Monday, October 09, 2006

Anatomy of a Smear

There's a librarian smear campaign afoot, ladies and gentlemen. The politics at ALA can get just as nasty as real politics. I suppose ALA politics are so nasty because there's so little at stake.

Last week, Greg McClay posted on his site an email sent to the ALA Council listserv. He didn't comment much on it and definitely treated it as a joke, but I wanted to take a closer look at it. Most of the AL's readers probably either read or at least are aware of Greg McClay and SHUSH. For those few who don't know, McClay is an outspoken political conservative who has waged a battle against the politicization of the ALA that might be akin to tilting at windmills. Last year he ran an unsucessful campaign for the ALA Council, and this year he's running again. I support his candidacy, not because of his political views, but because he wants the ALA to stop making political pronouncements irrelevant to libraries. Whether you agree with his politics or not is irrelevant if you believe the ALA Council is too politicized. SHUSH readers also know that McClay likes to mix it up with the ALA Council and that he can be a bit heavy-handed at times, as I'm sure he'd be the first to admit. He takes as well as he gives and rolls with the punches. He apparently likes to be a lightning rod for controversy, as opposed to the Annoyed Librarian, who always treads lightly to avoid offending anyone.

I'm only bringing this up because I was surprised at how dirty an ALA campaign can get and how low someone can sink. Someone calling himself "Mark Rosenzweig" sent an email to the ALA Council accusing McClay of being an advocate of torture and genocide as well as a "bona fide open racist." McClay doesn't need me to come to his defense, and I'm not going to. He's a big guy, and if we put him and Rosenzweig together in a room I'm pretty sure McClay would win. And if this email is any indication of intellectual power, McClay would probably win the argument as well. I just want to look at Rosenzweig's strange email and analyze the claims, you know, just for the fun of it.

The email argues, no, let's just say asserts, that because McClay "ridicules ALA’s position in strong opposition" to torture and genocide that he is an advocate of torture and it strongly implies that he's also an advocate of genocide. So, the implication is that if anyone thinks that the American Library Association should not pass resolutions on political issues that have nothing to do with American libraries, then that means they are advocates of whatever the politicized ALA councilors oppose. It's all in how you phrase it, isn't it? Okay, who's for genocide? Raise your hands! It's the easy smear of the intellectually inadequate political ideologue. If there was a rationally defensible reason the ALA should take stands on these issues, then one could argue the case. Since there isn't, you get the smear tactics instead.

Well, I just want to go on the record. The Annoyed Librarian is opposed to torture and genocide. The Annoyed Librarian is unaware of any instances of genocide taking place inside American libraries, and if you exclude degrading supervisors and humiliating working conditions and possibly some very bad storytimes she is also unaware of any torture inside American libraries. Thus, the Annoyed Librarian is opposed to the ALA making resolutions about torture and genocide because those resolutions have nothing to do with American libraries. And if you think there is any contradiction in those statements, then you're just not very bright. If I wanted to engage in name-calling, which of course I don't, I might point out that people who draw illogical conclusions and distort facts and then publicly attack other people based on those distorted facts are vile and stupid. But I don't want to call people names, so I'll just leave it at that.

The biggest smear, the one really designed to stick, is calling McClay a "bona fide open racist." We all know that just calling someone a racist is a enough to make some people think they are. That's the biggest devil term around these days, now that "fascist" is going out of favor. Part of the problem is that so many people throw that term of abuse around these days it's hard to tell if it means anything any more. Open racism just isn't acceptable in most of America these days, which is why racialist critics have to look harder and harder to find racism. Though the context is a little confusing and strange, McClay seems to be an advocate of miscegenation among other things, which is hardly a statement likely to be made by a "bona fide open racist."

But let's consider the specific point that brought that accusation. From the email:

"Below is a sample, from last week, of his thinking, to my mind, a clearly racist swipe at President-Elect Loriene Roy.

You see for yourselves. I want to let you see it because I believe you are unlikely to come accross his blog where it appeared. I especially am appalled by the part where he snidely says: “Apparently her growing up in a wigwam is going to offer some profound insight on how ALA is run.” His supporters will jump to say : “And what’s racist about that?” You decide."

