Last week, the Detroit Free Press's Web site posted "Which books would Palin want to ban?," a column by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. Pitts begins with a series of possible questions for Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Then he makes his point:
My first question, though, would not be one of those. I'd simply ask which books she wants to ban -- and why.
Yes, there's a list of titles floating around the Internet right now, but it's a fake. It is, however, established fact that our would-be vice president has in the past tried to pull books off library shelves.
Let's examine Pitt's "established fact" that Palin tried "to pull books off library shelves."
The New York Times reports that as a member of the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska, Palin complained to colleagues about a book called "Daddy's Roommate," described in promotional material as being "for and about the children of lesbian and gay parents."
Laura Chase, who ran Palin's campaign for mayor, explained that the book was harmless and suggested Palin read it.
Chase told the New York Times that Palin replied she "didn't need to read that stuff. It was disturbing that someone would be willing to remove a book from the library and she didn't even read it."
Later, as mayor, Palin reportedly asked the town's librarian three times whether she would agree to remove controversial books from the shelves. Three times, the librarian refused. Palin fired her, but eventually bowed to public pressure and gave the woman her job back.
An ABC News piece titled "Did Sarah Palin Try to Ban Library Books?: Alaska Librarian Can't Recall Palin Asking to Ban Books," reported earlier this month:
The librarian at the center of a 1996 controversy with then-Wasilla mayor Sarah Palin says she can't recall any effort by Palin to ban specific books from the town library.
In her first public statement since Palin was named the GOP vice-presidential candidate, Mary Ellen Baker said today, "I simply do not recall a conversation with specific titles," Baker told ABCNews.com.Also earlier this month the Anchorage Daily News, a newspaper that's endorsed every Democratic candidate for president going back at least 20 years, stated:
Palin has acknowledged she twice raised the issue in 1996 of how books could be removed from the shelves, but said it was only a "rhetorical question" and that she did not ask for any books to be banned.
Were any books censored banned? June Pinell-Stephens, chairwoman of the Alaska Library Association's Intellectual Freedom Committee since 1984, checked her files Wednesday and came up empty-handed.Repercussions? That sounds ominous, perhaps Palin singled out the librarian for punishment. But then the story goes on:
Pinell-Stephens also had no record of any phone conversations with Emmons (now Baker) about the issue back then. Emmons was president of the Alaska Library Association at the time. Books may not have been pulled from library shelves, but there were other repercussions for Emmons.
Four days before the exchange at the City Council, Emmons got a letter from Palin asking for her resignation. Similar letters went to police chief Irl Stambaugh, public works director Jack Felton and finance director Duane Dvorak. John Cooper, a fifth director, resigned after Palin eliminated his job overseeing the city museum.
Palin told the Daily News back then the letters were just a test of loyalty as she took on the mayor's job, which she'd won from three-term mayor John Stein in a hard-fought election. Stein had hired many of the department heads. Both Emmons and Stambaugh had publicly supported him against Palin.
Replacing an opponent's political appointees with one's own is pretty typical for elected officials.
Finally, on whether the governor tried to ban books, FactCheck.org points out:
She (Palin) did not demand that books be banned from the Wasilla library. Some of the books on a widely circulated list were not even in print at the time. The librarian has said Palin asked a "What if?" question, but the librarian continued in her job through most of Palin's first term.
Pitts doesn't identify the books Palin allegedly tried to pull off library shelves. That's because he can't. Complaining about a book isn't the same as banning it.
Leonard Pitts won a 2004 Pulitzer Prize. His use of left wing Internet chatter as "established fact" suggests he's aiming for another one.