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Ralph Ginzburg’s fact:, Vintage Wikileaks?

Inconvenient truths, or what groundbreaking typography has to do with the justice system.

Between January 1964 and August 1967 Ralph Ginzburg published a quarterly magazine entitled fact: — a provocative blend of satire and investigative journalism exploring controversial issues across American politics, consumer advocacy and public policy. Art directed by iconic graphic designer Herb Lubalin and printed entirely in black and white, the magazine set a new standard for ambitious and innovative typography as a bold visual statement complementing its anti-establishment editorial angle, bringing a new level of credibility to the role of the designer as an editorial, not just aesthetic, visionary.

Lubalin and I worked together like Siamese twins. It was a rare and remarkable relationship. I had no experience or training as a graphic designer. Herb brought a graphic impact. I never tried to overrule him and almost never disagreed with him.” ~ Ralph Ginzburg

In some ways, fact: was a lot like Wikileaks. Despite being separated by nearly half a century and living on vastly different media platforms, the two served a remarkably similar social function — to bring to light that which is uncomfortable, controversial but ultimately necessary to the reader’s informed citizenship — and triggered ire of similar magnitude among the political players whose reputation and credibility the publication’s content brought into question.

The parallel, however, becomes even more uncanny: In 1963, a drawn-out libel case was brought against Fact and Ginzburg himself. Two years after the case finally came to a close in 1972, Ginzburg was sent to jail — but not for libel. He was sentenced to three years in prison for distributing pornographic material through the mail — a striking similarity to Julian Assange’s rape charges in lieu of a solid Wikileaks case, bespeaking a systemic practice of not only keeping inconvenient journalists quiet by any means necessary, but by manufacturing charges for offenses as socially unacceptable as possible, with sexual transgressions being the pinnacle of social condemnation.

Rare issues of the magazine are available online, for surprisingly little. For more of Ginzburg’s keen cultural curtain-pulling, take a look at 100 Years of Lynchings — a compilation of newspaper clippings between 1886 and 1960 capturing vivid and unsettling accounts of lynching to offer insight into the history of racial violence.

Published January 5, 2011




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