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Freedom to Read Applies to First Ladies, Too

wh_libraryLast week, blogger and radio host Rob Port set the conservative blogosphere ablaze when he presented photographic “evidence” that “Michelle Obama Keeps Socialist Books in the White House Library”. During a recent tour of the White House, Port found two books on socialism in its library, snapped a photo, and blogged about it on the web. His post created a controversy, inflaming both sides of the political aisle, and inciting numerous comments. Yet, it turns out that his “evidence” and the surrounding controversy is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. The Washington Post reports that a First Lady did indeed choose those books for the White House library, but it was Jacqueline Kennedy, not Michelle Obama, who chose the books in 1963. The books have been in the White House for almost 50 years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations (yes, even the Reagan years). Port said in his post that his tour guide credited Michelle Obama with selecting the books, but it is unclear if the facts were misstated by the guide or misheard by the blogger. Perhaps if Port, a self professed bibliophile, had done a little more reading and a little less inflammatory finger pointing, he would have been able to report the facts more accurately.

In 1961, Jacqueline Kennedy appointed Yale University librarian James T. Babb supervisor of a committee that would chose books for the White House library. More than 1,700 books were selected and placed on the shelves in 1963, among them The American Socialist Movement, 1897-1912 and The Socialist Party of America, which Port photographed last week. These titles, along with several others about socialism, communism and the major political parties, were included in The White House Library: A Short Title List, written by Babb to document the volumes chosen for the library. “It [the library] is intended to contain books which best represent the history and culture of the United States, works most essential for an understanding of our national experience,” he stated in the forward.

When asked about these newly revealed facts, Port replied: “I guess if they have been in there since the 1960s then they have been there through several presidents. …I thought the books were interesting in the larger context, but now I guess it is what it is.” That pretty much sums up this whole non-controversy.

Read Washington Post article

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