In a recent column, Wall Street Journal editorial board member James Taranto seized on a tribute to lifelong civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot written by the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center as an opportunity to attack the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But Taranto's criticism of the most effective anti-discrimination law in history ignores ample relevant history and case law.
Guyot passed away on November 22 at the age of 73. As a civil rights worker in the 1960s, he was beaten, jailed, and tortured for the voting rights and anti-segregation advocacy he undertook on behalf of African-Americans in Mississippi. In their tribute to Guyot, CAC noted that while current voter suppression is nowhere as violent as the tactics Guyot suffered, if unchecked by the Voting Rights Act, their effects still present discriminatory voting obstacles.
In his November 29 column, Taranto used CAC's Guyot obituary to attack Section 5 of the VRA, which Congress and federal courts have consistently reauthorized and utilized as essential for protecting the voting rights of millions of citizens who aren't white. Taranto also criticized the absence of extensive legal analysis in the obituary, complaining that it instead had "adjectives and adverbs," and more than one use of the word "iconic."
For a pair who work for something called the Constitutional Accountability Center, [Doug] Kendall and [Emily] Phelps don't have a lot to say about the constitution. Their defense of Section 5 is purely sentimental, with lots of intensifying adjectives and adverbs. Shelby County v. Holder, they exclaim, is "a monumentally important challenge to a key part of the Voting Rights Act, the iconic law for which for which [sic] Mr. Guyot shed blood."
Taranto, who cites a map and the Supreme Court brief for the Alabama county challenging the constitutionality of the VRA, focuses solely on the obituary to accuse CAC of not discussing the Constitution more in their tribute to Guyot. Yet Taranto fails to mention the extensive legal analyses and legal briefs CAC has written on the constitutionality of the VRA, all easily accessible on their website, as well as in other news outlets.
It is true that that CAC used the word "iconic" four times. It is also true that Taranto managed to write an entire column on the inappropriateness of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act without once using the words Jim Crow, and only referencing voter suppression in quotes. Discussion of these topics is crucial to any analysis of the VRA.
Throughout his column, Taranto questions why only certain areas must get approval for changes to their election practices under the VRA. The answer is simple: even with the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution following the Civil War, states of the Old Confederacy in the South refused to recognize equal protection and voting rights for African-Americans, through Reconstruction to the late Jim Crow era. From the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights' 1971 introduction to the 1970 VRA amendments:
Despite these constitutional protections [of the Reconstruction amendments], blacks in the South were virtually disenfranchised from the end of the Reconstruction Period until 1965, and members of other minority groups have also frequently been denied the right to vote.
It was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, however, that this right was extended to black people in the South in a meaningful way.
As Congress discovered more evidence of discrimination against racial, ethnic, and national origin minorities, more geographic areas were added to the scope of the VRA's anti-discrimination protections. Evidence of this discrimination can be shown by disproportionate effects or basic logic, which is why one appellate court recently found evidence of the former in South Carolina, and another appellate court utilized the latter to explain that if the predominant number of "young,...elderly and poor voters" affected by voter suppression in Texas are racial minorities, the VRA applies.
The reason that non-Southern areas remain uncovered by Section 5 of the VRA despite recent evidence of similar voter suppression is also unexplained in Taranto's column. States uncovered by the VRA do indeed engage in the same discriminatory tactics that have been overwhelmingly rejected in the courts. The answer to this omission is not complicated: it was difficult enough to pass the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act during a Republican presidency, and as evidenced by current Republican obstruction, updating the VRA to cover additional areas has become increasingly unlikely.
Taranto was correct that CAC's obituary of Guyot did not go into a detailed legal analysis of whether the reauthorization of the VRA in 2006 was appropriate. If he wants to see their legal analyses, however, he can read the briefs they have filed in the case or he could read any of the many blogs and articles they have written on the issue. From the CAC's Text & History:
To anyone who takes the Constitution's text seriously, there are glaring holes in the conservative constitutional attack on the Voting Rights Act. Shelby County's primary argument is that the Act's preclearance requirement is outdated and unnecessary, given changes in Alabama (where Shelby County is located) and elsewhere, but the Constitution, in fact, assigns to Congress the job of deciding how to enforce the Constitution's ban on racial discrimination in voting.
