Empty bookshelves are a victory for parental rights; OR: Ron DeSantis is a Fascist™

by | Feb 12, 2023

A couple weeks ago in this very column, we touched on the alleged plight of Florida school teachers, whom, according to state and national news outlets, are now living in abject fear of being thrown in jail if they don’t strip their bookshelves bare, removing even the most innocent children’s books from their library shelves.  And it’s all because of the neo-fascist dictatorship that is the “Free State of Florida.”

At least, that’s the narrative being published and echoed around the country by the national news media, who are increasingly desperate to establish a beachhead in the coming Election War of 2024 that, many assume will feature Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as a prominent player, to say the least.

It follows, then, that overdramatizing what’s really happening in (some) Florida schools is just another page out of the mainstream media playbook used to paint DeSantis and Florida Republicans as pushing a fascist, book-banning, discriminatory agenda.

There are plenty of examples to document those efforts, and the most recent national publication to get in on the act is the New Yorker, which last week published a downright comical attempt to smear the facts.

Well, at least it would be comical if they weren’t so serious about it.

The New Yorker’s effort can best be described as an attempt to paint a horrific, and supposedly true account of a father named Brian Covey, who’s children helpfully informed him that all their books had been taken from their school. Like, every single one:

“Did you hear what happened at school today?” his daughter asked. “They took all the books out of the classrooms.”

Covey asked which books.

“All the books,” she said.

The story then explains that Covey, presumably with nothing better to do, stormed into the school to investigate the missing books, and, sure enough, “found bookshelves papered over to hide the books.”

If you’re the skeptical type, as I am, your first instinct might be to doubt Mr. Covey’s account. After all, how could a school have an entire library filled with so many sexually inappropriate books and radical political tomes that the entire library needed to be stripped bare? That’s a lot of propaganda and indoctrination materials, am I right?

But doubt not. The New Yorker and Mr. Covey apparently anticipated our mutual skepticism. For in the very next paragraph, the article explained that, so concerned was Covey about this, he went to another local school to investigate further, and uploaded a video to Twitter showing that thousands of books had indeed been stripped from bookshelves.

Can you believe it? Not one school filled with so much objectionable stuff, but two! Hidden in plain sight in the school library, right under our noses, this whole time.

Of course, that’s not the narrative that Mr. Covey and the New Yorker are pushing. To the contrary, the mutual yarn they are weaving is that teachers are being forced to remove every single book – including completely innocent and utterly harmless content, from the library, all because of mean old Ron DeSantis’s fascistic threat of felony prosecution. If even one books slips through the tight defenses of our public education system and contains something age-inappropriate, why, the innocent teacher found guilty in the resulting tribunal will be perp-walked to prison!

Lest you doubt that’s their intended narrative, here’s a few other hyperbolic quotes from the story:

“But I read books about the consequences of this kind of thing when I was in school.” He was thinking of “Fahrenheit 451” and “1984.”

“I’m scared they’re going to take my one history book away…”

“I can only imagine how heartbreaking it is for career educators to have to take kids’ books away and what kinds of threats would have to be passed down to them so they’d feel they had no choice.”

Wow, it’s all so very dystopian, isn’t it?

Except for one major problem. It’s little more than manufactured claptrap and purposeful overreaction by liberal activists pretending to be “concerned parents” and “terrified teachers.” For example, Mr. Covey isn’t the political “independent” he’s portrayed to be in the story. He spent almost as much time retweeting liberal political content on Twitter over the last two months than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez herself.

But beyond that, even the New Yorker, doing its best to at least include actual facts, buried them in strategic places throughout the article, hoping its progressive readership wouldn’t let the truth get in the way of the official DeSantis is a Fascist™ narrative.

In the bottom of the second paragraph, placed in parenthesis for some unknown reason, the New Yorker acknowledges that Mr. Covey, the very person who provided the lead for their story, wasn’t telling the truth:

(Communications officials for the public schools in Duval County insisted that some approved books remained available to students, including those on the list that Covey’s son was reading from.)

Hmmm. Okay. So why did they lead with Covey’s false account?

Later in the story, the New Yorker pens a few lines about the fears of criminal prosecutions that some teachers harbor, citing a Washington Post story about a school superintendent emailing a teacher and mentioning the potential for “third degree felonies.”  The New Yorker again helpfully buries the facts in a parenthetical sentence at the end of the paragraph, acknowledging that Florida law doesn’t actually contain any penalties for teachers relating to library book contents:

(The bill itself does not outline penalties for educators, but school officials have nonetheless suggested that felony charges are possible under a preëxisting law prohibiting the distribution of pornography to minors.)

So we’re given two sets of facts by the New Yorker. The first set is filled with emotional anecdotes, the other just plain facts. Which are we to believe to understand what’s actually going on here?

We get another clue in even later the New Yorker article, where they make another notable admission: only a small number of Florida counties, typically in larger (read: more liberal) communities, are actually stripping every last book out of libraries or covering entire bookshelves and making them off limits to students. The story even includes a quote from an unlikely progressive source, Andrew Spar, who is president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union:

“When Florida’s D.O.E. finally released its compliance training for media specialists, Manatee and Duval “arguably overreacted,” Spar said.

Indeed, someone is overreacting. I submit that it’s the more left-leaning, activist parents and school administrators who are trying to wage political warfare over the loss of obviously inappropriate materials. And they’re doing so by attempting to conflate those objectionable materials with the merely controversial in an effort to both muddy the waters and smear DeSantis and his policies as overbearing and therefore “fascist.”

