Wash. Post Recasts Rand Paul As Civil Rights Ally, Forgetting Their Own Reporting

Rand Paul

The Washington Post reporter Dan Balz portrayed Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) as a key figure who can help GOP outreach to racial minorities, following Paul's criticism of Ferguson, Mo., law enforcement and their role in the Michael Brown killing. But Balz ignored Paul's previous opposition to the Civil Rights Act, despite having reported on it in 2010.

In his August 14 article, Balz highlighted Paul's opinion piece in Time decrying the response of Missouri police to protests in the wake of the police shooting of the 18-year-old Brown. Paul acknowledged in his piece that race skews “the application of criminal justice in this country” and criticized the “militarization of our law enforcement” -- which Balz characterized as “a shift away” from typical conservative rhetoric. According to Balz, Paul's acknowledgement of racial disparities in particular “sets him apart from others in his party,” allowing him to help expand the GOP's base (emphasis added):

Paul is a prospective 2016 presidential candidate and the leading proponent of libertarian philosophy among elected officials. In Ferguson, he has found circumstances almost tailor-made to advance his worldview. In doing so, he continues to set himself apart from others in the Republican Party with the hope of expanding the party's coalition and advancing his own political future.

In this case, he blames the militarization of local police on big government and especially Washington's willingness to provide such materiel to local communities. His comments on race mark another moment in which he is trying to show an openness to the issues affecting African Americans that sets him apart from others in his party. 

But in 2010 Balz himself reported that Paul had “embarrassed the GOP establishment” by “questioning parts of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.”

In an interview while running for his Kentucky Senate seat, Paul had said that while he supported portions of the Act, particularly in regards to ending discrimination by the government, he also believed “in freedom” and “private ownership.” When asked if “it would be okay for Dr. King not to be served at the counter at Woolworth's,” Paul responded that such action would be “abhorrent” but implied he would support the private owner's right to discriminate.

Racial discrimination by private actors is prohibited by both Title II and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

As Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler noted, Paul also came to a similar conclusion in a 2002 letter to a newspaper, saying “Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered. As a consequence, some associations will discriminate.” Kessler also drew attention to Paul's 2010 interview with Rachel Maddow, where the congressman was the most explicit in his reservations about crucial parts of the Civil Rights Act:

There are ten different titles to the Civil Rights Act and nine of ten deal with public institutions and one that deals with private institutions and had I been around I would have tried to modify that. ...When you support nine of ten things in a good piece of legislation do you vote for it or against it and sometimes those are difficult situations. ...I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, busing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights and I think that's a valid point, and still a valid discussion.

In 2013, Paul attempted to recast the facts by claiming he supported the Civil Rights Act and was merely questioning “the ramifications beyond race.” Kessler wrote that Paul was “rewriting history,” finding no evidence of Paul discussing anything beyond race in his remarks, and gave him three Pinocchios for attempting to change the record.

While Paul's most recent Time piece may signal personal growth on issues of racial injustice, former president of the NAACP Benjamin Jealous told Politico that Paul still needs to account for his apparent shift in tone before he can be his party's standard bearer on the issue:

[Jealous] said he found Paul's remarks “genuine” and well-timed politically -- but the black community will need more from the senator.

“At some point, he's going to have to really go there and show a little bit of emotional vulnerability ... about what's converted him,” Jealous said in an interview. “He can't really say that's what he's always felt when he said he wouldn't have voted for the Civil Rights Act.”