Anatomy of a bogus email

No, Sarah Palin did not attempt, in 1996, to ban Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire from the Wasilla Library. How do I know? Because the book wasn’t published until 2000.

The rext below seems to be going around as a chain email. I got it from someone I’ve never heard of, who had gotten it from someone else and forwarded it to an email list.

The following is a list of books that Sarah Palin tried to get banned when she was mayor of Wasilla. I am not sure that Mark Twain, William Shakespeare, Maya Angelou and Geofrey Chaucer would be considered dangerous to children. Judy Blume give me a break. Harry Potter, who is kidding who. I also fail to see why Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff should be banned.

This information is taken from the official minutes of the Wasilla Library Board.

When the librarian refused to ban the books, Palin tried to get her fired.

There follows a long list (at the jump) including the first four Harry Potter books.

Now shall we count up all the ways this has to be fraudulent?

1. It has no source. “The official minutes of the Wasilla Library Board” is a typical viral-nonsense pseudo-source. A real record would have a date, and perhaps a list of board members. It would also come from someplace (e.g., a newspaper) or have the name of the person who claims to have seen the original record, with some explanation of how.

2. “Official” sets off alarm bells; what other sorts of minutes are there?

3. Is there actually a “Wassila Library Board”? If there is, it doesn’t show up on the city’s website. There’s a “Library Steering Committee,” a temporary outfit with only advisory functions; there’s a non-profit group called “Friends of the Wassila Library;” it has a board, but no official power. That’s not proof positive that there was no board from 1996 to 2004 when Sarah Palin was Mayor, but it sure raises some doubt.

4. The existence of a list seems inconsistent with the news stories about Mayor Palin’s asking the head of the library about banning books, which claim that the inquiry was general and never got around to specific books. Again, not an air-tight case, but by now your fraud antennae should be humming.

5. Those stories do, however give us a date: around 1996, when Palin was first elected. And that, in turn, gives us a smoking gun: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was first published in 2000.


I think it’s reasonably likely true [see update below] that Palin asked her library director about banning books, either because she meant it or because she was looking for an excuse to fire the library director. It’s not impossible (though I’d count it pretty unlikely) that some books were actually banned, perhaps after that director quit and a successor was put in place. But by mentioning the threat to fire the original library director around 1996 and a book that wasn’t published until 2000 as parts of a single narrative, the document convicts itself of aggravated bogosity.

Whether this is a sincere-but-stupid attempt to discredit Palin, or instead a sophisticated attempt to discredit attacks on Palin, it deserves zero credence. If you get, it, I urge you to do what I did: send it back to every email address that comes with it, recipients as well as sources, explain how you know it’s b.s., and urge the senders to relay the word back up the chain.

It looks as if the Obama campaign is going to focus on Palin’s false claims about pork in general and the Bridge to Nowhere in particular. Even Fox News seems to have gotten tired of retailing the McCain/Palin lies about the Bridge to Nowhere, though the McCain campaign is still pushing the story.

That, and Troopergate, and Palin’s record of profligacy as mayor, and her wingnut political positions, and her ignorance of national issues, are all good talking points. She’s a target-rich environment; even putting the ethics of the problem to one side (which I’d be loath to do), it’s clear that the list of banned books is one of the decoys.


From the now-famous Anne Kilkenny letter:

While Sarah was Mayor of Wasilla she tried to fire our highly respected City Librarian because the Librarian refused to consider removing from the library some books that Sarah wanted removed. City residents rallied to the defense of the City Librarian and against Palin’s attempt at out-and-out censorship, so Palin backed down and withdrew her termination letter. People who fought her attempt to oust the Librarian are on her enemies list to this day.

I take that to be reasonably conclusive; Kilkenny is a primary source. Unless and until someone equally close to the stituation comes forward with a different account, I’m prepared to take Kilkenny’s word for it. So the claim that books were banned seems to be false, but the claim that Palin asked the librarian to ban books seems well supported.

Second update I seem to have underestimated the potency of the “book-banning” charge; I couldn’t imagine a voter who cared about censorship but was thinking about voting for McCain. That is, I couldn’t imagine someone like Ed Koch. Live and learn.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Annie on My Mind by Nancy Garden

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Blubber by Judy Blume

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Canterbury Tales by Chaucer

Carrie by Stephen King

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Christine by Stephen King

Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Cujo by Stephen King

Curses, Hexes, and Spells by Daniel Cohen

Daddy’s Roommate by Michael Willhoite

Day No Pigs Would Die by Robert Peck

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Decameron by Boccaccio

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Fallen Angels by Walter Myers

Fanny Hill (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) by John Cleland

Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Forever by Judy Blume

Grendel by John Champlin Gardner

Halloween ABC by Eve Merriam

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Have to Go by Robert Munsch

Heather Has Two Mommies by Leslea Newman

How to Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Impressions edited by Jack Booth

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

It’s Okay if You Don’t Love Me by Norma Klein

James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Little Red Riding Hood by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Love is One of the Choices by Norma Klein

Lysistrata by Aristophanes

More Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

My Brother Sam Is Dead by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier

My House by Nikki Giovanni

My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara

Night Chills by Dean Koontz

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

On My Honor by Marion Dane Bauer

One Day in The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Ordinary People by Judith Guest

Our Bodies, Ourselves by Boston Women’s Health Collective

Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones by Alvin Schwartz

Scary Stories in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz

Separate Peace by John Knowles

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Bastard by John Jakes

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Devil’s Alternative by Frederick Forsyth

The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Snyder

The Learning Tree by Gordon Parks

The Living Bible by William C. Bower

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare

The New Teenage Body Book by Kathy McCoy and Charles Wibbelsman

The Pigman by Paul Zindel

The Seduction of Peter S. by Lawrence Sanders

The Shining by Stephen King

The Witches by Roald Dahl

The Witches of Worm by Zilpha Snyder

Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary by the Merriam-Webster Editorial Staff

Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts: The Story of the Halloween Symbols by Edna Barth

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: