David R. Henderson  

Matt Welch on the Washington Post's Deficient Apology

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Using "not entirely" in this case is like saying Rocky was "not entirely" about loan collections.

On a blog called EconLog, I generally stick to economics. But occasionally I make an exception to deal with other issues. One is media bias, because I think the issue is so important.

Recently Matthew Sheffield wrote an op/ed in the Washington Post titled "Where did Donald Trump get his racialized rhetoric? From libertarians." In it, he wrote the following:

There had always been some sympathy for racism and anti-Semitism among libertarians--the movement's house magazine, Reason, dedicated an entire issue in 1976 to Holocaust revisionism and repeatedly editorialized in defense of South Africa's then-segregationist government (though by 2016, the magazine was running articles like "Donald Trump Enables Racism").

Reason editor-at-large Matt Welch wrote a great response to this hatchet job. Of course he focused on the job done on Reason, not on other people against whom Sheffield wielded his axe. Here are three key paragraphs:
The entire case for Reason's allegedly institutional pro-apartheid bias rests on three pieces written not by an employee of the magazine, but by a single South African freelancer, Marc Swanepoel. As I indicated in my post, I disagree strenuously with what Swanepoel wrote back when I was in elementary school. But even he described the apartheid regime as a "dictatorship," and called for the abolition of "omnipotent government, whether in black or in white hands." To repeat: Reason never editorialized, let alone "repeatedly," in defense of the apartheid regime. Sheffield and the Washington Post need to correct the record.

Nor is it true that Reason "dedicated an entire issue in 1976 to Holocaust revisionism," as Sheffield parrots from another misfired Ames attack. That February 1976 issue, as Nick Gillespie pointed out at the time, was surely not the magazine's finest hour, but the theme was revisionism-revisionism (i.e., challenging popular storylines Americans tell themselves about the country's pristine motives for going to war), rather than questioning the veracity of the Holocaust. "That scurrilous topic is not the focus of any of the articles in the issue," Gillespie wrote; instead the pieces were about things like what Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance about Pearl Harbor, and whether any actors other than Germany played a role in starting World War II.

It is true that, in Gillespie's words, "the inclusion of contributors such as James J. Martin, who would go on to join the editorial board of the contemptible denialist outfit the Institute of Historical Review, is embarrassing," as is the presence of Gary North (who would "later be excoriated in this 1998 Reason article for arguing in favor of violent theocracy and the stoning of gays and others"). But it is not true that that was an "entire issue" dedicated to "Holocaust revisionism." Sheffield and the Post should correct.


So the Washington Post did correct, kind of. Here's the correction:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Reason's 1976 special issue on revisionism and its coverage of apartheid South Africa. It included articles about Holocaust revisionism, but was not entirely dedicated to the Holocaust. Also, while the magazine did run several articles defending apartheid, it did not editorialize in favor of the system.

Now Welch has responded to that. He leads as follows:
When I dealt with corrections in my first journalism job 30 years ago, at UC Santa Barbara, we hippies used the then-industry-standard practice of quoting the original erroneous material, explaining why it was wrong, then appending at the bottom of every correction this phrase: "The Daily Nexus regrets the error." It may have been formulaic, it may have sounded just a wee bit like a hostage note, but the purpose of the exercise was to snip out the lie like the cancer it was, reinforce the empty space around it with the healing goo of truth, and continue our participation within a culture that holds as aspirational values basic veracity and honesty above all.

He then considers how the WaPo correction measures up. These next lines are classic:
Now look back at the Post's correction text again: It included articles about Holocaust revisionism, but was not entirely dedicated to the Holocaust. Nope, there was one paragraph in a 76-page issue pointing to works about Holocaust revisionism, you sarcastic, imprecise aspersion-casters. Using "not entirely" in this case is like saying Rocky was "not entirely" about loan collections. The Post has created yet another error while "correcting" the old, and should correct its correction to reflect that. It's really not that hard to click on the link, fellas.


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CATEGORIES: Media Watch




COMMENTS (17 to date)
John Brennan writes:

I am shedding crocodile tears for REASON. Welcome to the Alt-Right smear from the Clinton campaign. Had they come to the proper defense of those wrongly smeared by HRC, then they may have reason to whine (no pun intended). Alas they did not so they do not. Boo hoo.

