The inspector general's office is at it again.
This time, gumshoes figured out that Alan Lowe, erstwhile executive director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, wasn't up to snuff. The investigation, according to an IG report released last Friday, was sparked by a tipster who blew the whistle three weeks after I wrote a column detailing the sordid journey of the Gettysburg Address to Texas, where right-wing huckster Glenn Beck displayed it along with an exploding rat and other scrapings from his collection of stuff that includes a Darth Vader mask and a fake pair of Dorothy's ruby slippers. If Elvis had run a thrift store, I'm guessing it would have looked a lot like the storage room at Mercury One, the Texas nonprofit headed by Beck.
Pretty much, the IG's report parallels my January column that questioned why the ALPLM ignored protocols and entrusted the Gettysburg Address to an unaccredited museum holding its first exhibition under the supervision of a curator months removed from employment as a server at Pluckers Wing Bar. Labeling the Mercury One loan "reckless," the IG called for Lowe's head and said we're fortunate that artifacts came back intact. Instead of being displayed in a gallery, the Gettysburg Address was hung in Beck's office. To compare Beck to Ralphie unwrapping his Red Ryder BB gun doesn't go far enough.
"It's Christmas, come on!" Beck exclaims as the Gettysburg Address and other relics are taken from a crate. "Let's open presents!" Lowe was absent in the video that was live-streamed while gawkers watched in person, contrary to recommendations from pros who say the arrival of valuables should be kept low key to minimize security risks. Lowe told the inspector general he was "off doing other things" when the speech and other artifacts were unpacked, and he was also busy elsewhere when relics were repacked for the return trip to Springfield. Beck, who at one point questions the need for gloves, helps carry the document valued at $20 million to a table in his office. "Come see it for yourself," he tells his online audience. "Tickets are available at the door."
Even after the inspector general received a complaint, Lowe played footsie with Beck, whose outfit asked to borrow more artifacts, including a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. A request came from Michael Little, who'd resigned as ALPLM chief operating officer last year in lieu of termination after he left a historic book unattended in the Old State Capitol. Mercury One hired him, and Little, who'd signed the Gettysburg Address loan agreement, lied on a state form when he wrote that he'd had no interactions with the nonprofit before getting the job offer – the IG found more than 50 emails. Little isn't the only Mercury One executive I wouldn't buy a car from. Mercury One president David Barton, who rejects separation of church and state and holds that the United States is a Christian nation, was the subject of controversy in 2012, when a publisher, concerned about inaccuracies, recalled copies of a book he'd written about Thomas Jefferson. Readers of an online history periodical published by George Washington University voted it the least credible history book in print. The second artifact loan fell through after ALPLM staff protested, according to the inspector general, which hadn't yet interviewed Lowe and other players when the museum said no mas.
Lowe's gone, so why should we care? Because someone should have blown a whistle long before I wrote a column. Lowe's bromance with Beck was hardly a secret – indeed, the ALPLM issued a press release titled "Broadcaster Helps Protect Lincoln Artifacts" a year ago, touting a $50,000 donation from Beck's charity to the museum foundation. Once alerted, it took the inspector general far too long to act on a slam-dunk case – five months passed before investigators interviewed Lowe and key ALPLM staff. Gov. J.B. Pritzker fired Lowe in September without saying why, then appointed a board to oversee the institution, but the board has yet to meet while the ALPLM remains without a director and, by appearances, without direction. Pritzker's press office has yet to respond to an email I sent in July asking whether the governor had any concerns about the relationship between Beck and the ALPLM. In short, Abe World is a clown show, and appointing a museum board that takes months to schedule a meeting isn't helping matters.
If I were on the museum board that hasn't met, I'd have some questions for state historian Sam Wheeler, who told the inspector general that the Beck loan was irresponsible and a betrayal of public trust. He also called the Gettysburg Address the ALPLM's crown jewel and told investigators that he'd warned Lowe that the document shouldn't leave the building. He also recalled ALPLM employees crying because they felt the loan was wrong and that they were powerless to stop it. There is no indication in the IG report that Wheeler, who is supposed to preserve and protect history, blew any whistles. So I called him: Did you, at any point, call the inspector general or the governor's office or anyone else outside the ALPLM to protect one of the nation's most sacred texts?
"Totally fair questions, and I would be happy to talk to you," Wheeler said. But...
"You know the rules: The museum has to give me permission to speak to a reporter," Wheeler continued. Who has to give permission? The agency spokesman, Wheeler replied. Isn't he below you on the chain of command? It's policy, he explained, refusing to say either yes or no when asked, yes or no, did you report Lowe's foolishness and risks to relics to anyone outside the building?
Same as it ever was, sounds like.