University Denies Access to Obama-Ayers Documents

When will the University of Illinois (Chicago) release the Annenberg Challenge documents? This is the question Stanley Kurtz asked in his column yesterday at NRO. Since then, the call has been taken up by various conservative blogs and radio shows. Today, U of I News Bureau Director, Bill Burton, issued a press release.

The University Library supports the teaching, research, and service missions of the University by acquiring, organizing, preserving, and providing access to information. The Library is open to the public and dedicated to free inquiry. The University has not received ownership rights to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge collection. The university is aggressively pursuing an agreement with the donor, and as soon as an agreement is finalized, the collection will be made accessible to the public.

Ok, fair enough. But why the secrecy over the donor of the documents? And more importantly, can the university guarantee in the interim that nothing will be removed or altered?

Since the press release and just in the last few hours, AP writer Pete Yost filed the first (and only) MSM story on the topic. We can only hope a press that so oftens clamors for full disclosure of documents from Republican candidates, will follow suit and add weight to Kurtz's calls for access to the archive.

As a historian-in-training, I can speak to the frustration at not being able to gain access to crucial pieces of information in order to connect the dots of a compelling narrative. In the 2008 Presidential election, Barack Obama's connection to Bill Ayers stands to be one of, if not the most compelling narrative.

According to Yost's interview with Burton, the U of I rep, the only reason these documents were withheld were over concerns regarding, "personnel information that could include names, confidential salary information and even Social Security numbers."

Fine, take out the SS#'s, but whatever you do, don't let Sandy Berger in to 'take a peek.' Any delay in releasing information so sensitive and potentially critical only fuels suspicion that the archival material says what Kurtz thinks it does: that Obama's ties to Ayers run wider and deeper than either let on.

One other note: Kurtz was given a sheet of material that listed, broadly, what was contained in what is undoubtedly mountains of information. Based on the time I've spent in various archives doing research, I know that these lists of information can be incredibly detailed or tell you almost nothing whatsoever--requiring a time consuming look through everything in the collection. All of this is to say that, as Kurtz revealed,

at over 60 pages, the extremely detailed “finding aid” to the CAC records by itself provides important new information that helps extend our understanding of Obama’s political past.

The "finding guide" describing the contents of the Annenberg Challenge files is detailed. Stanley Kurtz's suspicions are not unfounded. We need to see what's in those documents.