EXCLUSIVE: Expert criticizes Stossel's “ahistorical” remarks on Civil Rights Act

John Stossel's argument that the Public Accommodation section in the Civil Rights Act should be repealed and that the “free market” likely would have resolved the issue of racial discrimination by businesses is “ahistorical” and “unempirical,” a civil rights expert said.

The Public Accommodation section of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination “on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin” by businesses open to the general public, such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters.

In an interview with Media Matters, Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Ohio State's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, characterized Stossel's comments as “a silly statement,” adding, “Market forces hadn't exactly made anti-black discrimination disappear during the several centuries before the Civil Rights Act.”

On Fox News' America Live, Stossel earlier today discussed the 1964 Civil Rights Act with host Megyn Kelly. Kelly asked, “How do you know that these private business owners, who owned restaurants and so on, would have said, 'You know what? We will take blacks. We'll take gays. We'll take lesbians,' if they hadn't been forced to do it?”

Stossel replied, “Because eventually they would have lost business. The free market competition would have cleaned the clocks of the people who didn't serve most customers.”

Stossel went on to say, "[I]t's time now to repeal" the Public Accommodation section, “because private businesses ought to get to discriminate. And I won't won't ever go to a place that's racist and I will tell everybody else not to and I'll speak against them. But it should be their right to be racist.”

When asked about Stossel's remarks, Grant-Thomas noted that even with the progress made since the Civil Rights Act's passage, racial discrimination is still a problem. “If you look at any market for which we've done extensive studies, significant discrimination remains,” Grant-Thomas said. “It's clearly better than it was. But there's still discrimination.”

Grant-Thomas pointed to the housing and employment markets as domains where the free market has not entirely dealt with the problem of racial discrimination.

“There are plenty of private organizations that currently -- and legally -- discriminate on the basis of race, or other grounds, in their membership. That hasn't caused them to go under,” he said. “Indeed ... in some key arenas -- like housing and schools, some people pay more for segregated settings.”

Ultimately, Grant-Thomas took issue with Stossel's suggestion that a market would be the source of solution to the moral problem of discrimination. “The Civil Rights Act wasn't passed on economic grounds, but on moral and ethical grounds,” he said. “Suggesting that market logic would have sufficed to weed out discriminators is pretty much besides the point in that respect.”