Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Stephen Colbert Is a Comedy Show, Not a News Show

This is a common story around the country. Localities decide for themselves the boundaries within which citizens wanting to use the services of public libraries must live. Then it is up to the libraries to enforce the rules. That is exactly what happened to one Pennsylvania library but staff there got more than it bargained for by enforcing the rules.

First comes the semi-funny Stephen Colbert bit about the library that supposedly recalled a 7-year-old's library card - and then comes the other side of the story.
"Nailed "Em" by Stephen Colbert and Company
The clip is worth watching in order to understand the statement that is shown, below. (I tried to get the video embedded into this page but does not seem to approve of the way it is coded, so you'll have to click on the link to see it. Please come back and read the statement when you're done.)

Dear Reader

July 2009


I am compelled to write because certain entities have continued to tell a story that is not factual and this has left a number of misconceptions in the minds of people. These people, without having the facts, are making hurtful and incorrect accusations about the staff of the Memorial Library of Nazareth and Vicinity. We had a recent example of how commenting on a situation without the facts can lead people to regret their comments so let us get to certain facts.

1.Dominic Phillips has not been banned from the Nazareth Library.

2.Dominic Phillips still has a valid Nazareth Library Card. This card will continue to be valid until it expires on 12-31-09.

3.No employee of the Nazareth Library ever called the Phillips’ home and said otherwise. The message left on the Phillips answering machine was from an employee of the library branch in Palmer Township.

4.The woman in the piece on the television show The Colbert Report, Leslie Burger, is the Director of the Library in Princeton, NJ. (68 miles away from Nazareth according to Rand McNally directions).

5.The interior library pictures were taken at the Phillipsburg, NJ library.

6.Neither the Nazareth Library staff nor the Library Board were approached by the producers or anyone else connected with The Colbert Report, nor were the staff or the Board given a chance to talk with them, or present our information to them.

7.We did not draw up the library district boundaries. This is done by a bill passed by the State Legislature and signed by the Governor.

8.Tatamy Borough was temporarily part of the Nazareth Library as part of a State funded grant back in the 1980’s. When the grant finished, Tatamy Borough, through its duly elected officials, decided not to pay for continued participation by the Borough. This is their right and their obligation to act in the best interests of their residents as they see it. Let me opine that as these officials were reelected after this, a majority of the residents of Tatamy must have agreed with them. It is also instructive to know that Bushkill Township was also a part of that grant and those elected officials did decide to permanently join the Library.

The first article published in the Express Times was not entirely accurate. There was a second article which made some effort to correct some of the misconceptions that arose from the first. Newspapers, at their heart, attempt to inform the public. I have no doubt that was the intent of the Express Times when it ran the first article, although I would have preferred that it had waited and done more investigation so that its story did not have factual errors. However, The Colbert Report is an entertainment forum on a channel called COMEDY Central. To be candid, I am both shocked and saddened to see how may people, many with advanced education and degrees, can watch a show on Comedy Central and assume that they are being given FACTS.

Maybe if people realized the show went to New Jersey to do a story about a Pennsylvania Library, they might question why. After all, New Jersey libraries are run pursuant to New Jersey law and Pennsylvania Libraries are governed by Pennsylvania law. Could it be that librarians familiar with Pennsylvania laws and procedures might not have given the show what they wanted for their episode? I will let each person make their own judgment. What I will question is how people could be saying all of the things, with such hate and venom, when they don’t know what in blazes they are talking about.

Any person who has sent a nasty e-mail to the library or posted a nasty comment on a blog somewhere who did not know at least 5 of the 8 facts I listed above (one more than half) should be ashamed of themselves for making these comments without a factual basis to do so. Has our society really gotten that gullible that we believe what we see on a comedy television show as fact and make no effort to use any critical thinking or do our own investigation? Everyone who has enough ability to send a hateful e-mail could have checked the Library’s web site and read the membership criteria and policies for themselves. Maybe it would be a good idea for all of us to go to our own libraries and take out 1984 or Animal Farm and learn something from all of this. And the first lesson should be not everything you see on television or even in the newspaper is correct.

John Reinhart, Library Board President


  1. Sigh. I'm disappointed to hear that people felt compelled to email mean messages to the library. Librarians have it rough enough!

  2. Perhaps Stephen Colbert as a sort of apology could do a follow up story on the sad state of library funding right now. Surely the fact that libraries are getting more and more use in these lean times, but are seeing their budgets slashed has enough irony to it to make for a fun Colbert-style expose.

  3. Rosemary, the worrisome thing to me is that people are willing to believe that anything on Stephen Colbert's show is real. The man is a comedian and he uses satire and twisted facts to get laughs. This is a bit scary, really.

  4. Alissa, I imagine that Mr. Colbert, if he cares at all, is very happy for all the free publicity his bit generated for his show. It just amazes me that people expect to hear facts from a clown.

  5. At least this helps explain how some people believe the things that come out of Glenn Beck's mouth, or that Barack Obama was born in Kenya per an Australian birth certificate, or that health care reform will lead to the production of soylent green.


  6. There are definite similarities, Alfonso. Maybe it's the same people...