David R. Henderson  

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Because I found Daniel Kuehn's latest comment on my previous post mainly on-target, but I also realize that many people don't read too far into the comments, I want to add this paragraph from another piece I wrote, "The Wayback Machine and Ron Paul," that discusses, among other things, the Fox News Channel. It shows why I disagree with him about Chris Wallace. Here it is:

I had had hopes for the Fox News Channel as an advocate of smaller government, hopes somewhat justified by evidence. But their treatment of Ron Paul has been off the charts. Chris Wallace has been absolutely vicious - at one point, after Paul had bested him, accusing Paul of taking his "marching orders from Al Qaeda." (Paul responded that "we should take our marching orders from our Constitution.") Carl Cameron, whom I think is one of the best reporters on TV (admittedly a low bar), was completely unclassy, raising the issue of electability and asking Ron Paul, "Do you have any, sir?" Again, Paul showed incredible class in answering with a little eye twinkle at first and then forcefully. And in that same debate, Brit Hume, the best, most-seasoned reporter on Fox, tried to persuade Paul and the TV audience that they had not just heard Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani strut their hawkishness when asked about the recent Navy response to the Iranian speedboats. That was a definite low point for Hume.

Finally, there is the fact that, in its graphic of the Nevada primary results, Fox literally left out Ron Paul's second-place showing, but showed the results for Romney, McCain, and Huckabee. This had to be a low point for Fox. Or, at least, one can hope that this is the low point.


So, I can certainly find aspects of Brit Hume's behavior that affirm Daniel Kuehn's opinion, but I think a balanced view leads to the conclusion that he is usually, well, balanced. What I linked to above is the worst I've seen of his behavior. I see Chris Wallace as a smug bully.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Daniel Kuehn writes:

Wow. I had not seen that David. Thanks. Clearly there's no excuse for that at all. Let me just say then I don't follow Wallace's every move and I didn't watch the Republican debate, but generally speaking I've been impressed with Wallace. I don't want to give the impression at all I think that was acceptable.

And needless to say, I'm happy to embrace the prospect that all TV news personalities are full of crap, so it doesn't severely challenge my priors to see this.

Ron Paul is actually someone I've been less sanguine about. A lot of that is certainly my politics, but I see him as the politician that's found his niche and his schtick as much as any other politician on Capitol Hill. I don't see why he is embraced as a guy that trasncends politics. I have to note, though, that that clip of him was masterful. Sometimes I wonder if Paul and I are reading the same Constitution when he talks about it, but I do agree with him completely that too few people nowadays among the right, the left, the libertarians and the populists ground their understanding of appropriate policy in a sound reading of the Constitution. Too many people either gloss over the Constitution or read the Constitution to mean what they want it to mean. And this clip here is an excellent example of disciplining policy choices with Constitutional constraints.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I actually think the electability question was pretty legitimate. Hasn't this always been the tension with libertarians in the Republican party? That they form a minority that is not necessarily electable? I think that's just an observation of the facts. It's like asking if Kucinich was electable. It's a perfectly reasonable question.

Paul turned that back on him as a "so you don't like the Constitution?" question, which I think misses the point entirely. First, it confuses the strategic point Carl was asking about with a Constitutional point. But even if we were to reduce this to a Constitutional question, it rings a little hollow for me to hear that critique from Paul when you think that Paul himself is the one with a skewed view of the Constitution. So Paul missed the point of Carl's question and the point that Paul did make fell a little flat. Obviously that's something people can disagree with me on, but I don't think it was evidence of any classlessness on Carl's part.

Scott Scheule writes:

Apropos of nothing. The Fed explained in cartoons:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PTUY16CkS-k

David R. Henderson writes:

Daniel,
On your second comment, I disagree. Yes, the question of electability is a completely legitimate one. But Cameron's tone was dismissive: that's the classlessness part. Also, Paul did answer the narrow question by saying that it was too early to tell. What do you expect him to say: no, I'm not electable? Then he went on to turn the question to his advantage with his "Come home, Republicans" [my words, not his], which was pretty good.
I also don't agree with you that Ron Paul has a skewed view of the Constitution.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I must not have picked up on the tone.

