Palin on Banning Books.

10 11 2008

Welcome to the third installment of the dissection of Sarah Palin’s latest interview. When we last left Sarah Palin in the middle of her interview at her Wasilla home on Sunday, she was talking about all those “goofy” stories that the media could have gotten right, if only they had known how to do their jobs. If only they had dug a little deeper to get the real story. If only those hacks at the New York Times, and the Washington Post understood real journalism. Alas, this is the cross that Sarah Palin must bear. She explains.

Regarding information regarding my record that is now out there, much of it that was based on misinformation was a very very frustrating thing to have to go through when the record was never corrected. We would try to correct the record and too many in the media chose not to make those corrections or clarifications, and then I felt too often we were a bit defenseless in so many things that were reported wrongly that could have so easily been corrected just based on facts…

One of the examples she gave is this:

Banning books…that was a rediculous thing also that could so easily have been corrected by a reporter taking an extra step and not basing a report on gossip or speculation, but just lookin’ into the record…uh, the banning books issue, easily disproved when it was reported that I tried to ban Harry Potter, and it hadn’t even been written when I was the mayor.

First things first. Sarah Palin never actually banned books, and other than some exhuberant bloggers that jumped the gun, I don’t know of any reports that she did. Were the rumors rampant that she did? Absolutely. I fielded lots of inquiries when this story first came out, and I set the record straight every time. And the real story shouldn’t make us feel much better about things, because the answer to the question “Why didn’t Sarah Palin ban books?” is not that the thought of book banning offended her moral sensibilities, it was that she couldn’t get away with it.

A good summary can be found in a fascinating article by Noam Scheiber, in The New Republic. He recounts the book story after talking to Laura Chase, a Wasilla councilwoman.

As a rule, the city’s department heads attended every city council meeting. One evening, as the session wound down, Palin mentioned to Mary Ellen Emmons, the library director, that something had been bothering her – a book she thought was overly indulgent of homosexuality. “She said there was no room in our library for that kind of stuff,” recalled Chase. Emmons curtly disagreed, but Palin was adamant. She suggested the librarian could at least keep such books in the reference section, where visitors would have to request them. “We don’t believe in censoring books,” Emmons finally told her, at which point Palin trailed off muttering. [snip] Within a year, Palin had blown through her personal enemies list. She had demanded the resignation of Emmons, the librarian opposed to censorship (who successfully fought for her job)….

So, you see, she didn’t ban books…she just tried to fire a librarian who wouldn’t censor them. If someone is offended at the prospect of book banning, the “real” story certainly won’t make them feel any better.

On to Harry Potter. The reference to Palin wanting to ban Harry Potter came from an anonymous email. I got this email 3 or 4 times. There was no source cited, just a long list of “controversial” books that Palin supposedly wanted banned, including not only the first five Harry Potter books (two of which weren’t even written at the time), but Lady Chatterly’s Lover, James and the Giant Peach, and everything by Judy Blume. Not one serious news organization printed this. So when Sarah Palin whines about bad journalism, and the media not living up to their responsibility, and when she says “it was reported,” the reporters she’s talking about are simply people who forward controversial emails without knowing if they’re true.

So what books did she want removed from shelves? One that we know about is the book Pastor, I’m Gay by the Rev. Howard Bess. I had the pleasure of meeting Rev. Bess, and heard the story from his own mouth. It was also reported by David Talbot of Salon.

After she became mayor of Wasilla, according to Bess, Sarah Palin tried to get rid of his book from the local library. Palin now denies that she wanted to censor library books, but Bess insists that his book was on a “hit list” targeted by Palin. “I’m as certain of that as I am that I’m sitting here. This is a small town, we all know each other. People in city government have confirmed to me what Sarah was trying to do.”

What about the other books on Palin’s “hit list”? We may never know, but does it really matter? What if she supported banning some books and not others? The point is, we shouldn’t be banning any of them. Free speech doesn’t work if it’s only the free speech the mayor of Wasilla agrees with. Once you seek to ban one book, you’ve already lost the Constitutional high ground.

(More to come on this interview…)

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