It is certainly true that the coverage formula relies on decades-old data that has less relevance today. But, as the D.C. Circuit concluded, the formula was always less important than the jurisdictions it covered. Going all the way back to 1965, "Congress identified the jurisdictions it sought to cover - those for which it had 'evidence of actual voting discrimination' - and then worked backward, reverse-engineering a formula to cover those jurisdictions." And, as the record described by Judge Bates and Judge Tatel in Shelby County shows, these jurisdictions continue to be the worst offenders, consistently refusing to live up to the Constitution's promise of a multi-racial democracy.
John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou, hosts of Los Angeles radio show The John & Ken Show, were suspended by KFI-AM on Thursday after referring to the late Whitney Houston as a "crack ho" and wondering why her death "took this long" during their February 14 broadcast. Listen:
Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto joined the onslaught of conservative media figures downplaying or dismissing sexual harassment allegations against Herman Cain as "meaningless" or not "a real thing." Fox News has repeatedly hosted guests to talk down the allegations and push the claim that "so many" sexual harassment cases may be "frivolous."
In his latest Wall Street Journal column, Taranto suggested that the women making the allegations against Cain "took advantage of a legal regime that ... is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations." Taranto concluded by calling for "a rebalancing of the burden of proof in sexual-harassment cases."
From his November 3 column titled, "Who Smeared Herman Cain?":
With virtually no facts available, a fair-minded person cannot possibly draw any conclusions from these stories. Maybe Cain behaved badly. Maybe the women were unhappy in their jobs and took advantage of a legal regime that -- especially in the wake of the furor over Anita Hill's unsubstantiated accusations of ribaldry against Clarence Thomas -- is highly indulgent of sexual-harassment allegations. Maybe the real story is something in between and involves elements of misunderstanding.
It seems to us, however, that the original Politico report is a pretty poor excuse for journalism. Of the six questions a reporter is supposed to answer, Politico told us only where and when -- at the National Restaurant Association in the 1990s. Politico withheld information about who (both the accusers and its sources) and either didn't know or didn't say what, why and how.
Journalists have confidentiality agreements of their own, which they strike with sources in exchange for information -- but in this case there wasn't enough information to make a real story. That is in part because of a practice of also concealing the identities of women who make any kind of sexual allegations against men, a custom originally intended to protect rape victims.
The latter assumption presupposes the sexual innocence of women -- a paternalistic assumption that dates back to an era in which women were also held accountable through social shaming to standards of sexual innocence. If women in such disputes enjoy a presumption of innocence that is nearly impossible to rebut -- "I believe Anita Hill" -- that amounts to a presumption of guilt against any accused man.
At least Hill was an identifiable person making specific accusations. With the Cain stories, we are asked to presume he is guilty even though we don't know what he is accused of or by whom. Anyone who believes in the American ideal of equality before the law should consider it a travesty.
None of this is to say that Herman Cain is the best available candidate to be president of the United States. We can think of several reasons why he may not be. His "9-9-9" plan is great fodder for Twitter humor (Did you hear Herman Cain has a plan to adopt three cats?) but does not strike us as a serious economic proposal. He seems proud to know little about foreign policy. And while his business experience is a plus, he has even less governing experience than Barack Obama did four years ago.
A consequentialist Cain skeptic might argue that it would be a good thing for the country if Cain's campaign fell apart even if by unjust means. We can't agree with that. If a rival campaign is behind this, it would be better if voter revulsion at such tactics sank that campaign -- and eventually prompted a rebalancing of the burden of proof in sexual-harassment cases.
More than 11,000 sexual harassment charges were filed last year. About 16 percent of those were made by men, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
From the August 15 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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From the July 2 edition of Fox News' Journal Editorial Report:
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In a column equating those concerned about climate change with members of a "doomsday cult," the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto quoted the following two headlines in an apparent effort to bolster his claim that global warming is not "real science":
Taranto suggests that this year's record snowpacks in western states undermine previous research indicating that global warming is pushing down snowpack levels. But, as is often the case with conservative media seeking to downplay the threat of climate change, Taranto relies on the misconception that short-term data can invalidate a long-term trend.