Also, Paul did answer the narrow question by saying that it was too early to tell.

That's true - that's a good point.

I also don't agree with you that Ron Paul has a skewed view of the Constitution.

Not surprisingly. This, unlike his answer to the question, is not something we can go back to the video to arbitrate :)

David R. Henderson writes:

@Daniel Kuehn,
Re Constitution, it would be fun to talk some time. You've got me curious.
Re tone, it was the "any, sir?" part.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

I write up my reflections on that fairly often on my blog if you want to check it out - a word search should give you a good sampling.

First and foremost, I place place a lot of importance on the general welfare clause - as the founders did - which alone accounts for a substantial share of my differences with libertarians on Constitutional questions. And I take it seriously because it follows precisely the logic that I think many economists have always been convinced by with respect to externalities. Read Madison's early defense of internal improvements (before he turned old and crabby and changed his mind on a few things!). He sounds like a Pigovian and he puts it in the same terms as the general welfare clause. It makes more sense that they intended it in these terms than that they intended it otherwise and then immediately abandoned their initial intentions.

I also have been deeply inspired by Paine's Agrarian Justice and several of Jefferson's later writings on the role of republican government in rectifying disparities reified by the dependence of later generations on earlier generations. This was left undertheorized in the period of the founding itself, but I think it demonstrates very deep roots for current understandings of intergenerational obligations, rectifications of certain kinds of inequality, and public investments.

My Constitutional thinking has also been heavily influenced by Dewey, and I'm firmly a contractarian and in that sense I like a lot of what Nozick has to say. I don't come to all of his conclusions, but I like the framework for thinking about the state much better than mushy social contract language.

I also place a very high premium on federalism, and I think that's one area where we've made major deviations from the intentions of the founders. These deviations may be constitutionally justified by understandings of the general welfare, but that doesn't make them good ideas.

Anyway - that just puts a bunch out there - but I jot down ideas fairly regularly... granted I'm still forming those ideas.

Brian Clendinen writes:

@ Daniel Kuehn

See this is a problem I have with some interpretation on what the founders really meet. They selectively pick one or two founders to prove their point. Now in no way am I not saying Madison, John Jay, and Hamilton are not a lot more important than the other founding fathers to understanding the original intent of clauses. However, one has to read what all the founders had to say, on what they thought they were agreeing to. It was not the 55 guys who drafted the constitution or the 39 who signed the constitution but it is also the hundreds of state legislators who ratified the constitution.

However, I think one needs to ignore most information and thought process by the founders, even the important one more than a few years after ratification. There understanding or believes could of changed by then and now that they are into flip-flopping for various reasons. Madison was most likely the worse from what I know.

This reason why the federalist paper are so important. This was the detail explanation to the public of how the constitution would work and what it meet. So the Federalist papers are the key (along with information during the same time period from all the founding fathers responses to the papers) to understanding on what basis the public and therefore the state legislators ratified the constitution.

However, this is only true for the original constitution. The bill of rights are a totally different story. The bill of rights were driven by the state legislators who proposed them. So one has to read correspondence from the state and federal legislators. I think a key is to reading langue the states proposed to their versions of the bill of rights.

My point is, there is a lot to take into consideration and only reading a few selective works can sometimes distort or is inadequate to understanding specific clauses.

Patrick R. Sullivan writes:

I don't see how Chris Wallace--who is a Democrat, btw--was out of line with the Al Qaeda question. Ron Paul clearly said 'they' don't want us on the Arabian peninsula. The context made it clear he meant Al Qaeda. I thought Paul's response was disingenuous.

Cfountain72 writes:

"I don't see why he is embraced as a guy that trasncends politics."
Rep. Paul is the very definition of transcending politics (which helps explain why he's not very good at playing the political 'game.') We're talking about a man who is extremely pro-free market, yet he gladly joins Barney Frank (not exactly Mr. Free Market) to start the Sustainable Defense Task Force to help reduce bloated military spending. He is pro-life--like most Republicans--but he also allows those principles to inform his anti-war views. He's been targeted by his own party, yet he almost always manages to avoid making poltics personal. He votes for lower taxes, but also has the guts to vote against increased spending, even when it may benefit his own district.

