Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama in the archives

I see this has finally hit the MSM: "Files linking Obama to '60s radical a hot commodity."

The story is that Barack Obama was president of the Board of Directors for the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, public school reform program in the 1990's. Another participant, in a different part of the organization, was one Bill Ayres, who is now a professor at the University of Illinois - Chicago, but was a Vietnam-protesting bomb thrower with the Weather Underground back in the day.

Conservatives would dearly love to link Obama as closely as possible to an admitted terrorist, so the National Review's Stanley Kurz set out to comb the CAC files held in the special collections at UIC's Richard J. Daley Library. According to his account, he was told over the phone that there would be no problem seeing the files. Then, just before he left for Chicago, he received an email stating that the collection was closed; he wouldn't be able to see it either because, a) the donor had alerted the Library that they didn't have a signed deed of gift; or b) the collection hadn't been processed enough to determine what material should be restricted.

Naturally, this got more attention in the Red Blogosphere (example) than in the Blue Blogosphere. It also generated some heat (but not much light) on the SAA Listserv, simply because the story was being tracked by only a couple people, at least one of whom thought the shortage of discussion reflects political bias among archivists. Others replied that it's hard to comment on a situation when you don't know the archives in question - the world of documents, their ownership, their processing, and the potential to invade privacy really is a murky one sometimes. Hard to say. I should think that a 60-page finding aid listing five restricted folders would indicate enough processing had already taken place to adequately address ownership and privacy concerns. So I lean a bit toward suspicion that someone thought they ought to contact someone and let them know that someone was going to search their files for something ....

Anyway, the files are now open and it's rather unlikely that Kurz is going to find anything showing Obama to be a Weatherman Wannabee, so stonewalling him would have been a (*ahem*) counterproductive move. But it wouldn't be the first time anyone made that mistake.

Tidbit from the Trib article:

Television crews hovered at the room's entrance. Librarians scurried to copying machines to fulfill the requests of a roomful of reporters. Two security officers stood guard.

On a typical day, one or two scholars may conduct research there. The library director laughed when asked whether it has had security before.

Tidbit from the listserv:
Commenter 1: "WARNING - I have no knowledge as to the political leanings of the Chicago Tribune, so treat with caution. But as a member of the MSM I would suspect they may lean to the left rather than the right."

Commenter 2: "Actually the Tribune hasn't endorsed a Democrat for president since 1872."

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