August 29, 2004

When You Assume, You Make An Opinion Out Of U and Me

It’s good that they label some of what appears in the Globe as “opinion” because turning to the publication to actually become informed can leave you wanting.

I was reminded of this when I stumbled across an article taking Kurt Vonnegut to task for a recent political piece he wrote. (Globe story found via

Vonnegut congratulates libraries in their resistance against John Ashcroft. Cathy Young’s response to this is:

This incoherent diatribe actually has very little to do with librarians, except to congratulate them because they have “staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles.”

Where? When? I assume Vonnegut is referring to claims that under the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft’s goons have been terrorizing libraries and monitoring Americans’ reading habits. In fact, law enforcement agencies have always had the power to request library records as part of a criminal investigation; a provision of the Patriot Act gave them the power to do so in counter terrorism investigations without notifying the suspect. (Remember, we’re talking about materials related to terrorist acts and not, say, the wit and wisdom of Michael Moore.) Whether or not such powers are appropriate, in the two years after the passage of the Patriot Act this provision was used exactly . . . zero times.

I don’t write for a newspaper, but if I were to do so, I might take the time to look into the subject of my article rather than starting from an assumption and moving forward from there.

If she had, maybe she would have run across a story that is the more likely source of Vonnegut’s congratulations. From the ALA (American Library Association) website, here is a story from June 30.

Statement from ALA President-Elect Michael Gorman on the destruction of Department of Justice documents

Last week, the American Library Association learned that the Department of Justice asked the Government Printing Office Superintendent of Documents to instruct depository libraries to destroy five publications the Department has deemed not “appropriate for external use.” […]

The topics addressed in the named documents include information on how citizens can retrieve items that may have been confiscated by the government during an investigation. The documents to be removed and destroyed include: Civil and Criminal Forfeiture Procedure; Select Criminal Forfeiture Forms; Select Federal Asset Forfeiture Statutes; Asset forfeiture and money laundering resource directory; and Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA).

Ashcroft’s Justice Department wanted these books destroyed. Not books on how to blow up things. They were documents on how to get your property back if it was improperly seized by the government. Hello, conservative folks out there—are you listening? Vonnegut’s congratulations probably stem from the followup: ALA welcomes Department of Justice decision to rescind destruction request

The ALA stood up to Ashcroft and Ashcroft blinked. How do I know this? Not thanks to it being all over the news. And not thanks to Cathy Young and her assumptions. I had to learn about it via email, weeks afterward.

Apparently we can turn to editorialists for an opinion, so long as we don’t expect it to be an informed opinion.

Posted by James at August 29, 2004 1:24 PM
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I saw Cathy Young's Op Ed piece in this Saturday's Boston Globe, and couldn't figure out from whence her rant stemmed, so I stopped reading.

I used to just dismiss people like her as cranks, but after hearing that a frightening majority of Americans believe the shit the GOP is shoveling, I now realize that, as Simon & Garfunkel said, "a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest."

Posted by: Patti M. at August 30, 2004 10:21 AM

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