How To Own A News Cycle: Book Censorship News, July 21, 2023
How right-wing media lies to keep its name on your tongue. That, plus this week's book censorship news.
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One of the checks I make in doing the weekly censorship news research is ensuring that the news comes from a reliable source. This is out of accuracy, of course, as much as it is also about media literacy. As it stands, right-wing "activists" are doing a bang up job of creating a fake controversy, pushing it through the media, keeping their names in the mouths of those outlets, then reaping (fake) benefits from the outrage cycle. Case in point: a news story that popped up earlier this month about the National Education Association and the books they were recommending their teacher members to read over the summer.
Here's a Google news search for "Gender Queer Book," time limited to the last month.
The top four stories all use similar headlines, noting that the "largest teachers union" in the U.S. has recommended Gender Queer for summer reading to its members. There is a Daily Mail story and a New York Post story, both of which send red flags to me, as those aren't going to be reliable sources for sharing news (which is not to say they cannot be leads for news, but they aren't news itself). But two sources I am less familiar with pop up: The Maine Wire, whose "About" page doesn't readily give away its political leanings, and then KATV news, which is an ABC affiliate in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Whenever I come across a search that shows a similar story pop up several times and some of those sources could be credible — like the KATV one* — I'll then look into the keywords from that story more closely to see what's going on. Let's pop in some of those and see what the true story is:
Interesting results list, huh? Wall Street Journal, a conservative outlet, is the first hit and, despite being right-leaning, it doesn't play into the same rhetoric as the following results do. We get Fox News, National Review, and then down the page, some more "reputable" outlets:
CatholicVote, who runs the bigoted book censorship campaign "Hide the Pride," follows, then KRCR, which is Redding, California's ABC affiliate. KRCR's piece isn't original reporting though. It's republished from The National Desk, a Sinclair product known for its conservative bent, despite claiming to be neutral. This is precisely what the KATV source in the first search is, too — not original reporting, but a story pushed from elsewhere to their own site. Then we get a nice headline from a source called The Catholic Thing that goes in a slightly different direction; no longer is this about what the teachers union is recommending for teachers but how that union is letting down the kids.
The final result on my first page is from a Fox affiliate.
Note that no where in these results is there a source that is not overtly or covertly biased in presentation. This is the big red flag: this story has not been picked up in other outlets but instead shared across those with similar slants and missions.
So what's the truth of the story? As with most biased reporting, some of what is said is true, but the bulk of it is a convenient spin.
The book, which is the most banned book in America and a favorite among the book crisis actors, is included alongside several other books for teachers to consider picking up to read over break. This is a post like any you'd see on a national professional organization's page: content for those in the field and this one sources its recommendations from members. In the case of this one, it's a literal list of books which includes other titles like Dolly Parton and James Patterson's Run Rose Run, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish's book How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk.
So it must be the blurb causing controversy, right?
Twilight used to be at the top of banned-book lists for its racy content. Today, those lists are much more likely to feature LGBTQ+ people or People of Color. Indeed, the top two books banned in 2022 were Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maira Kobabe, about identifying outside the gender binary, and All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George M. Johnson.
Illinois high school librarian Amanda Shaffer learned to love reading because of a banned book. “I hated reading until I was in early high school,” she says. “A friend basically threw [Twilight by Stephenie Meyer] at me, and I haven’t stopped reading since.”
That little blurb is what launched a thousand nonsense "news" pieces in July.
Here is where things take an even more absurd turn. Why did this suddenly become news in July when the post had been live and active on the NEA website since June 5? Must be the summer news slump and the fact these outlets can't get videos from outrageous school board meetings to promote as quickly as they could when more schools were in session.
The story could end here, but it doesn't. The right-wingers love owning the entire rage rollercoaster, and as part of it, their on-air stories covering this non-starter controversy falsely claimed the book was being recommended by the NEA for kids. The Poynter Institute breaks down that story over here and it's worth a read.
Despite the fact that this is fake news, packaged neatly to look real, it made its way across real news channels who pick up press releases to run for content. Chances are your family bigots saw it and, once you told them to stop letting Fox News rot their minds, they could now point to more "legitimate" news sources.
Perhaps the part of this that is most enraging though is that even when the story is deemed patently false, these outlets keep their names and reputations growing. First, through infiltration like above. Then through stories like this very one and the one linked above at the Poynter Institute: debunking the stories continues to raise their profiles, and yet, debunking is a necessity in a world of mis/dis/mal information perpetuated and circulated by these very outlets.