The first article he references, from the Washington Post in February 2008, reports on a study which concluded that a significant portion of the decline in snowpack in the western U.S. between 1950 and 1999 was a result of human-induced climate changes. According to the authors of that study, Taranto is making a fundamental mistake in suggesting that this year's snowpack levels contradict their findings.
Tim Barnett, research marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography said Taranto is comparing "apples and oranges" and that "the difference between year to year changes in the weather and long term changes in climate are not really comparable." Barnett's co-author David Pierce similarly explained that "confusing the year-to-year up and downs with the long-term decline is a fairly common mistake that people make" and "shows a sad ignorance of climate science." He added:
In his May 23 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto called Harold Camping -- who predicted the Biblical day of rapture would occur on May 21 -- the "Christian Al Gore." Taranto further compared global warming activism to a "doomsday cult."
From Taranto's column:
Something else bothers us about the media mockery of Harold Camping, as justifiable as it may be. Why are only religious doomsday cultists subjected to such ridicule? Reuters notes that "Camping previously made a failed prediction Jesus Christ would return to Earth in 1994." Ha ha, you can't believe anything this guy says! But who jeered at the U.N.'s false prediction that there would be 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010? We did, but not Reuters.
Doomsday superstitions seem to fulfill a basic psychological need. On the surface, the thought that God or global warming will destroy the world within our lifetimes is horrifying. But all of us are doomed; within a matter of decades, every person alive will experience the end of his own world. A belief in the hereafter makes the thought of death less terrifying. But so does a disbelief in the here, after. If the world is to end with us--if there is no life for anyone after our death--we are not so insignificant after all.
To reject traditional religion is not, as the American Atheists might have it, to transform oneself into a perfectly rational being. Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore. But because secular doomsday cultism has a scientific gloss, journalists like our friends at Reuters treat it as if it were real science. So, too, do some scientists. It may be that the decline of religion made this corruption of science inevitable.
In his May 2 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto wrote that President Obama "assembled a small death panel, which went to the compound in Pakistan and shot" Osama bin Laden.
From Taranto's column:
Finally, last August, they found the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. ABC News's Jake Tapper reports that in March, President Obama authorized "the development of a plan" to bomb the compound with 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions carried by B2 "stealth" bombers. "But when the president heard the compound would be reduced to rubble he chose not to pursue that option. . . . The president wanted proof" that bin Laden was dead. So he assembled a small death panel, which went to the compound in Pakistan and shot him.
Right-wing media have recently revived the falsehood that the Independent Payment Advisory Board created by the health care law will lead to health care rationing. In fact, the law specifically prohibits the Advisory Board from making "any recommendations to ration health care ... or otherwise restrict benefits."
In a his April 20 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto again pushed the "death panels" lie, writing that the "Independent Payment Advisory Board, the ObamaCare creation" is "colloquially known as death panels."
From Taranto's column:
ObamaCare not only will force people to buy insurance and to subsidize the insurance of others, it ends "Medicare as we know it." In his speech last week, Obama promised: "We will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need." He was referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the ObamaCare creation colloquially known as death panels.
The right-wing media have repeatedly mischaracterized Attorney General Eric Holder's recent reference to "my people" to claim that he is a "black nationalist" or that the Obama Justice Department is motivated by "racial bias." In his statement, Holder actually took issue with the suggestion that a 2008 incident involving the New Black Panther Party was a more "blatant form of voter intimidation" than what occurred in the 1960s; Holder said the suggestion "does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all."
In his February 2 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto celebrated a Florida judge's recent ruling against the health care reform law and credited his fellow News Corp. employee Sarah Palin with helping undermine support for reform efforts by coining the phrase "death panel."
Taranto then launched a weak defense of Palin's "death panel" lie and attacked PolitiFact for naming "death panels" its 2009 Lie of the Year.
You see, according to Taranto, Palin was "not lying" because she put "death panel" in quotes, which "indicate[s] that she was using it figuratively." In fact, Taranto argues, PolitiFact "was more vulnerable to the charge of lying than Palin was, for its highly literal, out-of-context interpretation of her words was at best extremely tendentious." Here's Taranto's defense:
In truth, PolitiFact was more vulnerable to the charge of lying than Palin was, for its highly literal, out-of-context interpretation of her words was at best extremely tendentious.
