Agents' visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior

A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”

Two history professors at UMass Dartmouth, Brian Glyn Williams and Robert Pontbriand, said the student told them he requested the book through the UMass Dartmouth library’s interlibrary loan program. —Aaron NicodemusAgents’ visit chills UMass Dartmouth senior  (South Coast Today)

I’ve been watching this story. While columnists, bloggers, and activists have spread this story, I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the major papers or networks.

The key sentence for me is this: “The professors said the student was told by the agents…” What this means is that the reporter has talked to the professors who talked to the student who talked to the government agents.

That’s hardly a rock-solid foundation for a story.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, there’s an interesting discussion going on, which points out that unabridged copies of “The Little Red Book” are freely available on the Internet, so there doesn’t seem to be much reason for an ILL request.

And on boingboing, someone writes that the Dartmouth library ILL form doesn’t require a social security number.

While the reporters involved have made brief comments defending their story, at the moment all we have is the fact that two professors believe what one student told them.

While recent events have prepared many people to believe that the US Government is capable of outrageous acts, the fact that this story is also outrageous does not necessarily mean that it is true.

The American Library Association is following this story, which reportedly took place in October.

Update, 23 Dec: Nicodemus has published an update, which offers no new support for his original article, and accurately reports on concerns raised in the blogsphere and elsewhere.

I think it’s important to keep an open mind, and it’s good to see Nicodemus has not followed the strategy of Dan Rather and CBS, which ignored reports of holes poked into the Bush National Guard memo story.

After reading this article, I don’t see any reason to give more credence to the original story, but I do see reason to continue trusting Nicodemus.

The truth will out.