Tracking the Palin Rumors


The most disturbing allegation about Sarah Palin's tenure as mayor of Wasilla—that Palin tried to oust the local librarian because she wouldn't remove offensive books from the shelves—is starting to look shaky. The Anchorage Daily News reports:

Palin didn't mention specific books at that meeting, [Palin critic Anne] Kilkenny said.

Palin herself, questioned at the time, called her inquiries rhetorical and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head "about understanding and following administration agendas," according to the Frontiersman article.

Were any books…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.

Palin later asked the librarian to resign, but it's far from clear that this was related to the censorship question, given that Palin asked for other officials' resignation around the same time (and given that the subsequent librarian doesn't seem to have removed any controversial books). I don't think the door is closed on this story—I hope to see more reporting on it—but whatever did happen, it's a far cry from the over-the-top accusations that have been circulating online. (One frequently forwarded email lists dozens of books that Palin allegedly tried to take off the shelves. More than one of the volumes were actually published after the event. The list turned out to be cut-and-pasted from a catalog of "Books Banned at One Time in the United States.")

Meanwhile, the claim that Palin supported abstinence-only sex education is looking even shakier. The Los Angeles Times points out that Palin is actually to the left of McCain on this issue:

Palin's running mate, John McCain, and the GOP platform say children should be taught that abstinence until marriage is the only safe way to avoid pregnancy and disease. Palin's position is less clear….

In July of [2006], she completed a candidate questionnaire that asked, would she support funding for abstinence-until-marriage programs instead of "explicit sex-education programs, school-based clinics and the distribution of contraceptives in schools?"

Palin wrote, "Yes, the explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support."

But in August of that year, Palin was asked during a KTOO radio debate if "explicit" programs include those that discuss condoms. Palin said no and called discussions of condoms "relatively benign."

"Explicit means explicit," she said. "No, I'm pro-contraception, and I think kids who may not hear about it at home should hear about it in other avenues. So I am not anti-contraception. But, yeah, abstinence is another alternative that should be discussed with kids. I don't have a problem with that. That doesn't scare me, so it's something I would support also."

I'm not sure what she means by "explicit," but I can guess: Social conservatives frequently fear that sex ed will turn into a sexual how-to guide, and I suspect she was referring to that. It's clear, at any rate, that the abstinence-only charge is false. It fits popular prejudices about those scary backwoods Christians, though, so we'll probably keep hearing about it.

The most objectionable thing about Palin doesn't have anything to do with fringy positions on traditional morality. It's her willingness to embrace McCain's militarist foreign-policy views. And those ideas, alas, are entirely within the political mainstream.

Update: The Frontiersman's original 1996 report on the library incident is here. A lengthy attempt to track all the Palin rumors is here; I can't vouch for all of it, but it's a good place to start clicking links, checking out sources, and Googling for further information.