Thomas Bass’s Talk on Censorship in Vietnam Relates Around the World

Professor Thomas Bass

Professor Thomas Bass‘s lecture began in Humanities 290 at the University at Albany, traveled to China, then Vietnam, Russia, Cuba, Utah, Tunisia, and finally returned back to UAlbany. The UAlbany professor of journalism and long-form journalist used his book, “The Spy Who Loved Us,” a book on the Vietnamese spy Pham Xuan An, as a nexus for the broad topic of censorship, due to his book being censored in Vietnam.

Though his book leads into the topic of censorship in East Asia, Bass chose to also discuss censorship in the United States.

Pham Xuan An watches as NVA tanks take over Saigon—1975. (Courtesy Le Minh & Ted Thai)

“I’m holding in my hands the latest copy of the World Press Freedom Index,” said Bass, “There are 180 countries, where does the United States rank?” he asked the audience.

“64, 68,” guessed a student.

Another guessed 46, and another tried 37.

“All these numbers you’re giving me are really shitty,” Bass said, “The United States has dropped three places down to 49.”

Why this low a ranking? Bass attributed it to a number of factors, including partisanship in media, the lack of a federal shield law for journalists, the Espionage Act, and incidents of spying on citizens and the press by the federal government.

2015 World Press Freedom Index

But even worse in ranking are China and Vietnam, essentially police states, according to Bass. He decided to use his own book to monitor Vietnam’s censorship.

“I get an offer to have the book translated into Vietnamese and published in Vietnam,” said Bass, on the publication of the book, “I know that Vietnam censors everything, that’s just the way they work.”

Bass agreed to the publication, but drew up a contract stating he would be notified every time a change was made to his work.

The Vietnamese translation of “The Spy Who Love Us,” censored and published in 2014

“I wired my book, I call it a kind of literary seismometer,” said Bass, “So that every time the Vietnamese censors got near the book and decided to change things, I’d be notified.”

According to Bass, 400 passages were removed from his book, as well as certain people, pages, and the index. Even the book’s title didn’t remain the same, due the statement that the titular character “loved” the Americans.

With mentions of Edward Snowden, General Petraeus, and Professor Rosemary Armaeo’s  Eastern European reports, Bass’s talk traveled across the globe, and he spoke of the fact that censorship is worldwide as well.

“Every part of the world has it’s own ideological blinders.”

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