- Getty Images/Mario Tama
- Library officials in Florida’s Citrus County asked their local representatives to approve a $2,657 pending measure that would give all library cardholders digital access to The New York Times. The commissioners rejected the measure and called The Times “fake news.”
- In a meeting first reported on by the Citrus County Chronicle, the board of commissioners asked why the digital subscriptions were necessary and then rejected it on clear partisan lines, citing their support for President Donald Trump.
- The board said the subscription, which would have provided free digital access for 70,000 library cardholders, wasn’t necessary because each of the four libraries in the county had access to one physical copy each.
- Local residents spoke out angrily against the decision.
- Deborah-Caldwell Stone, the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, told Insider that the board of commissioners’ decision, based on political grounds, undermined the primary function of libraries as disseminators of information.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
A Florida county board of commissioners office is facing fierce community backlash and potential First Amendment violations after it refused to sign off on a local library’s request to provide all of its library cardholders with free digital subscriptions to The New York Times. The commissioners justified the decision by claiming the prestigious paper was “fake news.”
Citrus County’s decision to restrict perhaps the world’s most respected news source from tens of thousands of Floridians came less than two weeks after President Donald Trump announced the White House would no longer subscribe to print copies of The Times or The Washington Post. Both local residents and national library advocates have fiercely spoken out against the measure, which they view as a partisan attack on information at the expense of local residents.
‘I am going to be voting no for this. Fake news. I agree with President Trump.’
The board of commissioners meeting, first reported on by the Citrus County Chronicle, occurred late last month, and, if approved, the measure would have granted digital access to 70,000 Citrus County library cardholders. For a one-year subscription, the board would have to approve a $2,657 spending measure. When the line item came up during the meeting, according to USA Today, Commissioner Ron Kitchen reportedly asked, “Do we really need to subscribe to The New York Times?” That was followed by a voice of agreement from Commissioner Scott Carnahan, who seconded the motion.
“I actually was going to say that,” Carnahan said, according to USA Today. “I am going to be voting no for this. Fake news. I agree with President Trump.”
When informed that voting yes for the subscription would give free access to the most accredited newspaper in existence, Carnahan remained unfazed and said residents could pay for the paper themselves if they wanted it.
“They can take that money and do something else with it,” he said of the library, adding that Times readers could “subscribe and have it come to their homes” and that “I support Donald Trump.” The board reportedly tried to justify its decision by saying it wasn’t necessary because each of the four libraries in the county had access to one physical copy each.
Carnahan’s office did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Experts say the board of commissioners undermined the core role of libraries and may have violated the First Amendment
- Lucas Jackson/ Reuters
The board’s decision drew immediate and sharp criticism from both library advocates and local residents. In an interview with Insider, Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the Office for Intellectual Freedom at the American Library Association, said she was disturbed by the board of commissioners’ decision, which she said was made “on the grounds of their partisan disapproval.”
“That’s not how you decide how to acquire material for a library,” she said.
She added: “Libraries exist to provide information across a range of viewpoints. The core of library services allowing an individual to read a wide range of sources and make up their own minds. By saying this is bad publication because we don’t like their political viewpoints, they are shutting down the whole conversation for the entire country based on a partisan viewpoint.”
Senior members of the Florida Library Association also voiced their disapproval of the board of commissioners’ decision in an op-ed article published Wednesday. Lisa O’Donnell, the organization’s executive director, told Insider that the commission overstepped and essentially prioritized personal political opinions over the expertise of librarians.
“They are overriding the recommendation of library professionals not due to budgetary or public safety concerns but because the viewpoint of that publication does not match their own,” O’Donnell said. “The Florida Library Association firmly believes that decisions about which materials are added to a library collection should never be made on the basis of personal or political viewpoints. “
The county commission’s refusal to fund The Times may also face legal challenges.
“Public libraries are government agencies subject to the First Amendment,” the American Library Association said in a statement. “Rejecting or censoring a publication based upon its political viewpoint represents both content and viewpoint discrimination that is contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment’s promise of freedom of speech and freedom of belief.”
Carnahan, the commissioner who called The Times “fake news” before axing the subscription, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment about potential First Amendment violations.
Local residents lash out at being denied the opportunity for free news
News of the rejected subscription didn’t sit well with local residents. The Citrus County Chronicle said its social-media pages and editor email addresses were filled with angry messages from dissuaded residents. Even some county officials took issues with the commission. Sandy Price, the chairwoman for the county’s library advisory board, spoke critically of the decision in an interview with the Citrus County Chronicle, especially given its clear political impetus.
“Someone’s personal political view does not have a place in deciding what library resources are available for the entire county,” Price told the Citrus County Chronicle. “Libraries have to ensure all points of view are represented.”
The backlash has divided members of the community, leaving some county staff members to consider a reversal. In an interview with NBC News, Citrus County spokeswoman Cynthia Oslawald said the board would hear the case again on November 19. At least one of the commissioners as already expressed some regret.
“Do I think I made a mistake? Yes,” commissioner Brian Coleman said in an interview with the Citrus County Chronicle. “Our decision should have been impartial, instead of having it become a personal thing.”