PolitiFact Torches Straw Man To Rate DeSantis 'False' On Alleged Book Banning

June 1st, 2023 12:00 PM

After launching his presidential campaign on Twitter Spaces, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was condemned by PolitiFact for his assertion that Florida has not banned any books. That summary did not give DeSantis a rating for his claims, but on Wednesday PolitiFact returned to the claim and rated it “false.” Yet, the article itself suggests that a “false” rating is overzealous and is ultimately based on a straw man.

The exact quotation authors Matthew Crowley and Amy Sherman single out is "There's not been a single book banned in the state of Florida. You can go buy or you can use whatever book you want."

DeSantis was clearly talking about literal book bans, not whether this book or that book is available in a school library.

Crowley and Sherman then go onto provide more DeSantis quotes about age appropriate books in schools, “Parents have flagged books in schools that, for example, teach middle school kids how to use sex apps that provide graphic depictions of sex acts and sex toys for people as young as fifth grade.”

For the authors this means “DeSantis’ claim that no book has been banned in Florida goes too far. Florida districts have removed some books entirely while restricting others to certain grades or requiring students to get parental permission to see them.”

This isn’t a fact-check of the claim PolitiFact purports to be checking. DeSantis claimed that you can go out and buy any book your heart desires, which is true. Crowley and Sherman are checking a straw man.

Even worse, they cite information sciences professor Emily J.M. Knox who told them that “‘banning’ is in the eye of the beholder.”

Knox, however, then sought to discredit her own point, “people like to say it's not banning because you can get it in the public library/bookstore/Amazon or whatever, but it is censorship, because it's about control of access to knowledge. The whole point is to make sure that some people do not have unfettered access to that info."

That is an impossible standard because taken to its logical conclusion it would lead to every governor, Republican or Democrat, being labeled a book banner. Every state has age-related content; Florida simply includes sexual-related matters in those considerations.

Eventually getting the verdict portion of the article, the authors claim that DeSantis’s “argument hinges on county school districts, and not the state, deciding which books to remove or restrict. But school districts are making book decisions to comply with state law.”

No, it doesn’t. Again, DeSantis was speaking very narrowly about a literal book ban, not just in the context of schools. Nevertheless, the authors then go on to cite the American Library Association’s definition that a ban is “the removal of a book based on a person of group’s objection” as authoritative and that “experts we spoke to” agree.

Crowly and Sherman conclude by getting in one final swing at the straw man, “A press release from DeSantis said in March that 23 districts had removed 175 titles, which contradicts his argument that not a single book was banned. We rate this statement False.” 

PolitiFact loves targeting DeSantis. It has checked him 44 times with 26 (59 percent) falling on the false side of their spectrum. Meanwhile, his self-appointed Democratic equivalent-- California’s Gavin Newsom—has been checked only 26 times (23 percent) with only six on the false side.