I listened to angry talk radio for too long today. Don't I have better things to do on a day off from work? Obviously I don't. I listened to it, and now I'm writing about it.
I shouldn't get high-and-mighty judging about what others do to make a living, but I think that stoking people's hate and anger in order to get a paycheck is something a good person shouldn't do. Of course all of the listeners are free to make up their own minds and not be stupid, and I'm not advocating legally muzzling any of these talk show hosts, but I do think that they should voluntarily find another way to make a living — even just another show format.
Today's hot story was the way the Newton Free Library handled an FBI visit regarding a terrorist threat made against Brandeis. Brandeis buildings were evacuated in response to the threat, and the FBI traced the origin of the threat to computers at the Newton Free Library.
So the FBI paid the library a visit. At the library were the mayor of Newton, the head librarian, and some Newton police officers. I have no idea if the librarian called these folks, or if the FBI called them, or what. But anyway, the librarian asked the FBI for a warrant, and the FBI didn't have one. So they went to get one, and came back nine or so hours later to search the computer, legally.
The lovely Boston Herald has a few stories about it, including Terror threat sparks Newton librarian/FBI standoff, Clueless Running Newton and Throw book at obstinate Newton (they have a rating system for their articles, by the way, so if you'd like to express your opinion about them, you can).
People were really mad about this because it put the security and safety of a lot of people at risk. There was a lot of talk about how every second counts (with reference to such sources of empirical knowledge as the show 24).
Many things about this don't make sense. One is that the FBI can do warrantless searches if they think the situation is pressing. They obviously did not think it was.
Second, if they went ahead without a warrant, and caught somebody, and that somebody went to trial, then there is a strong possibility that any evidence they gathered from the search could be excluded. Isn't the point of catching a terrorist to put them in jail? Or tar and feather them or whatever? They have to be found guilty in order for that to happen.
Third, it's clear that people model their lives way too much after television. Nevermind all of the references to 24, which were made very seriously. People also were saying things that I believe were ripped straight from some made-for-TV action movie. Things like, "This is no time for following procedures! This is a time for action!". Tough guys, all of you.
Fourth, these callers did not have much of an appreciation for the library as an institution. The statement was made that no one uses libraries anymore, that it's just a bunch of old people sitting around reading the paper. These callers obviously have not been to the Newton library. Last time I was there, I had trouble finding a parking spot, and there were enough people inside the library (of all ages) that it was actually a little uncomfortable trying to navigate the stacks.
Fifth, the librarian archetype carries a whole lot of weird baggage. The words that were used to describe the librarian who asked for the warrant were very telling. Many people seem to think that librarians are washed-up losers begging for a chance to seem important to somebody. It's a little weird to hear people saying first that they would have "shoved the librarian out of the way" if it had been them wearing the FBI coat, and then accusing the librarian of being on a power trip.
I know, the world doesn't make sense. This caught my ear (and bit it and bloodied it) because it happened near my home, at my local library. I'm proud of the mayor and the Newton Free Library, and I hope they continue to make sure that law enforcement follows the rules.
To the talk show host, the nicest thing I can say is, thanks for serving as a reminder that it was time to renew my library books.