Philo writes:

My comment is really directed to Nick Gillespie. "[I]n Gillespie's words, 'the inclusion of contributors such as James J. Martin, who would go on to join the editorial board of the contemptible denialist outfit the Institute of Historical Review, is embarrassing', as is the presence of Gary North (who would 'later be excoriated in this 1998 Reason article for arguing in favor of violent theocracy and the stoning of gays and others')." Is it embarrassing to publish a factual, well-considered article on one topic by an author who has whacko views on a different topic? Or is the embarrassment that he is widely known (or will later be widely known) to have those other whacko views? Guilt by association--here applied to magazines--is a dubious principle. But perhaps Gillespie means simply that as a matter of public relations a magazine must recognize that much of the public will hold it guilty for accepting contributions, though of unobjectionable content, from notorious people.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Philo,
Good comment. I had wondered the same but decided to stick to the narrower issue that I stuck with. To take my favorite example of a related point, if someone asked me to write for the New York Times and let me write what I actually believe without editing it to say something I don’t believe, I would say yes in a New York minute. That is even though the Times published horrible articles by Walter Duranty and has never rejected him.
By the way, a little over 40 years ago, when I was a graduate student at UCLA, I saw James J. Martin speak on World War II. I think it was about the U.S. government’s horrible treatment of “Tokyo Rose.” Martin came across as a humane, thoughtful man.

Bill writes:

The Washington Post is right to oppose Trump (in my view) but its coverage of him has crossed over into hysterical raving. Is it possible that Sheffield's bizarre article stems from the rising confusion among the left that allowing consideration of alternative viewpoints necessarily means agreement/endorsement?

Anyhow, Sheffield's claims were not proven by even the lowest of evidentiary standards. Claiming that "libertarians" supported racial apartheid because an issue of Reason referenced an author who supported it is poor journalism at best, and dereliction of duty at worst.

jc writes:

This post seems related to Bryan's, just below. Except here it's WaPo mentally (and then in print) altering evidence to make it easier to support moral outrage.

To revise this supporting evidence in a meaningful way is to undermine its entire purpose.

No, that won't do. Better to find a "middle" ground. Revise it just enough to make you feel honest.

(And this "honesty/credibility" boost will have the added benefit of increasing the odds that your outrage is justified. You get two things for the price of one...proof that you're a credible reporter/editor plus an even stronger moral claim. Just remember to make a note to yourself: ignore further Welch replies, as you have already checked that box off and now have more important things to do.)

Benjamin Cole writes:

The charge that libertarians are any more racist than any other political group is probably hollow.

However, the libertarian movement does reflect serious class bias.

One will see any number of libertarian editorials against the minimum wage, but never an editorial against the criminalization of push-cart or truck-vending, and there are but rare, qualified editorials against property zoning.

Total elimination on minimum wage laws? Bring out the megaphones! Total elimination on property zoning...we will think about it.

Thomas B writes:

Benjamin Cole,

I'm excited by your note!

You say, "One will see any number of libertarian editorials against the minimum wage, but never an editorial against the criminalization of push-cart or truck-vending, and there are but rare, qualified editorials against property zoning."

As a libertarian, I encourage you to look up and contribute to the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm that both editorializes against and actually fights exactly those issues, in court, and wins. They could use your help!

www.ij.org

Mike Hammock writes:

Mr. Cole, I don't know if you count these as editorials, but food trucks show up
regularly as a topic on Reason's "Hit and Run" blog.

The Institute for Justice (the libertarian legal organization) has also successfully defended food trucks.

Zoning is also a regular topic on Hit and Run. A brief search also turned up some Cato Institute blog entries, podcast episodes, and panel discussions on zoning (with Cato taking the anti-zoning position).

Maybe libertarians have a class bias, but I don't think the examples you chose are good ones.

Benjamin Cole writes:

Thomas and Mike:

I am aware of the IFJ, and of course I like their work, and of Reason and Cato.

My point is that the topic of the minimum wage gets a huge amount of ink (okay, pixels), while the topic of push-cart vending, or all truck-vending (not just food trucks) gets a very small amount of attention.

Indeed, that is my point: If food trucks are great, why not all vending from trucks, be it fresh vegetables, smartphones, jewelry, clothing, any consumer items or services. In Thailand, there a guys with vans who service weekly markets, and fix smartphones and sell accessories.

Yes, there are occasional libertarian salvos against property zoning, but rarely a call to "eliminate all property zoning bulldoze single-family detached neighborhoods." Usually, there is finger-pointing at Northern Cal libs and then the topic is dropped.

I like EconLog.

But do a count on the number of posts on the minimum wage, vs. the number of posts on legalizing truck-vending. I find zero posts on legalizing truck vending (all truck vending, not just food trucks).

I think I am the only man in the US who cares about push-cart vending. I googled Reason and Cato and push-cart vending and found nothing.

So Thomas and Mike I ask you to post frequently. Whenever you see a post on the minimum wage, ask the writer: Well, do those employees have the option of push-cart or truck-vending? Does property zoning prevent them from living close to work or raise housing costs?