Palin put the term "death panel" in quotes to indicate that she was using it figuratively. She was not lying but doing just the opposite: conveying a fundamental truth about ObamaCare. Proponents were describing it as a sort of fiscal perpetual-motion machine: We're going to give free insurance to tens of millions of people and reduce the deficit! As a matter of simple arithmetic, the only way to do that is by drastically curtailing medical benefits.
"Health care by definition involves life and death decisions," Palin wrote. ObamaCare necessarily expands the power of federal bureaucrats to make such decisions, and it creates enormous fiscal pressures to err on the side of death. Whether it establishes literal panels for that purpose is a hair-splitting quibble. By naming this "lie of the year," PolitiFact showed itself to be less seeker of truth than servant of power.
But Taranto's argument that Palin merely used the "death panel" phrase figuratively to make a point about cost issues regarding Democrats' health reform plans is simply not true.
From the January 27 edition edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson plays fast and loose with the facts:
The primary economic debate between now and the election will concern the tax reductions of 2001 and 2003 -- President Bush's economic stimulus -- which are due to expire on Dec. 31 unless Congress acts. Obama has proposed to eliminate the portion of that stimulus that goes to wealthier taxpayers.
Set aside Gerson's description of tax cuts for people making more than $200,000 a year as "stimulus"; that's garden-variety spin. Focus instead on the shell game Gerson plays. First Gerson rightly notes that Bush's tax cuts are "due to expire" under current law. Then he claims Obama has "proposed to eliminate" a portion of them. Well, no. Obama has talked about not extending them. One needn't propose their elimination; that's set to occur under the current law -- the one signed by Bush himself.
Democrats might break a Senate filibuster by persuading some Republicans to support an extension of Bush's tax cuts for the middle class but not the wealthy. Momentum, however, runs in the other direction. Republicans are unlikely to give the president a legislative victory immediately before the midterms, particularly one that increases taxes.
Again: That isn't honest. Such a package would not "increase taxes" on the wealthy. It would allow them to increase in accordance with current policy, as signed into law by President Bush.
Obama's tax increase on the rich would be used to reduce the deficit, resulting in a net contraction of economic activity. Tax increases to pay for past spending do not stimulate the economy.
There's no such thing as "Obama's tax increase on the rich." You can give Gerson credit for persistence if you like, but regardless of how often he blames Barack Obama for policy signed into law by George W. Bush, it simply isn't true. The Washington Post is allowing Gerson to lie to its readers. That's sad, but not surprising.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's James Taranto tells the truth about the Bush tax cuts:
Don't call it "extending the Bush tax cuts." Call it "repealing the Bush tax increase." This would be entirely accurate: Taxes are going up pursuant to legislation enacted by a Republican Congress and signed by Bush.
You know things have gotten bad when a conservative columnist for a Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper is more likely to tell the truth about the Bush tax cuts than a Washington Post columnist.
I don't really understand James Taranto, and his response to my blog post on his claim that Democrats invent Republican racism to trick African-Americans into voting for them hasn't done much to ameliorate that situation.
To recap -- Taranto postulated the following theory on racial politics: "To keep blacks voting Democratic, it is necessary for the party and its supporters to keep alive the idea that racism is prevalent in America and to portray the Republican Party ... as racist." I argued that this theory is actually quite insulting to black voters, since it implies that they are not capable of recognizing real racism and presupposes that black voters are motivated primarily by racial sentiments. Here's what I wrote, word for word:
First and foremost, it's remarkably insulting. The implication of Taranto's theory is that African-Americans aren't sophisticated or observant or intelligent enough to know real racism when they see it, and are thus continuously duped en masse into voting for Democrats. It couldn't be the case that black voters actually care about issues and have real reasons for voting Democratic, they're just puppets who are motivated by racial sentiments that Democrats prey upon. Taranto and his pals at Fox & Friends might think they're attacking the Democrats, but they're actually demeaning black voters.
Taranto, in his response, seized on this paragraph -- actually, one sentence in this paragraph -- to call me a "racist":