By AUDREY FISCHER
January 4, 2007, was anything but a slow news day, with the swearing in of the historic 110th Congress. Adding to the usual excitement of the day’s events, the newly minted Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—the first woman ever to hold the position—had the honor of swearing in Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress. But what really sent the news media into a frenzy was Rep. Ellison’s controversial request to take the ceremonial oath on a two-volume copy of the Quran that belonged to Thomas Jefferson and now resides in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
As soon as the congressman-elect’s intention to make this request appeared in the press, the Library’s Public Affairs Office was swamped with media calls for images of Jefferson’s 18th-century Quran. A number of media outlets filmed Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and Rare Book and Special Collections Division Chief Mark Dimunation as they escorted the volumes on a trek from the Library to the U.S. Capitol.
In the days leading up to and following the event, the story made national and international news, from Capitol Hill to Australia. Hundreds of stories appeared in print, on the news wires and on the Internet, while debate over the Congressman’s request aired on dozens of television and radio broadcasts.
The Washington Post’s Jan. 3 “Reliable Source” column was one of the first to mention the impending event. Columnists Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger updated their readers four days later by noting that they received “tons of mail” about the story. “Readers were divided into the yeas and nays,” they noted, referring to public opinion about this use of the Quran. Their “personal fave” was this response: “That article shoulda [sic] been on the front page.”
With all the coverage this event received, it was clearly a big story and one that perhaps garnered the most media attention ever received on a single day by one of the Library’s 134 million items.