Brett Gary

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Brett Gary "became fascinated by propaganda and the control of information when he was just out of college and working for a United States senator. “I was assigned the task of responding to letters from the senator’s outraged constituents. In doing so, I realized that the senate stationery afforded me the power to appease constituents. I was essentially the staff propagandist!” He was also coming of age during the Reagan administration. “Brilliant propaganda spectacles were shaping the national discourse. Anyone not interested in propaganda and how it functioned at that time wasn’t paying attention.”

"After he received his Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Pennsylvania, Gary wrote his first book, The Nervous Liberals. The book looks at anxieties about propaganda between World War I and the Cold War. “During that time, people feared that demagogues and dictators would use new media technologies like film, radio, shortwave, print, and later television to seduce the public through propaganda.” As Gary researched this period, his thoughts turned to the limits of the First Amendment, and the ideas for this next book - which he is currently in the midst of writing - began to take shape.

"“The new book centers on the work of Morris Ernst, the country’s foremost First Amendment authority during the middle decades of the 20th century,” says Gary. “Ernst was a fascinating person. He defended a host of important figures – including James Joyce’s publisher - in cases where literary modernism came up against the censors.” Ernst also worked with Margaret Sanger to ensure that licensed physicians were able to get information and birth control technology to their patients. “Here was a moment in American culture where literary modernism and sexual modernism are both being granted their legal legitimacy in the federal courts – and there’s one guy who’s orchestrating all this: Ernst. He wanted to win landmark cases.”" [1]

Publications [2]


Articles in Edited Collections

  • “Morris Leopold Ernst,” Yale Biographical Dictionary of American Law, edited by Roger K. Newman, forthcoming Fall 2006.
  • “The Search for a Competent Public: The Hutchins Commission and post-WWII Democratic Possibilities,” in Democracy and Excellence, Praeger Books, Greenwood Press, 2005, edited by Joseph Romance and Neal Riemer, pp 75-90.
  • "The Pitiless Spotlight of Publicity: LIFE Magazine and the Pre-war Surveillance of American Extremists," in Erika Doss, ed., Looking at LIFE: Framing the American

Century in the Pages of LIFE Magazine, 1936-1972, Smithsonian Institution Press, 2001, pp 77-99.

  • "Modernity's Challenge to Democracy: The Lippmann-Dewey Debate," in Cultural Transmissions and Receptions: American Mass Culture in Europe, edited by Rob Kroes, Robert W. Rydell, and Doeko F.J. Boesscher, VU University Press, Amsterdam 1993.

Resources and articles

Related Sourcewatch articles


  1. Brett Gary, NYU, accessed June 18, 2008.
  2. CV, NYU, accessed June 18, 2008.