The House of Representatives moved yesterday to stop the Library of Congress from continuing to produce a braille edition of Playboy magazine.
Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin promptly condemned the vote as "censorship," while Playboy's editorial director, Arthur Kretchmer, defended his magazine's "literary merit."
The 216-193 vote -- which came as legislators debated a $1.3 billion appropriations bill for congressional operations -- approved an amendment to cut $103,000 allotted for the braille Playboy from the library's 54-year-old National Program for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. The Senate has yet to act on the bill.
The amendment was introduced by Rep. Chalmers Wylie (R-Ohio), who has been trying for the last four years -- ever since a blind constituent complained about the edition -- to have the magazine dropped from the library's braille offerings.
"I just think that when we have a budget deficit of $200 billion, this is an unwise use of taxpayers' money," Wylie said after the vote. "I think Playboy assails traditional moral values and peddles licit as well as illicit sex. I believe that promoting the reading of Playboy in this way does lead to undesirable activities."
Playboy -- one of 36 magazines offered by the library in braille, including Popular Mechanics, National Geographic and The New York Times Sunday Magazine -- has been part of the library's program since 1970. Noting that the library reproduces the text but no photographs or captions, Boorstin said Playboy "is one of the more popular items" on the library's list.
"I feel profound regret at the action of the House . . . to reduce the appropriations of the library as its way of censoring material made available to the blind community," Boorstin said in a written statement. "The next step might be to deny funds for the purchase of books which the House deemed inappropriate, subversive or unacceptable to the majority of the House. Censorship has no place in a free society."
Kretchmer said from Playboy's Chicago headquarters, "Playboy won the National Magazine Award for fiction this year, and Playboy readers regularly read the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Updike and Arthur C. Clarke. I'd like to know the last time the congressman read any of those . . . I think that one of the few useful things Congress does is bring the literary quality, the style and the fun of Playboy to handicapped people."