If not Paul, I can't imagine another elected federal official who does 'transcend politics.'

Peace be with you.

cfountain72 writes:

David,
To your bigger point, I really had to stop watching FoxNews after watching that particular debate. They showed their hand as being little more than a mouthpiece for the official Republican 'line' and not a news organization open to views outside a very defined range of neocon-approved options.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Brian Clendinen -
I couldn't agree more - excellent points. The letters of the period are actually something I could read more thoroughly. I've worked through a lot of Jefferson's letters and an OK sampling of Washington's but not much beyond that. I think one also has to understand that you are never going to find a single understanding of the Constitution. That's impossible. I think you're right we can't focus on a few very carefully selected perspectives and statements - there has to be some critical mass to a claim we make. But that doesn't mean we're going to find a homogenous set of founders. So in that sense I should probably tone back some of what I said about Paul. There were certainly many founders who did interpret and would interpret the Constitution as he did - I guess my biggest problem is his conclusion from that that other less libertarian interpretations of the Constitution are thus illegitimate. If it's a matter of having a sizable share of founders backing a position, I think we're honestly both justified in calling ourselves originalists (I certainly consider myself an originalist). That sort of flexibility was built into the language of the Constitution - it can certainly incorporate a libertarian polity. But I think the evidence is quite clear that it doesn't exclude a more active polity within very important guidelines and principles.

Patrick -
I think referencing the reason why we're being attacked is different from treating that as a justification for leaving. Paul's point is we have no business being there - and they're only attacking us because we're there, so if we just do what's best for us anyway we can expect al Qaeda activity to decrease dramatically. That's not taking marching orders from them - that's taking marching orders from our own interests independent of them, and then noting that it will also reduce the risk of subsequent terror attacks.

fundamentalist writes:

Daniel, It seems odd to me that the writers of the Constitution would place so many limits on the federal government in the document, be very careful to assuage the fears of their generation about such a government, state specifially that all powers not granted to the federal government in that document were reserved for the states, and then intend the general welfare clause to be a loophole through which the same federal government could do anything it wished.

Nevertheless, what the Constitution says and what the writers meant has no bearing at all on the current situation. No one has ever paid attention to the Constitution unless it was convenient for them. Before the ink was dry, every side began scheming to get around its restrictions and force upon the people the type of government they wanted. Supreme Court decisions have destroyed any intent or literal reading of the document. And less than half a dozen presidents have even given it a nod. Most presidents set about to destroy any meaning the Constitution had the day after they are sworn in.

And how do the get away with it? The American people don't care about the Constitution, either. And as long as the courts and politicians follow the will of the majority, the government can ignore the Constitution and commit genocide if it wants. The problem with the country is not varying interpretations of the Constitution; it's the American people.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

"Daniel, It seems odd to me that the writers of the Constitution would place so many limits on the federal government in the document, be very careful to assuage the fears of their generation about such a government, state specifially that all powers not granted to the federal government in that document were reserved for the states, and then intend the general welfare clause to be a loophole through which the same federal government could do anything it wished."

I would agree - that would be strange. I'm not contending that the general welfare clause is a loophole through which the government can do anything it wishes, nor am I suggesting that the restrictions on the government are invalid. That is the whole point of the Constitution - to restrict government to its appropriate tasks.

As I said above, I agree with Paul that it's sad how little the Constitution matters to people these days. I would not put how the Constitution has fared in as dire terms as you do, though. I think you see the situation as being so dire largely because of your interpretation of what the Constitution means, and not because it is actually under that much threat and neglect. There are definitely problems with our fidelity to the Constitution. But I would not paint it as being such a failure or such a dystopia. Despite the problems, overall I think the Constitution has succeeded and is the source of a lot of our society's success.

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