometheus Books, 2002, 15-16.