The American Library Association's Judith Krug is dead of cancer at 69. She is best known for Banned Books Week, which made her a hero among a certain kind of liberal who enjoy preening as resolute defenders of free speech. Douglas Martin wrote the obituary, includingKrug's fights with socialconservatives, but at least provided some balancing views:
In December 1980, Ms. Krug's observation that complaints about the content of books in public libraries had increased fivefold in the month sinceRonald Reaganwas elected president was widely reported. In an interview with The Times, she said that many of the complainants identified themselves as members of Moral Majority, a strongly conservative group, but the Rev. George A. Zarris, chairman of Moral Majority in Illinois, denied there was any organized effort.
But the situation illustrated a frequent conflict in issues over library censorship. Ms. Krug pushed what she often described as a pure view of the First Amendment against what her opponents often said was the democratic will.
More recently, Ms. Krug fiercely fought a provision in theUSA Patriot Actthat allows federal investigators to peruse library records of who has read what. Former Attorney GeneralJohn Ashcroftdismissed protests about the law as "baseless hysteria."
Ms. Krug assisted countless local librarians and library trustees dealing with objections to library materials. She waged principled legal battles challenging both book and Internet censorship in libraries all the way to the Supreme Court. She stood up against an insidious portion of the 2001 Patriot Act that allowed government officials broad access to confidential library records and to secretly monitor what people read.
The Times' Timothy Egan profiled some easily freaked-out librarians back in August 2004 under the laughably paranoid headline, ""Sensing the Eyes of Big Brother, and Pushing Back-Towns Speak Up Against Patriot Act."
Krug at least seemed to walk the walk, according to the obituary. But what's with the Times slanted labeling of political groups?
She also fought for the inclusion of literature on library shelves that she herself found offensive, like "The Blue Book" of the ultraconservative John Birch Society. The book is a transcript of a two-day monologue by Robert Welch at the founding meeting of the society in 1958.
The Times has called the John Birch Society "ultraconservative" 15 times since October 1980, according to a Nexis search. The characterization is accurate.
Yet during the same period, the Times has used the term "ultraliberal" only one time to refer to any of the myriad liberal political groups out there. That came in a local report from August 2002 calling the "Broadway Democrats" "the area's"ultraliberalpolitical club." (This tally didn't include quotes in the paper of conservatives accusing individual liberals or groups of being "ultraliberal," or the Times referring to individuals or cities like Seattle as "ultraliberal.")