Should not libertarian posturing to eliminate the minimum wage take place in context, not a vacuum?

And why not a total elimination of property zoning?

I stand by my statement that the libertarian movement is riven by class bias.

Mike W writes:

Is it "media bias" if it is on the op-ed page?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Mike W,
Is it "media bias" if it is on the op-ed page?
If it’s statement of opinion, then no. If it’s being misleading and then not being forthcoming about how misleading it was, then yes.
Let me give an example:
An op/ed states “I think Donald Trump is a bad man because he wants to throw millions of illegal immigrants out of the country.”
This is not media bias, at least in the sense that I’m criticizing.
But another op/ed states, “I think Donald Trump is a bad man because he murdered 10 illegal immigrants.” Assuming it’s false, and I’m pretty sure it is, this is an example of media bias that I’m criticizing.
Now let’s say Trump writes to correct the record, pointing out that he did not murder any illegal immigrants but did once punch an illegal immigrant in the face.
Then the publication that published the original op/ed says, “We stated incorrectly that Donald Trump murdered 10 illegal immigrants. In fact, the number he murdered was less than 10.”
That would be a problem.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Thomas B and Mike Hammock,
Thank you for replying to Benjamin Cole so effectively.

David R. Henderson writes:

@John Brennan,
Had they come to the proper defense of those wrongly smeared by HRC, then they may have reason to whine (no pun intended).
For me to evaluate your claim, I would need to know whom HRC attacked unjustly who you also think deserved defense but didn’t get it from Reason.

Thomas B writes:

Benjamin Cole,

I confess I'm struggling to see the class bias you speak of.

Minimum wage, occupational licensing and truck/cart vending restrictions are all issues that tend to limit the ability of relatively low-income people to earn a living - or, indeed, to earn anything (even if, or perhaps especially if it isn't a living).

Property seizures tend to strip property preferentially from the relatively poor. Property zoning has a somewhat wider socioeconomic reach.

But, back to my question: what do you see as the class bias, here?

Benjamin Cole writes:

Thomas B.

Okay, property zoning and rules against push-cart and truck-vending are about preserving class or business-group privilege.

"You cannot sully a valuable single-family detached neighborhood by retail activities, or building apartments." Or, "We limit the amount of housing, to preserve the value of our holdings."

Or, "Only we people who control space zoned for retail can sell retail, preventing low-cost competition from others, including push-cart vending and truck-vending."

It is class-bias that libertarian websites or publications devote so little space to the criminalization of push-cart and truck-vending, or minute attention to property zoning, but chronically detail the evils of the minimum wage. Just google, and you will see what I mean. The upper-class believes in free markets...but to a point. The libertarian movement largely honors that point.

But hey...maybe there is hope. Maybe EconLog will become a vociferous and daily advocate for the full decriminalization of push-cart and truck-vending, and the total elimination of property zoning, as a precondition to eliminating the minimum wage. Maybe EconLoggers will think in context, not a vacuum.

Thomas Sewell writes:

Benjamin Cole,

You may be confusing availability bias with libertarian opinions.

If non-libertarians in the media and in society talk more about the minimum wage (because they also want to see a change in it) than those other issues, it makes sense that you'd see more counter discussion from libertarians related to the minimum wage than the others.

And because you hear about it more, you naturally assume that's what's more important to the writers. But have any of the specific people you are accusing come out and said, "Removing the minimum wage would be much more important than these other issues", or are you just making assumptions about their opinions based on the frequency of their responses to the questions being talked about generally?

In general, I wouldn't expect libertarians to be accepting of vending/licensing restrictions, property seizures, zoning, etc... even if they don't talk about it all the time. In the same way, libertarians would tend to oppose the federal government/BLM owning so much land, but nobody is talking about that right now, so you don't hear about it from people until something related hits the news.

Thomas B writes:

Benjamin,

Thanks for the clarification. I see your point, but I agree with Thomas Sewell that you are likely to be seeing availability bias - the fact that the left has made the minimum wage a target issue is largely the reason for all the libertarian commentary on it. Previously, the minimum wage was not a "hot" libertarian topic.

More broadly, libertarian commentary routinely targets corporate welfare and regulatory restrictions on competition generally - both issues where the status quo benefits the owners of existing assets.

On zoning, it's possible less gets said about that. I know it gets commented on, from time to time, with home price trends in Houston and around Phoenix being contrasted with those in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, or Boulder. This may be a situation where there's simply so little chance of achieving policy change, that it gets set aside in favor of other, less settled policies - but that's just me speculating.

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