Personally I’m glad to see that we’re getting more voices and more details on all this — but it is key to note once again however that the word I’ve used the most in previous posts on this subject still applies: ‘murky.’ That said I think the basic headline of this AP piece that made the rounds yesterday — “GOP campaign downplays Palin book-banning inquiry” — applies. And downplaying, frankly, is not the same as direct detailing and addressing. But to say it again, not only murky but arguably now murkier.
To quote some further details in the AP piece that were new to me:
Taylor Griffin, a spokesman for the McCain campaign, said Thursday that Palin asked the head librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, on three occasions how she would react to attempts at banning books. He said the questions, in the fall of 1996, were hypothetical and entirely appropriate. He said a patron had asked the library to remove a title the year before and the mayor wanted to understand how such disputes were handled.
Records on the city’s Web site, however, do not show any books were challenged in Wasilla in the 10 years before Palin took office.
…one longtime library staffer recalls that the run-in made everyone fear for their jobs.
“Mayor Palin gave us some terrible moments and some rather gut-wrenching moments, particularly when Mary Ellen [Emmons] said she was going to have to leave,” said Cathy Petrie, who managed the children’s collection at the time.
The Rev. Howard Bess, a liberal Christian preacher in the nearby town of Palmer, said the church Palin and her family attended until 2002, the Wasilla Assembly of God, was pushing to remove his book from local bookstores.
Emmons told him that year that several copies of “Pastor I Am Gay” had disappeared from the library shelves, Bess said.
“Sarah brought pressure on the library about things she didn’t like,” Bess said. “To believe that my book was not targeted in this is a joke.”
Other locals said the dust-up had been blown out of proportion.
“That was many years ago and Sarah never had any intention to ban books,” said David Chappel, who served as Palin’s deputy mayor for three years. “There were some vocal people in the minority, and it looks like they’re still out there.”
I spoke about Bess in my previous post — struck me as an all-right guy — and Chappel’s comment comes across as at least a bit ambivalent, while Griffin’s explanation at the start about the questions being ‘entirely appropriate’ strikes me as special pleading, frankly. There is something utterly uneasy about the idea of casual discussion of book-banning, and how this is being accepted by her supporters, which is not being questioned enough. Petrie’s comment however is the one that hits closest to home, while ultimately that detail about no books being challenged before she took office is interesting, but raises a very odd question at odds with reports at the time.
Emmons said the current Wasilla policy, which she described as written in more general terms than the borough’s, also worked procedurally in a book-challenge case last year. Emmons said then-council-woman Palin was distressed about the issue when it came up, indicating she was aware of the city’s book-challenge policy.
Emmons said in the conversations with now-Mayor Palin in October, she reminded her again that the city has a policy in place. “But it seamed clear to me that wasn’t really what she was talking about anyhow,” Emmons added. “I just hope it doesn’t come up again.”
This pretty clearly indicates that there was *some* sort of challenge in 1995, before Palin was mayor. The AP piece claims no challenges had been filed, though, and refers to the city’s online records. This document now available via the city’s website — an expansion of the general book-challenge policy fellow blogger Alfie had noted and called to my attention earlier this week — includes both a brief new introduction and further details about challenges filed, when they were filed and their results:
We at the City of Wasilla have received many emails and requests for information about “banned or censored” books at the Wasilla Library while former Mayor Palin was in office. We have no records of any books being “banned or censored” ever.
Our records indicate the following actions requested by library patrons:
Angel Dust Blues by Todd Strasser
Creation of “Young Adult” section in library and placement of item in section
Bumps in the Night by Harvey Allard
Remained on shelf
Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman
Remained on shelf
America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction by Jon Stewart
Remained on shelf
The Abduction by Mette Newth
Remained on shelf
This would seem to settle the issue — five challenges, no books removed, one case resulting in a ‘Young Adult’ section — but consider again what I quoted from Emmons in 1996 above. If anything, a Palin supporter might want to publicize a challenge incident in 1995, simply to show that it was in fact something that had recently come up — in otherwards, that the subject wasn’t completely plucked out of the blue by Palin, and that there had been a question from the public about it recently. Emmons seems pretty clear with her words about a 1995 challenge, or more accurately the reporter’s description of her words — which, again, were written in 1996, and weren’t being said with a view to the idea that Palin was going to be a VP candidate in 2008. But the list indicates that prior to 1996 the last challenge was in 1986 — in accordance with the AP piece — and that the next challenge was in 1997.
