Media Matters For America, by Matt Gertz
We've previously noted that Fox Business host John Stossel called for the repeal of the public accommodations section of the Civil Rights Act "because private business ought to get to discriminate" in a Fox News appearance, then defended his claim in FoxBusiness.com blog posts. Stossel's comments provoked outrage, but he has no intention of lying low and waiting for the heat to die down; today, he has a new column pushing similar claims.
It's worth pointing out that yesterday, in a near-unanimous resolution, the Kentucky Senate rebuked Republican Senate candidate Rand Paul for similar remarks. The resolution -- co-sponsored by all but one member of the Kentucky Senate -- states that the provision in question, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, "announced to the world that the United States would no longer tolerate discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion, or ethnicity, and set the standard for future conduct by private business."
The resolution adds that while "suggestions have appeared recently that we retreat from the core values of the protection of equal rights of the citizens of the United States, the Senate of the General Assembly finds that these views are outside the mainstream of American values and are not supported by other than an extreme minority of persons in the United States."
Fox, meanwhile, has offered no such criticism of Stossel. Its silence is deafening.
America's fundamental political philosophy has deteriorated quite a bit if we can't distinguish between government and private conduct. I enthusiastically support the parts of the Civil Rights act that struck down Jim Crow laws, which required segregation in government facilities, mass transit, and sometimes in private restaurants and hotels. Jim Crow was evil. It had no place in America.
Racist policies in private restaurants are also evil, but they do not involve force. Government is force, so it should not be used to combat nonviolent racism on private property, even property open to the public.
But as The Washington Post's Charles Lane has pointed out, "There is no such thing as 'private' discrimination with respect to a public accommodation. Like any other claimed property right, it could not exist without government support." Lane explains:
Suppose an African American customer sits down at a "whites only" restaurant and asks for dinner. The owner tells him to leave. The customer refuses and stays put. What are the owner's options at that point? He can forcibly remove the customer himself, but, as Paul concedes, that could expose the restaurateur to criminal or civil liability. So he'll have to call the cops. When they arrive, he'll have to explain his whites-only policy and ask them to remove the unwanted black man because he's violating it. But they can only do that on the basis of some law, presumably trespassing. In other words, the business owner's discriminatory edict is meaningless unless some public authority enforces it.
Conversely, it is precisely because of this nexus between private discrimination and public enforcement that the larger community, through the political and judicial process, acquires a valid interest in legislating against discrimination. The public is entitled to say whether their tax money should pay for arresting black trespassers on whites-only property.
Stossel goes on to again claim that the public accommodation section is unnecessary, because "[t]oday, a business that doesn't hire blacks loses customers and good employees. It will atrophy, while its more inclusive competitors thrive."
As we've previously noted in responding to Stossel, it wasn't fear of "atrophy" that stopped Denny's from allegedly racially discriminating against black patrons in the 1990s or punished Marriott International or the Hard Times Café after the September 11 attacks for allegedly discriminating against the Midwest Federation of American Syrian-Lebanese Clubs and Sikhs; it was the Department of Justice taking action under the public accommodations section.
Stossel has been allowed to advocate for the right to discriminate for too long. It's time for Fox to act