In the CD-ROM "Who Built America?" users can click on a line
labeled "Male-Male Intimacy in the West" and watch the screen fill
with a photograph of two men, apparently nude, sitting together in a
pond. The accompanying text reads: "Some men were drawn to the
frontier because of their attraction to men."
Now the disk, a history of the U.S. between the years 1876 and 1914
that includes discussion of homosexuality, birth control and abortion,
has touched off an emotional debate over new media and history.
Apple Computer Inc., which in December put its considerable clout
behind distributing the title, said earlier this week that it is re-
evaluating that decision because of complaints from some school
In the center of the controversy is a $49.95 disk based on a two-
volume survey of American history published in 1990 and 1991. The
books were adapted for CD-ROM by the American Social History
Project at New York's Hunter College, an organization that develops
history resources for high schools and colleges.
The Hunter group worked with a well-known player in the multimedia
world, Voyager Co. Its president, Bob Stein, has been responsible for
some of the most imaginative titles in the fledgling CD-ROM industry,
including digital versions of "A Hard Day's Night" and Beethoven's
Mr. Stein is also known for his strong leftist political view. For many
years he described himself as a Maoist. Recently he said that now that
he runs a $12 million company, he's more of a political radical...
In December, Apple distributed 12,000 units of the disk. But Susan
Griffin, Voyager's head of marketing, says that in early January she
received a call from Apple marketing official Joy Brown. According to
Ms. Griffin, Ms. Brown said she had received complaints about
references to birth control, abortion and homosexuality in the disk, and
Apple now wanted Voyager to remove those references.
"We said no," says Ms. Griffin. "Then they asked us to produce a
version that wouldn't include those topics. We again said no. At that
point, the indicated that they had to remove the disk from their bundle
because of customer satisfaction problems."
Ms. Brown didn't return a call seeking comment. Apple spokeswoman
Stacey Byrnes declines to comment on Ms. Griffin's account. But Ms.
Byrnes confirms that Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., has received
customer complaints about "Who Built America"? She refuses to
characterize the complaints.
She says Apple is now rethinking its decision to distribute the disk.
"As a company, Apple listens to customer feedback," she says. "If we
receive complaints about a specific product, we evaluate that situation.
That's what we're doing now." In the meantime, Ms. Byrnes, Apple is
still distributing the disk.