Ok, I'm going to decide for myself. And I just want to say thanks for giving me this statement out of context and then letting me use my own reason. Very generous of you. I appreciate it, really.

McClay was responding to a post at LIS News. An "anonymous patron" wrote about Loriene Roy's election to be ALA President and noted that "Roy will be the first Native person to serve as president of the 130-year-old American Library Association (ALA) in 2007-08." To which McClay replied: "Apparently her growing up in a wigwam is going to offer some profound insight on how ALA is run. I’ve met Loriene Roy, she’s a nice person, but I’ve been given no reason by anything she has said to date to think she is cut from any different kind of cloth than current or past ALA presidents."

So is it clear this is a racist swipe at Roy? What is clear is that the "anonymous patron" was making an issue of Roy's "race." (I put that in quotes because the more I read about race and genetics, the less sense the term seems to make.) The official ALA press release about her election didn't have this statement. Here a quote from that release:

"In 1999, Roy founded 'If I Can Read, I Can Do Anything,' a national reading club for Native children. She also directs 'Honoring Generations,' an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded scholarship program for indigenous students....Library Journal named Roy a 2005 'Mover & Shaker,' and she has received four Texas Excellence Awards for teaching and student advising. Roy received a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an M.L.S. from the University of Arizona. She is Anishinabe (Ojibwe), enrolled on the White Earth Reservation, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe."

The ALA press release does note that she is Anishinabe, which is an unusual fact and completely relevant to her "If I Can Read" and "Honoring Generations" program. However, it doesn't make the claim that she is the "first native person" to serve as president of ALA and imply that is somehow relevant and important to being the president of ALA, as the "anonymous patron" at LIS News does. The "anonymous patron" is the one who brings up Roy's "race" and points to it as if it's a significant fact. I haven't met Roy, but I wonder if she ever said, "I'd make a great ALA president because I'm a Native person." (And speaking of meaningless terms, I do wish that if we have to single people out according to their "race" or ethnicity or culture or whatever, as some people like to do, we could come up with a better phrase than "Native person." It's an imprecise and stupid phrase.)

And consider the wigwam comment for a bit. What exactly was "racist" about it. Racists consider some "races" inferior because of their supposed inherent characteristics. Is a wigwam an inherent characteristic of a "race"? Or is it a cultural characteristic? And was the comment implying that "growing up in a wigwam" was a bad thing? That Roy was supposedly inferior because of this? Or was it implying that her background gave no reason to think she would be any different than other ALA presidents? Wasn't it in fact implying that regardless of her background she would be at least as good or as bad as previous ALA presidents? Thus, if you think past ALA presidents have been hot stuff, then this comment could easily imply that Roy will be the same hot stuff they were. This is where "race" becomes almost a meaningless term in the smearing email. Are we talking about race or culture? Culture, I assert, but it doesn't make sense to call someone a culturalist.

It's almost as if Rosenzweig himself was the "anonymous patron" who hoped McClay would criticize the LIS News post so this attack could be made. McClay certainly took the bait, and "growing up in a wigwam" is the result. But is this a remark on race? Or is it just a quick and possibly tasteless joke in reaction to an irrelevant comment on Roy's "native personhood"? You decide.


Amanda said...

I have to admit I found the joke tasteless, but tasteless and racist are two entirely different things. I also think Greg McClay enjoys poking at the vocal liberal majority in libraryland. Again, not a crime. As a member of said liberal majority, I try not to take it personally. And frankly, Mark Rosenzweig's argument makes him sound like the people who claim you're against freedom, liberty, and the American Way if you're against the war in Iraq.

I think torture and genocide are very bad things. However, I'd like to see ALA devote as much energy and passion to a cause more immediately relevant to American libraries. Say, maybe, librarian salaries? Or hey, how about the influx of new graduates and not nearly enough jobs for them? ALA's first duty should be to its members, and increasingly it seems that's not the case.

Bob H. said...

I'd have to say that the wigwam comment is tasteless and racist - at least racist in its common usage if not in its literal definition.

I don't take it personally and I'm not offeneded by it - being 1/13th Cherokee I accept the right to speak for my people; it's just a dumb thing to say.