If that means that liberal school officials and progressive parents throw temper tantrums on social media by cleaning out entire libraries of questionable content, well, that seems like a victory for parental rights to me.


  1. Marv Frandsen

    Opportunists who lie and exaggerate to get into the limelight and profit are a plague on all sides and society. Fair enough.

    However threatening teachers with a felony over differences of opinion on “appropriate” is not fair dinkum either. Don’t be surprised if you get fear and over-reaction.

    Real conservatives should be protective of freedom of speech and more incremental about approaching real issues, not throwing sledgehammers against education, books and thought. Use power responsibly and the least amount needed.

    • Brian Burgess

      Show me the conservatives threatening teachers with jail time. The law contains no such provision for school libraries.

      • MH/Duuuval

        There certainly are penalties, and it’s unclear if, how or when DeSantis will bring the hammer down. It may be in a pre-dawn arrest, or some kind of public spectacle. Part of the advantage DeSantis has his arbitrary aggression, which puts anyone in his sights on the defensive. In Duval County the schools superintendent, acting out of caution learned from previous scapegoating by the Gov. and Richard Corcoran, told teachers to take out their personal libraries until they could be catalogued and scrutinized.

        • Brian Burgess

          Send me a link to the statute. Otherwise you’re just engaging in the same hyperbole as the national media.

          • tammie2

            Sorry 😣. Link or no link, he is absolutely correct.

          • Brian Burgess

            First, that’s a tweet from a lefty blogger. One of the most liberal people in the country, he even started ThinkProgress back in 2005…

            Second, that’s not a statute it’s a memo from school officials who are not state officials.

            I don’t know the political persuasion of them either. But like I said the schools are overreacting on purpose, no matter what their political agenda is.

    • Tor

      So instead of writing a factual article about banned books and how many are actually banned, you write an article about “Mr. Covey and the New Yorker”. painting them as trying to “smear DeSantis.” Why not write the article about what you PRETEND it’s about… banned books? Embarrassed by the facts maybe? Ashamed that you’re promoting fascism? We can see you, ya know. You might be cowering but you can’t hide.

  2. Bruce S

    Thank you for pointing out the misinformation regarding felony penalties for failing to follow the book ban requirements. However, it is still book banning, something a free society does with loathing rather than glee. The point made does not detract from the likelihood of losing one’s job for violation, that thought-policing is high on the DeSantis/GOP agenda with HRH DeSantis having removed an elected official for “wrong” thoughts, and having packed school boards with thought-correct people leading to the firing of admins who failed the “thought” litmus tests. Severe penalties await violators even if it is not criminal. No doubt DeSantis’s DOE would like to criminalize violations of the thought-policing statutes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if even harsher penalties are provided either through DOE or the GOP rubber-stamp authoritarian Legislature.

  3. Emc

    What’s offensive is desantis’ use of political theater to gain attention of right wing voters. As a lawyer he knows his statute would not stand if it there was a show down in court. That’s why I hope some school district will engage in civil disobedience so that the state has to act. It would require people who are not afraid to lose their jobs and would be willing to file for court action. That’s a tall order, but I’m guessing many teachers are planning their exit from florida already. Needs some administrators too.

  4. Deborah Coffey

    You’ve crossed the rubicon, Brian. Ron DeSantis IS a Fascist. I’m 74 and have seen quite a few. Do you need a list of all the things he has done to prove his Fascism? Do you think we feel “free” in Florida? And, do you really believe the majority of this country wants a Fascist regime in charge of the country. I repeat: Ron DeSantis will NEVER be president of the United States. He can enjoy is hatred, racism, cancel culture, bigotry and lust for power over every American not White and not male for one more term. Then, he’s finished forever.

  5. Michael Duvall

    Once again, another ad hominem attack on media. I suggest that we debate the issues rather than pound salt with the messengers.

    Please name one or more books that are deemed inappropriate along with citations of passages that support censorship.

    Thank you

  6. Colleenm

    Complete over reaction as usual per lefties. It’s not the public schools/teachers job to distribute pornography and sex filled propaganda. Let children be children and not subject to LBGT agenda to morph kids into confusion with their sexual identity! What’s pathetic and sad is that the left even questions these materials being pushed on children! It’s a parents sole responsibility to educate their own children regarding morals and sexuality -NOT TEACHERS! parents rights indeed !

    • MH/Duuuval

      You imagine the public schools belonging solely to the current cohort of parents — they belong to the community. The failure to teach sex ed, at an appropriate age, and with the permission of the parents, increases the possibility of unwanted pregnancy, which can lead to abortions, and STDs. Is that what you desire?

    • Tor

      You watched “Some Like It Hot” as a kid and now realize you were groomed by your parents and TV. Sad. Mrs. Doubtfire is on your side.

  7. MH/Duuuval

    Brian Burgess on February 13, 2023 at 12:49 pm
    First, that’s a tweet from a lefty blogger. One of the most liberal people in the country, he even started ThinkProgress back in 2005…
    Second, that’s not a statute it’s a memo from school officials who are not state officials.
    I don’t know the political persuasion of them either. But like I said the schools are overreacting on purpose, no matter what their political agenda is.

    You left no way to respond here, BB, but the source is irrelevant if the info is correct. That’s how I judge info. Schools boards throughout the state, including Duval, are running scared. Fear and intimidation are the DeSantis MO — straight out of Machiavelli.

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