A Florida County board said they would revisit their decision to reject the library’s request for a New York Times subscription.
Video recorded of the board’s decision had a member repeatedly call the newspaper “fake news,” as well as voicing their support for U.S. President Donald Trump.
Citrus County commissioners were spotlighted with national attention last week after a local report published their Oct. 24 decision, as well as the commentary behind it.
“Do we really need to subscribe to the New York Times?” said commissioner Brian Coleman in response to motion being put forward, spurring laughter across the room.
“I’m actually going to be a ‘no’ for this, fake news,” said commissioner Scott Carnahan, seconding Coleman’s motion. “I agree with President Trump, I will not be voting for this. I don’t want the New York Times in this county.”
The commissioners’ decision came on the same day the White House said it would order federal agencies to end subscriptions to the New York Times and Washington Post in order save costs for tax payers.
Prior to the White House announcement, however, Trump himself said the subscriptions would end because the newspapers were “fake” — a term he has frequently used to dismiss news coverage critical of him and his administration.
According to the Citrus County Chronicle, all of the four regional libraries across the county already offer print versions of the New York Times at a cost of US$3,000 a year to the county. A digital subscription for all the 70,000 county library card holders would cost an additional US$2,657 annually for the first two years, increasing to US$2,714 in the third.
“I know you have 140 readers, but those guys can subscribe and it can come to their home,” said Carnahan. “I support Donald Trump.”
Commissioner Ron Kitchen also added he that he was not in favour of supporting the motion, but weighed in on the cost benefit of purchasing a subscription.
“I won’t go into all the details, but when I saw US$2,700 a year for a digital format for a newspaper that … again, you know, how many people are actually reading that for the US$2,700 a year?” said Kitchen.
In response to the backlash, commissioners shifted their concern to the online hate comments and email they’ve received.
“One of the most, if not the most, disappointing aspects of all of this has been the vitriol that has come about so quickly,” Board Chairman Jeff Kinnar told Reuters.
“I have gotten more foul language in my emails in the last 48 hours than I have gotten in the past three years.”
“They are why the country laughs at Florida & why Trump feels at home here,” writes a Twitter user among many criticisms of the decision. “It is not up to them to censor their constituents because they have bought into the ‘fake news’ cult of morons.”
A press release from the American Library Association (ALA) was also issued in response to Citrus County’s decision.
“Public libraries are government agencies subject to the First Amendment,” read the ALA 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.
“Our constitution and Bill of Rights promises every person the right and equal opportunity to discover, develop, and defend her own political, social, and religious beliefs. A government official’s decision to prevent access to a particular publication based on partisan disapproval of that publication denies this right.
“We stand by our Freedom to Read Statement: we believe that democratic societies are more safe, free, and creative when the free flow of public information is not restricted by governmental prerogative.”
The board said the subscription request will be reviewed once again in their upcoming meeting, scheduled Nov. 19.
“Come back during the next meeting when it’s on the agenda,” said Commissioner Jimmie Smith. “I don’t expect us all to agree on all these issues. But let’s have a civil conversation. Stop the name-calling.”
— With files from Reuters