The use and misuse of the Internet: Banning books or banning blogging?

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The Use and Misuse of the Internet to Vet Political Candidates

Earlier I warned that Sarah Palin had yet to be fully vetted by the press or by the bloggers who have increasingly taken on this vetting role. Since my warning, I have been inundated by emails from many of you who have forwarded the list of books that Sarah Palin supposedly sought to ban from the Wasilia Public Library while she was that town’s mayor.  Because there is no accountability, denizens of the blogosphere are free to hurl charges at anyone, under the pretext that the “main stream media” (MSM) is simply too timid to address the issue. Once in a great while they happen to hit pay dirt, as when they exposed holes in the sourcing for a CBS News story regarding George W. Bush’s service in the National Guard.  But for every story they break, there are countless others that are completely or partially fabricated.  For example, soon after Palin was announced as McCain’s VP choice, I received several posts, based on bloggers’ accounts, indicating that Palin’s youngest child was in fact not hers, but was her daughter’s.  This appears to be a completely fabricated story. Some of you may recall just prior to the 2004 presidential election that a rumor regarding reinstituting the military draft suddenly made the internet rounds.  That also proved to be false.

This brings us to the latest rumor now burning through the internet: the list of books that Palin supposedly wanted banned.  A quick perusal of this list should set off alarm bells in anyone’s head – Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary?  The Living Bible?   Now, I have no doubt that in her capacity as mayor, Palin might have inquired as to who had the authority in Wasilia to remove books from the public library. She might even have done so in response to an inquiry from a concerned citizen.  But did she actually seek to remove every book on this list from the public library?   I suspect not. Instead, my guess is that an enterprising blogger took an existing list of banned books and simply appended it to the story regarding Palin’s inquiry regarding book removal.   In this vein, it may interest you to compare the list circulating in this email with the list of books that at some point in American history someone tried to remove from a public library somewhere.  See:

http://www.adlerbooks.com/banned.html

Notice any similarities?  They are, in fact, identical.

As for the alleged book-removing incident, the NY Times reports it this way:

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

Note that Palin took office as Mayor in 1996.  So the alleged-book removal incident took place within her first two years in office – not later than 1998.  Now look at the publication dates on books on the list circulating by email that she supposedly sought to remove.  I love Harry Potter, particularly the 4rth book in the series: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  But it was published in 2000 – at least two years AFTER the alleged book removal incident.  Yet it is included on the list of books she supposedly sought to remove!

We see, then, that this internet story is clearly false in some respects – something a good journalist with a little sleuthing would easily discover.  But denizens of the blogosphere are usually more interested in pushing a point of view than in uncovering facts.  They are partisans, working for a cause, and often willing to fabricate stories to achieve that end.

This latest rumor simply reinforces my point that the blogosphere has changed political discourse in this country, and not always for the better.

One Response to The use and misuse of the Internet: Banning books or banning blogging?

  1. Jeff 2010.5 says:

    What the New York Times reports isn’t exactly calming. It would be unreasonable to hang the book banning issue around Sarah Palin’s neck, as ultimately nothing came of it, but shouldn’t we be unsettled that the inquiry even took place? This shows an incredibly poor understanding of the First Amendment from a person who, at any level of government, should know better. After her nervously drawn-out and pat responses to Charlie Gibson’s questions tonight–clearly coached into her–her lack of basic governing competence is exposing itself as the liability that it is.

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