Rep. Chalmers Wylie (R-Ohio) would like to make at least one more cut in the federal buget: the $100,000 tab for the reproduction and distribution of the Braille edition of Playboy, one of 36 magazines free to the visually handicapped from the Library of Congress. Wylie thinks that is "a disgusting way to spend taxpayers' money."
Wylie called Playboy "sex-oriented by the library's own definition" and said, "I don't read the magazine myself, so I'm not as versed in it as some others, but I'm informed that there is no information in Playboy that can't come from another source. We are in a time when we are trying to cut the budget, and it makes us look ludicrous to reprint Playboy and distribute it free."
In Braille, Playboy looks nothing like the standard slick, photo-filled version. The magazines comes in four volumes, and there are no illustrations. The Braille is printed on both sides of heavy, brown paper and generally includes a selection of the magazine's interviews, short stories, profiles, jokes and advice columns.
According to Kurt Cyllke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), the $102,690 cost for the reproduction and distribution of the magazine last year is "typical." Of the 480,000 people who use NLS services, only 20,000 subscribe to Braille publications. A total of 1,200 subscribe to Playboy.
The NLS has distributed Playboy since 1970, and it is the "seventh or eighth most popular" magazine, according to Cylke, on a list that includes Boy's Life, Fortune, Horizon and Better Homes and Gardens.
Various consumer groups and organizations for the blind and disabled select which magazines will be distributed free to individuals and libraries that choose to subscribe. The library system in Columbus, Ohio -- part of Wylie's congressional district -- does not receive Playboy.
"We tried to get a broad selection of magazines," said Cylke. "We don't emphasize any one area. With us, Playboy is a popular fiction and current events magazine." Cylke cited articles by columnist William F. Buckley and humorist Jean Shephard, as well as interviews with Jimmy Carter and the late John Wayne.
Playboy spokesman David Saylers was, quite naturally, critical of Wylie's view on the matter. "We take a very active stance on this sort of thing. Although it sounds a little self-righteous, I think any right-thinking person would feel that this man Wylie is overstepping his bounds when he says he has a right to determine what people should read . . . We are very alert to anything that smacks of censorship or thought control."
Said Cylke: "At this point nothing's happened, so there's no censorship at this point."
Ron Staley, 34, has been blind since birth and works as a radio archivist at UCLA. He subscribes to Playboy, as well as Fortune, Popular Mechanics and Reader's Digest. He, too, objects to Wylie's criticism of the NLS. "He calls it budgeting, but I call it censorship," said Staley. "We, the blind, live under a partial de jure censorship anyway because certain things are just not available to us . . . We feel if Playboy went, it might even happen to other magazines.
"It seems to me that Playboy is being targeted. If he [Wylie] is so interested in cutting budgets, why isn't it across the board?" said Staley.
Wylie disagreed and said, "I'm not suggesting that if blind people want to read Playboy, they should be deprived. But it seems to me that Mr. Hefner might distribute it to the blind at his own cost."