They own the cycle start to finish.
Good to know that teachers, who are individual humans with their own tastes and interests and not some imagined monolithic monster created by right wing conspiracy theorists, aren't event allowed to share the books they're reading this summer without being judged by major outlets.
I guess a teacher reading and recommending the most banned book in America sure is a sign of odd tastes that would lead you to regret learning to read.
Book Censorship News: July 21, 2023
A librarian in Michigan who was labeled a groomer by right-wing social media shares what that experience has been like.
Samuels Library (a public library in Virginia being harassed by a small group of loud bigots) has made some decisions on books in the collection. First, they created a nonsense section called "new adult," which is not new adult books but new adult books (clear as mud, and no, you don't need to define "new adult" for me). This is where one of the three books that they've discussed so far is moving. Two will remain in the same place. They're also creating library cards that can be restrict access for minors.
Iredell-Statesville Schools (NC) have removed over 250 books from the district after complaints. This district is an utter mess: it is the same district where a former teacher had broken into the school library to take photos of books and where it seemed they came to a promising solution to the book crisis actors playing victim at board meetings. Guess that was short lived. TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY BOOKS!
Washoe County Schools (NV) are now being pestered to remove Lawn Boy, with bonus crisis actor claiming that the book is being read aloud to students.
Six queer-themed YA books have gone missing at Tri-Valley Community Library (AK). This is a teeny article but it gets across everything you'd need to know.
Here's a break for a little good news: Jay-Z is helping finance the anti-book ban movement.
When did Common Sense Media become the good guys? (Disclosure: this is my work at my personal substack!).
"Mayor Kerry Peterson, who ran the library meeting, said 'there has never been discussion' of banning the graphic memoir Gender Queer. Instead, she said, library director Catherine Wolverton has determined that the young adult book will be moved to the adult section of the library. A 'separate profile' will be set up for young adult cardholders where they can only check out young adult and youth collections, which 'parents have the option to opt into,' Wolverton said." This is at Cedar Grove Public Library in New Jersey, where Gender Queer will be censored and young adults will have borrowing privileges restricted. Guess the kids can't just haul ass and get the book there...guess the lies from the right-wingers about "the kids can just get it at the public library" are also untrue.
Autauga-Prattville Public Library (AL) not only has a group trying to ban books in the library but they're creating an entire system of language and recruitment to get people to join their censoring efforts.
Williamsburg-James City County Schools (VA) have created a new policy around book challenges. Read this one — they explicitly state that parents can complain through the appropriate channels but “no library resources should be restricted or removed from the library as a result of the concern or complaint.” More. Of. This. (Note: I think the piece about 3 school librarians needing to approve a purchase is ridiculous, but at least it's in the hands of trained professionals).
I absolutely loathe the "if they ban all of these books, then the Bible needs to be banned too" mentality. You don't solve book bans by banning books. Period. I don't care how subversive or humorous or satirical you think you're being. (Leon County, Florida).
Remember how Temecula Schools (CA) were pulling a social studies textbook that mentioned Harvey Milk? The state governor is buying it for them.
Ta-Nehisi Coates showed up to the Lexington-Richland District 5 School Board meeting, where one of his books has been the center of a debate over banning.
This Book Is Gay will remain on shelves in Brookfield, Connecticut, schools.
Here's how slow and expensive the review process in St. Tammany Parish Library (LA) is going and why the new bill passed in the state is going to make this process even worse.
Three books — Gender Queer, Flamer, and Wait What? — will be pulled from Fort Worth Independent School District (TX) shelves. This story might be paywalled.
39 books are being challenged and reviewed in the Carroll County School District (MD). This is also behind a paywall because the media is complicit.
Marathon County Public Library (WI) will not be removing Let's Talk About It, and they will not be creating a ratings system for their collection.
Paywalled here, too: it was ONE parent who complained in Horry County Schools (SC) and got 12 books pulled from shelves.
To handle a new law in Arkansas over what kids can and cannot read from the public library, Springdale is making it so everyone under 13 needs a guardian *with them* as they use the library, while those 13-14 can use the library as long as a guardian *is in the building*, and those 15 and older can — gasp — be free from parental supervision. Talk about nanny stating (and please note: I know the library is doing this in response to a shitty law, but this is also horrible). In my time as a librarian, so many kids came to the library solo because it was the only safe place to be without parents or guardians around. Some...just did not have adults in their lives. For all of the "we care about the kids," we know what kids that means.
