The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration got itself into hot water earlier in January when it was accused of altering photographs from the 2017 Women’s March. These altercations consisted of blurring out President Donald Trump’s name on signs critical of him and references to the female anatomy.
The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration is the agency in charge of documenting and preserving history, so this kind of thing is something not to be taken lightly. In a January 18, 2020 press release, the National Archives said they made a mistake and stated, “This photo is not an archival record held by the National Archives, but one we licensed to use as a promotional graphic. Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image.”
On February 4, 2020, the American Library Association released the following statement to the press: “The American Library Association has long affirmed that any alteration, deletion, or editing of materials held by a library or archives, when done for the purpose of avoiding controversy or concealing the truth, is an act of censorship that is inconsistent with ALA’s core values. We call on all institutions and those who work for them to resist such censorship in conformity with ALA’s Library Bill of Rights and its Interpretation on the Expurgation of Library Resources, and express our deep concern about recent claims that historic photographs have been altered or excluded by libraries and institutions charged with preserving these materials.”
It goes without saying that the National Archives were wrong to alter the photo. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased that it wasn’t an official archival record, but it certainly does raise few red flags (and hairs) in the world of censorship.