I really do hate defending conservatives, but it sounds like in this case, McClay wasn't particularly out of line, just insensitive.

Anonymous said...

bob h -

How can you be 1/13th Cherokee?
You can be 1/12th or 1/8th; however, being 1/13th of any ethnic groupis a genetic impossibility.

Erika said...

Being 1/16th Montagnais, and knowing a lot of Northern Cheyenne and Crow who would laugh if I in any way tried to speak on behalf of them as people -- I am also curious.

Anonymous said...

When I figure out who my "people" are, I'll have them contact your people and maybe we can have lunch.

Bob H. said...

I assumed that by saying I was "1/13th" anything, everyone would assume that I was being sarcastic - which I was.

I wouldn't speak "for my people" even if I had a discernable people.

Jeez :-)aiu

AL said...

I am speaking for my people, the annoyed librarians. For the record, I am at least 50% annoyed librarian, which I think give me the right to speak for my people. Often when I am in a group and annoyed librarianship comes up, everyone looks over at me and says, "AL, speak for your people!"

Anonymous said...

Mark Rosenzweig has been an arrogant, reckless bully for years on the ALA Governing Council. He should be kicked off Council. The fact that he's never even been censured shows how disfunctional the Governing Council is. And of course, he's a leader in the Social Responsibility Round Table (SRRT). What's more disturbing is the fact that some people support him & look to him for leadership. For example, the "distinguished" professor Kathleen de la Pena McCook posted this to the SRRT list on 10/4/06:

"I would like to thank Mark Rosenzweig for his brave stand against the
Hate Speech of Mr. Greg McClay. This time Mark has defended our ALA-
President-Elect against Mr. McClay's mean-spirited and belittling
Several years ago on Mr.McClay's SHUSH website in the context of my
defense of the SPECTRUM scholarship program Mr. McClay attacked me
for being Mexican and Irish and stated that my children were
mongrels. Since I grew up in a family of Irish people who had some
difficulty accepting my Mexican mother, I found Mr. McClay's
comments horrific. He continues to post very hateful things and
personal attacks.
My heart sinks when I see Mr McClay and the others on the right-
wing lob anti-Semitic taunts at Mark. I do not know what makes
people like Mr. McClay so very hateful..
After Mr. McClay criticized the SPECTRUM scholarship and called on
his website for me to be fired I did alert the Billerica library to
his personal attacks. Again, while Mr. McClay has right to his
hateful attitudes others need to be aware.
[ ].
He has a right to say what he wishes, but he also has to expect that
he cannot be a bully without his colleagues knowing it. I felt so
threatened by him that I felt I needed to notify his work colleagues
of the implied threat he posed.
When I saw that Mr. McClay had made racial slurs against our elected
incoming president Loriene I was undone.
I am most grateful to Mark for standing up to him.
Other PLG and SRRT members have stood up to him in past interactions.
I do not think Mr. McClay is a worthy person to debate as he has no
facts, just hate. However, recognition of this man's campaign of
intolerance against people of color and people who are not Christian
is imperative. He is not the kind of person who represents ALA's Core
Values. He should not be elected to Council.
[also if he is so pro-war, why doesn't he join up?]"
--Kathleen de la Peña McCook

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Greg could sue Mark Rosenzweig for libel.

Anonymous said...

Halloween is coming AL & Mark Rosenzweig is trying to scare you too. Here's what he sent to the ALA Governing Council list on 10/10/06:

"FYI, from a brave heart who calls herself "The Annoyed Librarian" and anonymously posts what she thinks is archly witty commentary on the foibles of librarianship and, of course, ALA, from a position somewhat to the right of Marie Antoinette... A fave of the far right, she comes to the defense of Greg McClay's remarks on Loriene Roy."

Anonymous said...

"And if you think there is any contradiction in those statements, then you're just not very bright. If I wanted to engage in name-calling, which of course I don't. . . ."

You just did. Calling anyone who disagrees with you not very bright qualifies as an insult.

AL said...

You're so clever!

Anonymous said...

I found McClay's statement not just tasteless, but culturally insensitive. Was the comment intended as racist? I don't know. But I have plenty of friends among the Pueblo, Shoshone, Shawnee, and Navajo WHO DID find the comment offensive and a form of hate speech.

