Saturday, December 24, 2005

Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment

The always entertaining Ted Kennedy wrote on op-ed for Thursday's Boston Globe that includes this bit of silliness:

Just this past week there were public reports that a college student in Massachusetts had two government agents show up at his house because he had gone to the library and asked for the official Chinese version of Mao Tse-tung's Communist Manifesto. Following his professor's instructions to use original source material, this young man discovered that he, too, was on the government's watch list.

Think of the chilling effect on free speech and academic freedom when a government agent shows up at your home--after you request a book from the library.

Of course Marx and Engels, not Mao, authored the Communist Manifesto, but that doesn't even raise an eyebrow compared to the ridiculous claim in this passage. To even the most casual of readers such a claim looks pretty suspicious, given that in the ongoing public debate over the merits of the Patriot Act it has been repeatedly pointed out that the controversial "library clause" has been used exactly zero times. One would think that a US Senator would know what is common knowledge for your average Iowa farmer.

Indeed, to the surprise of nobody except those whose America-hatred is so deep that they are easily duped into believing anything that paints the US as evil, the story is a hoax, as explained in the American Library Association's official statement:

A senior at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth says he was visited at his parents’ home by two agents of the Department of Homeland Security who were investigating why he had requested a book by former Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong through interlibrary loan. The student, who has asked university officials to shield his identity, told two UMD history professors that the incident took place in late October or early November after he attempted to obtain a copy of the first English edition of the Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, published in Beijing in 1966 and popularly known in China as the “Little Red Book,” for a class on communism.

The story broke in the December 17 New Bedford Standard-Times as the result of an interview with UMD faculty members Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, who mentioned the incident as an example of government monitoring of academic research. Williams told American Libraries, “The student told me that the book was on a watch list, and that the books on this list had changing status. Mao was on the list at the time, hence the visit, which was also related to his time abroad.”

UMD Library Dean Ann Montgomery Smith told AL that the student had requested the book by phone from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, not through the UMD interlibrary services as originally reported.

The UMD chancellor’s office released a statement December 19 that said, “At this point, it is difficult to ascertain how Homeland Security obtained the information about the student’s borrowing of the book. The UMass Dartmouth Library has not been visited by agents of any type seeking information about the borrowing patterns or habits of any of its patrons.” Chancellor Jean F. MacCormack stated, “It is important that our students and our faculty be unfettered in their pursuit of knowledge about other cultures and political systems if their education and research is to be meaningful.”

Kirk Whitworth, a spokesman for the DHS—the U.S. cabinet department that oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the Secret Service, and Citizenship and Immigration Services, among others—said in the December 21 Standard-Times that the story seemed unlikely. “We’re aware of the claims,” he said. “However, the scenario sounds unlikely because investigations are based on violation of law, not on the books and individual[s who] might check [them] out from the library.”

An earlier report that the incident occurred at the University of California at Santa Cruz has proven false.

First off, I have to tip my hat to the student in question, whatever his motivation might have been he pulled off the hoax with what looks like minimal effort and was able to fool at the very least two UMD profs, a small town newspaper, a US Senator and the editor of the Boston Globe. The disturbing question is how that US Senator was so easy to dupe with a story that a man in his position should have clearly recognized as fake. Is he so ignorant of the Patriot Act and DHS that he believes this kind of thing could happen? If so, one would hope he would recuse himself from any future votes regarding this important law. Was he not fooled but instead willing to slander his country in order to try to score a cheap political point? One would certainly hope not, although his past (cf his irresponsible smear of the US military in the Abu Ghraib affair) suggests otherwise. Whatever the case, it would be hard to find anything sleazier than a US Senator spreading anti-American urban legend in yet another attempt to smear the country he is sworn to govern.

UPDATE 12/27/05 10:42am:
As I'm sure you've seen by now if you had been following this story, the student finally admitted the obvious, that it was indeed a hoax. I only add this for completeness in case any diehards are still holding on to this fantasy.


At 4/09/2006 1:45 PM, Blogger O'Ryan said...

Why is it sleazy for Ted Kennedy to hate his country after getting away with vehicular homicide?


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