At base, this much is clear — given what has been said via these various public reports, media and civic, either Emmons’s statement in 1996 is wrong and there was no 1995 challenge, or the list of book challenges is wrong or at least incomplete and there was a 1995 challenge. There is a curious discrepancy here that should be addressed, somewhere.
The Friends have received numerous media questions regarding the rumor that there was a list of books banned by Sarah Palin as mayor of Wasilla. I have researched all the archived Friends of Wasilla Library Board minutes from 1995-1998. I can find nothing to substantiate the theory that there was a list of books recommended to be banned by Sarah Palin. As a Board, the Friends feel pretty passionately about the negatives of banning books. There does seem to have been some discussion about book selection and the challenge policy during the time period in question. It is my personal conclusion that the “banned list” rumor is just sensationalism.
The minutes from the time in question are not in electronic form. Because we are a group of volunteers, we simply do not have time to continue to answer questions from the media.
This is a fair and sensible answer all around — the specific list that was making the rounds was long ago debunked and like it or not (and it says something about the nature of where we are as a society technologically that we’re at the point where we expect everything to automatically be online), unless somebody is willing to put in the time to look through those minutes there’s not much more that can be done. It’s not like I can fly up there on a whim and ask to look through them, for instance. Certainly I’d love to know if there is someone there willing to take the time to do so, but is there?
Turning back to the Bess comment, meantime — that’s a pretty straightforward statement on his part, not simply saying he’d heard that his book had been removed from the shelves, but that Emmons specifically told him that copies had ‘disappeared.’ Emmons (now Smith, as numerous articles have rightly noted given her subsequent marriage) has continued to maintain silence on the matter and I really don’t blame her at all — we may wish for more but the decision to speak now is hers to make, not ours. Still, the questions now suggest themselves: patrons hiding or otherwise removing books, for philosophical or personal records, isn’t unheard of with libraries in general, but how many copies in question of this book? Had there been other incidents? Was this something being investigated? Were there suspects?
Turn back also now to the Brian Ross report on Thursday — in my summary of the new details being offered, I noted this:
There’s a fairly vague claim that ‘around the time’ of Palin’s election, that church and ‘other conservative Christians’ were none too pleased about ‘certain books’ available both in bookstores and the library, mentioning two books in particular — Go Ask Alice and a book of Bess’s own, Pastor, I Am Gay.
If you go back to that official list of book challenges, you’ll note that neither of them are among the five listed books. Thus my point about the claim in the Ross report being vague — like the now discredited list, it emotionally causes an impact, but setting aside Bess’s book for the moment, the Go Ask Alice case, for which no other details have come to my attention so far, appears to be completely separate. Pressure on booksellers from churches regarding content isn’t something to sneeze at either, I should be clear, if that’s what’s happened here, but unless Palin was on record as railing against bookstores — and I suspect we would have heard about THAT by now, or something similar — then there’s little more to add.
To end on this note of unsureness may seem incomplete yet it is the only way to end — as long as there is interest, this will be ongoing, but it would require more questions and more clarification. But I will end here with a brief note of explanation too — it may seem either monomaniacal or simply lacking proportion to be focusing in on this one question of Palin’s background to the exception of many others. In my regular thoughts and observations and discussions with friends, it’s hardly the only thing I’m talking about. But it seems to me that the best I can do here as a writer quietly niggling away at all this is to niggle, to observe and sift and suggest, and this is an issue that interests me personally, philosophically and professionally.
If there is something that puzzles me and says something more about Palin in general, though — and I say this noting that a friend said recently that this is the type of wish-fulfillment that can essentially be considered fanfic — it’s that Palin doesn’t come fully out about this to people, via a direct statement or speech or discussion. Essentially, her entire candidacy so far, the one big RNC speech and its stump derivations aside, has almost been solely reactive, responding to questions or letting others respond to them. (The Troopergate case can almost be seen as the most extreme extension of this at present.) Were I her — and I freely note she is the experienced and election-winning politician and I am not — if a question came up about an issue when I was mayor of Wasilla that, however indirectly, addresses an issue found in our first amendment — the freedom of speech and how that has been interpreted and dealt with in over two hundred years of history — I’d want to be right out there with my take on it, and show I knew something about the matter and didn’t consider it lightly, as a citizen and as a public servant.
But that’s just me.