Brian Ross Investigates Angry Librarians Opposed to Palin

Wednesday's "Good Morning America," featured a one-sided segment on whether Sarah Palin, as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, tried to have some books banned from the town's library. Despite the fact that no one featured in the segment could cite a specific book, co-host Robin Roberts labeled the event "a battle that brought her toe-to-toe with a local librarian over which books were appropriate and which were not, something her critics say crossed the line into censorship." Investigative reporter Brian Ross also intoned that there are "members of the Alaska Library Association who to this day remain very wary of Sarah Palin."

The Ross report featured several critics, but no clips or on camera explanations by the McCain/Palin campaign. Instead, the piece focused on the 1996 uproar over certain controversial books in the Wasilla library. Then-Mayor Palin asked librarian Mary Ellen Edmonds what the process would be for removing books. The librarian was ultimately fired. However, Ross explained toward the end of the piece, "In a conversation with me yesterday, the librarian said she could not recall Palin asking for specific book titles to be removed from the shelves."

While wrapping up the piece, Ross also acknowledged that so-called "lists" on the internet of books that Palin supposedly wanted banned were fraudulent: "That's not true, that long list of books that some may have seen on the internet. That's simply made up. That was not part of this discussion." He went on to explain that the Republican's question amounted to, "If people were picketing the library, would you take books off the shelf?" 

Diane Sawyer added to the confusion by stating in the show open that "reports" say that Palin "once tried to ban some books from Wasilla's public library, her home town." She made that remark in the guise of separating fact from fiction. However, as already noted, most of the clarifying information that no one could name such books came at the end of the segment.

A transcript of the September 10 segment, which aired at 7:08am, follows:

7am tease

DIANE SAWYER: And we've also been hearing the reports that Sarah Palin once tried to ban some books from Wasilla's public library, her home town. You may have heard those reports too. Well, Brian Ross decided to investigate, separate fact from fiction. We have the results this morning.

7:08am

ROBIN ROBERTS: No doubt that Sarah Palin has a huge following already. So many love her. But many want to know more about her resume, the details about her tenure as mayor and governor are still coming in to focus. And this morning we have new information on one battle she waged as mayor of Wasilla, a battle that brought her toe-to-toe with a local librarian over which books were appropriate and which were not, something her critics say crossed the line into censorship. Our chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross has details. Good morning Brian.

BRIAN ROSS: Good morning, Robin. As the mayor of the town Wasilla, Sarah Palin raised the questions about removing books in the public library. And then tried to fire the town librarian. She says the two were not connected. Sarah Palin was elected the mayor of Wasilla in 1996, with the strong backing of her church, Wasilla Assembly of God.

HOWARD BESS, PASTOR, CHURCH OF THE COVENANT: It wasn't just a matter of her using the religious right to get elected. She was one of them.

ROSS: Palin has since changed churches. But Assembly of God ministers are well-known in Wasilla for taking strong positions on moral issues including this recent sermon by the current pastor.

ED KALNIN, PASTOR, WASILLA ASSEMBLY OF GOD: Everybody in the world, has a guilty conscience. That's why homosexuals want laws of the land to justify their sickness. They have a guilty conscience.

ROSS: Around the time Palin became mayor, the church and other conservative Christians began to focus on certain books available in local stores and in the town library, including one called "Go Ask Alice," and another written by a local pastor Howard Bess called "Pastor, I Am Gay."

BESS: This whole thing of controlling of, you know, controlling information, censorship, yeah, that's a part of the scene.

ROSS: Not long after taking office, Palin raised the issue at a city council meeting of how books might be banned. According to news accounts and a local resident, a Democrat, who was there.

ANNE KILKENNY, TOWN RESIDENT: Mayor Palin asked the librarian, what is your response if I ask you to remove some books from the collection of the Wasilla Public Library?

ROSS: The Wasilla librarian, Mary Ellen Edmonds, the president of the Alaska Library Association, responded with only a short hesitation.

KILKENNY: The librarian took a deep breath and said "the books on the collection, were purchased in accordance with national standards and professional guidelines. And I would absolutely not allow you to remove any books from the collection." =

ROSS: A former town official and Palin ally says Palin's questions were only rhetorical.

FORMER WASILLA DEPUTY MAYOR JUNE PATRICK: There were no specific books that were ever banned from the city. Mayor Palin did enquire of the librarian about the policy of removing books from the library.

ROSS: A few weeks after the council meeting, the mayor fired the librarian, although she was reinstated after a community uproar.

PATRICK: You'd like to hope the elected officials understand the role of the librarian in a democracy, that is to provide access to information to everybody in the community.

ROSS: The Wasilla librarian, Mary Ellen Edmonds, left two years later, and according to friends, because it was just too hard working for Sarah Palin. In a conversation with me yesterday, the librarian said she could not recall Palin asking for specific book titles to be removed from the shelves. But she acknowledged her treatment by Palin had been very rough. "I just don't care to revisit that time of my life," she told me.

ROBERTS: Brian, you know there's so much out there on the internet. And much of the information is wrong. In fact, in response to your story, right there, the McCain campaign sent out this three pages to us. And they're trying to shoot down as much as they can. In fact, there was on the internet, about a list -- a long list of books. That just wasn't true.

ROSS: That's not true, that long list of books that some may have seen on the internet. That's simply made up. That was not part of this discussion. The mayor did raise the question, how to get books off the shelf. If people were picketing the library, would you take books off the shelf? The librarian was offended by that, as were members of the Alaska Library Association who to this day remain very wary of Sarah Palin.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org