McClay's comments tarnished the standing of our profession, a profession that has staunchly protected information rights, government intrusion into the public's information habits, and encouraged diversity and respect for alternative thinking and ideas. There were other ways to state that Ms. Roy’s platform didn't offer a different or unique vision. Go to diversity (and debate) training already.

In terms of the person who "calls himself Mark Rosenzweig" (uh, 'cause that's his name?!), don't shoot the messenger. In shedding light on the McClay comment, Rosenzweig was alerting the library community to McClay's inappropriateness. The lack of any formal ALA ethics board or investigation procedures for misconduct (which most professional associations have in place) mandates that our community address and censure members for any potential unethical behavior and inappropriate remarks.

More than blaming Mark, who has been in the unhappy position of messenger and conscience more than once, I am deeply disturbed about the rift in the library community in terms of the misplaced idea of the "politicization of ALA." I see this as the core issue in many of the "shoot the messenger" essays I've read on librarian blogs of late.

I have found this idea puzzling. The"politicization of ALA" coincides ironically with some of the most heinous information restrictions and surveillance the US has seen in decades (well since the Reagan administration), including the closing of EPA libraries, an act that will have a severe impact on public right to know.

As the lead American library organization, ALA _should_ make policy and public comment on those issues that deeply affect access, dissemination, restriction, and confidentiality of information. In my book, (no pun intended), ALA proper hasn't been nearly as strong in this area as the NGOs (EPIC, CDT, FAS, OMB, EFF) who have acted in the public interest to protect information rights.

Information is political; there are power issues well beyond the frigging “digital divide” that concern information professionals and the communities they serve. U.S. information policy and history bears this idea out. Head to your own stacks and started reading the books you order!

Bob H. said...

"from a position somewhat to the right of Marie Antoinette... A fave of the far right, she comes to the defense of Greg McClay's remarks on Loriene Roy"

...what exactly does "to the right of Marie" mean?

I had the distinct impression that AL was fairly liberal, but maybe that's just me.

Anonymous said...

I think we're in the world where anyone not on the radical left is a right wing zealot.

Anonymous said...

If there were a penalty for speaking over the brain limit, "professor" McKooK would be in jail for a very long time.

She was "threatened" by free speech?

What a great example for the brave ALA, leading the way against international cake-overeaters...

Anonymous said...

Oh please Anonymous 2:07! There are hundreds of examples of Rosenzweig being belligerent. He's no messenger. It is he & his supporters who are unethical. It's time you all start paying a price for hurting ALA's public image.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2:07

You do not speak for "our" profession. I speak for my profession. AL does not speak for "our" profession, she speaks for her's. And most importantly, Mark Rosenzweig DOES NOT speak for "our" profession--he speaks for his. What a horrid thought to think: a profession of Mark Rosenzweig clones.


Anonymous said...

It is interesting to note that when Mark engages in his more Marxist/STTR/PLA diatribes, he resorts ONLY to the ALACOUN listserv, rather than posting his comments the Members Listserv, where he can be answered directly by those in disagreement. Let's face it, he just cannot stand critisism. He's writing to Council, but NOT to the other members of ALA

Simply stated, he's a garden variety bully who hides behind a Listserv that is only open for other Councilors to reply to his ranting.

Anonymous said...

All the Anonymous rants are pap. At least McClay, Rosenzweig and McCook are willing to stand up for what they believe.
The rest of us are weenies.

DC said...

To: Annonymous said (8:29 p.m.)

Exactly what is keeping YOU from taking the discussion to the ALA MemberForum. Mark posted to the ALA Council List and SRRT (correct acronym)List. Both are open for anyone to read so it is hardly hidden.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9:15pm said:

"All the Anonymous rants are pap. At least McClay, Rosenzweig and McCook are willing to stand up for what they believe. The rest of us are weenies."

The difference is, when McClay stands up for what he believes in, Rosenzweig & McCook contact his employer (or threaten to) to complain. They call him "racist," "hateful," etc. They try to intimidate him, smear him, silence him. It is they who are intolerant, not Greg.