Nonbelievers! Amen!

Los Angeles

I was overjoyed to see Victor Navasky, in “Seeking Obama’s Center” [Feb. 9], referring to President Obama’s identification of “nonbelievers” as one of the valid categories of Americans (along with Christians, Muslims, Jews and Hindus) in his inaugural address. As startling as this assertion was, I have noted it referred to only once since the inauguration, and that was an offhand remark on TV. This is the first time of which I am aware that anyone in any US administration has extended American citizenship to include “nonbelievers.” This is at least as important as giving the vote to women or electing an African-American as president.


The Nation: The Old Dope Peddler

New York City

Tobacco ads like the one The Nation published in a prominent centerfold in the February 9 promote addiction and lead to personal and family suffering, premature death and higher healthcare costs for society. Your ad policy, which states that you’re willing to accept ads with repugnant “views,” ignores the real issue. Promoting addiction to tobacco is not a “view” to agree or disagree with. It falls under the part of your ad policy on “purveying harmful products.” This ad is hawking a proven dangerous product in order to make profits. The Nation, as publisher of it, is the enabler/promoter of such a product, for its own financial reasons.

It is disingenuous and a spurious argument to write that your readers are knowledgeable enough to judge for themselves. Youngsters are not, and you vigorously promote The Nation to high school and college students and ask your readers for donations to help you do this. Students are prime tobacco ad targets. Those youngsters, and vulnerable adults as well, can readily be taken in by the adroit pushing of “organic” tobacco, good taste, menthol and a $20 gift certificate, enhanced by The Nation‘s good reputation for straight talk and pro-consumer policies. Youngsters are least likely to realize or be concerned that tobacco kills and is addicting. Advertising that reaches young people is the most efficient way for tobacco companies to create lifelong addicts.

You’re taking these ads for the money. It’s unprincipled. You can and should stop before it becomes addictive.

RHODA KARPATKIN, president emeritus
Consumers Union

Keene, N.H.

Does organic tobacco lead to organic cancer? Is organic cancer better for you than, oh, nonorganic cancer? Do you die faster from organic cancer, or does organic cancer prolong the dying? Just wondering…


San Francisco

Perhaps you could run ads for firearms. I’m sure you can find manufacturers who make natural guns with organic bullets. At least they would promote fewer deaths than cigarette ads.


The Editors Reply

We are proud that The Nation was among the first magazines to expose the insidious effects of smoking. And our reporters have continued to investigate the tobacco industry. It should be clear that a tobacco ad in The Nation is not an endorsement of smoking, nor does such an ad influence our editorial content.

Over the years, we have had many reader objections to advertisements in our pages. Often, we agreed with readers and profoundly disagreed with these ads. That is why we worked long and hard to come up with an advertising policy ( that reflects our principles and the realities of our business. As that policy explains, “Although the relationship of the First Amendment to commercial advertising is complex, we start with the strong presumption against banning advertisers because we disapprove of, or even abhor, their political or social views. But we reserve (and exercise) the right to attack them in our editorial columns.” Rest assured, our editors and writers frequently attack our advertisers.

As for our student readers: we reach the vast majority of students via the web, through Student Nation ( and through The Nation Classroom, a teaching tool for educators. A copy of the print magazine (which carries the occasionally offensive ads) is not a required part of either program.    –The Editors

Ted Solotaroff & the Cabaret Law

Staten Island, N.Y.

As a longtime professional editor–albeit in less exalted realms than Commentary in the 1960s–I thoroughly enjoyed Ted Solotaroff’s posthumously published memoir about his editorial flowering among the New York intellectuals [“Adventures in Editing,” Feb. 9 and 16]. At one point in his otherwise graceful narrative, however, Solotaroff is overly dismissive of the struggle against the city’s discriminatory cabaret law. A committee formed by the literati to protest the law was essentially “a New York celebrity turn,” he concludes. “The real action was taking place a thousand miles away at lunch counters in the South.”

I have no reason to doubt that the protest was a playground for dilettantes; indeed, Solotaroff’s hilarious set piece about their initial meeting is persuasive on that point. But the fight against the cabaret law was, in fact, a response to genuine injustice. In its own way, it was as much a part of “the real action” as the movement to end Jim Crow.

Twenty years after the events described by Solotaroff, I worked for a new administration of reformers who had taken over the New York musicians’ union, Local 802. The pages of the union’s freshly liberated newspaper, which I edited, were alive with debate on the long-simmering problem of the cabaret law.

Local 802 took the issue to court. Represented by First Amendment attorney Paul Chevigny, we argued that the law had been used since the 1920s to repress popular entertainment for reasons that had little to do with public morality. The licensing scheme targeted those at the margins of society–primarily African-American jazz musicians–interfering with their rights to free expression and meaningful employment.

In 1988 the courts finally struck down the cabaret law’s restrictions on the number of musicians and types of instruments allowed in small clubs. By then, of course, Norman Podhoretz and other intellectuals of the ’60s had shifted firmly to the right, blown by the winds of the Reagan revolution. That Solotaroff never followed is a tribute to his rigorous intellect and solid principles. This small historical corrective is in no way intended to slight his legacy.


Did Someone Say ‘Double Standard’?

Nyack, N.Y.

Why is it that when Gaza obtains weapons from allies it is termed “smuggling,” and we then see intense negotiations and even new technology being readied to make sure “it doesn’t happen”? But when Israel gets mega-weapons from the United States it is termed “support,” and there is no mention of stopping it?