A worthwhile piece about new laws in Iowa and their impact on libraries throughout the state.
This piece is about the students at Central York (PA) who were active and engaged voices in the movement to end to book bans in their school.
"Several members of the Telford Borough Council were blindsided at the July 10 meeting when appointed councilman Robert Jacobus attempted to pass a motion that would provide the council with oversight of the Indian Valley Library [PA]. The motion was soundly defeated in a 5-2 vote." You can guess why, I am sure.
Oconee County, Georgia now has Moms for Liberty going for its public library. None of the books they're mad about should surprise anyone. This library is included in the roundup of Pride Month disruptions, wherein folks seemed to make some of the LGBTQ+ books disappear and the city council thought they had some kind of oversight into the library. Keep an eye on this one.
Elizabethtown Independent Schools Board of Education (KY) is now getting "visitors" to their board meeting crying inappropriate book crisis. The Kite Runner and Amy Reed's Beautiful are two books of ire.
York County, South Carolina just voted to move from 10 board members to 7. You know this is a book banner's dream.
"The Lewis County Board of Commissioners, Scott Brummer, Lindsey Pollock, and Sean Swope, penned a letter last week to their appointed trustees on the five-county Timberland Regional Library [WA] board with the intent of developing policy around printed materials and age-appropriate books for children." Please read this again: the CITY board told the LIBRARY board they need to create a book ratings system for materials in the collection. This, y'all, is censorship, both big C and little c. Fascism continues onward.
Appomattox Public Library (VA) has board that is doing whatever they feel or think, rather than what is right or legal.
"On July 13, U.S. Representative Lauren Boebert took to the House floor to promote an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would ban the purchase of 'pornographic books' for military schools. It quickly raised questions about the definition of pornography, recalling Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous phrase: 'I know it when I see it.'" Shocker. Puppets gonna puppet. What's concerning is that this is being taken with any seriousness at the national level and that will inevitably give more fuel for local level bigots.
Moore County Board of Education (NC) sounds like a fun place to be, with crisis actor board member complaining about a TON of books and those books now being referred to a review committee for their fate.
"Fast forward to this week's board meeting, when the consent item to renew City Year, a program that provides tutors and mentors for students, was up for discussion. From an Instagram post dated June 15, during Pride Month, City Year posted LGBTQ inclusive books. This resulted in Ashley questioning if City Year is pushing an agenda and if TPS should continue their relationship. 'I want parents and citizens to know that these are the type of recommended book lists that they have,' she said." This is a board member for the Tulsa Public Schools (OK) mad about an organization that the school has a partnership with...posting a Pride book list during Pride.
West Bend School's review committee unanimously (WI) endorsed keeping The 57 Bus as a choice reading options in one of their classes. That it was ever challenged proves why the book is needed.
Keene Memorial Library — a public library in Nebraska, which has been quiet for a few weeks — is going to implement new age-category library cards. Per the story, teens will be unable to borrow adult books...so I suppose that means no access to classics? Glad that a 17-year-old won't be able to borrow The Great Gatsby. Good thing a 13-year-old can't borrow a nonfiction book for their research paper. Need me to go on?
*Businesses* in Winkler, Manitoba think the library should lose money for having books they've been brainwashed into thinking are porn. Here's a thought: why would any person under 18 or any adult who cares about the library want to patronize these bigot businesses?
Most Utahans do not agree with school boards removing books from the schools. Also, Davis Schools — remember them from banning then unbannnig the Bible — just pulled three more books from shelves, including The Lovely Bones, Lawn Boy, and Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda.
It looks like I Am Billie Jean King will remain on Leon County School (FL) library shelves.
An update from Crawford County Public Library (AR) as they navigate new state laws and two lawsuits relating to censorship.
"Most speakers who supported the petition said they did not want the library to close but wanted the offending books moved from the children's section or the library. One person suggested some of the offending books could be kept off the shelves and shipped to patrons who wished to check them out. 'Books should be moved out of reach of children and monitored,' said one audience member." This is not how you run a library, which is why random folks without any background in librarianship are not the ones running a library. Anyway, this small Washington library is still at risk of closure because of some bigots.
My money is that Bruce is behind the challenge to the book Arthur's Birthday in Clay County, Florida, schools. The challenge means no kids can look at the book until some undetermined time. Bruce is the person who elected to challenge my books because I wrote about what he was doing there.