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How a little magazine dismissed as 'biased' can eat the Paper of Record's lunch on the facts


So gun control will have the same success as the anti-Warren Harding brigades? ||| New York Times
New York Times

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Several years back I ran into a certain celebrity libertarian in Las Vegas (tall fellow, very talky) who told me that the first thing he reads in the morning is The New York Times, America's celebrated "Paper of Record." And the second thing he reads is Reason, to "de-program" for what he's just read in the Times. This, I doth contend, is a damn good reason why y'all should consider meeting our humble request to elicit a bit more this year in tax-deductible reader donations to our 501(c)(3) nonprofit than, say, The Clinton Foundation gives in a random year to the New York Times Neediest Cases Fund.

We do this literally, as in the case of Jim Epstein's masterful re-reporting of the paper's embarrassingly inaccurate nail salon expose, which elicited this classic line from the paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan: "The Times has not responded to that series because editors believe they defended the nail salon investigation fully [to a previous critique] and because they think the magazine, which generally opposes regulation, is reporting from a biased point of view."

And we also did this today. Hours before the print-publication slapped on my upstairs neighbor's porch (the NYT co. can't quite figure out that the delivery location is the same address as the mailbox where I get my annual please-tip-our-super-competent-delivery-person solicitation), with its self-ballyhooed First Front Page Editorial Since the Grey Lady Inexplicably Dissed Warren Harding, Reason Senior Editor Brian Doherty calmly dissected the argument on its policy merits, pointing out that such a massively invasive banning-and-confiscation scheme would address a subset of a category of guns—rifles—that accounted for all of an estimated 248 murders in 2014. That compares to, say, 1,567 murders using "knives or cutting instruments." More Doherty:

the FBI figures there do not break down the category "rifle" to the specific ones that the Times targets, likely akin to the "assault weapons" that were banned moving forward in America for a decade, with no appreciable effect on public safety.

So the total number of those 248 (or slightly more) rifle murders actually caused using the ones the Times wants to expend all that effort into banning is much smaller than 248. Since the effort could not actually succeed in removing all such rifles from the hands of people with propensities to murder, and even if it did those murderous types would have other means to murder if they chose, the effort would not actually save all of that subset-of-248 lives.

Say, who do these fellas write for again? ||| Reason

But I want to focus this morning not on the gun policy merits, but the Times-argumentation demerits, as a way of providing contrast to the kinds of journalism your generous donations help support. Put bluntly, the NYT's cri de coeur is a vainglorious yet petulant act of emotive signaling that mangles the plain meaning of the English language in the service of persuading exactly nobody.

The paper almost admits as much in its look-at-me! news story about its own editorial (the tail, apparently, being insufficient to eat itself):

In a statement, the publisher of The Times, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., said the paper was placing an editorial on Page 1 for the first time in many decades "to deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country's inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns."

"Even in this digital age, the front page remains an incredibly strong and powerful way to surface issues that demand attention," Mr. Sulzberger said. "And, what issue is more important than our nation's failure to protect its citizens?"

Bolding mine. When my 7-year-old delivers a "strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish," we call that a "tantrum." Though at least she delivers such without the extravagant self-regard, and without forcing her poor employees to republish her crafted statements.

I talked about this tendency toward throw-your-hands-in-the-air frustration about guns in my December 2015 editor's note, which compared it to similar rhetorical anguish among anti-abortion advocates. Sample:

"All that is necessary for sanity to rule again, on the question of guns," wrote The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik in a much-discussed piece after the Oregon shooting, "is to restore the amendment to its commonly understood meaning as it was articulated…a scant few years ago. And all you need for that is one saner and, in the true sense, conservative Supreme Court vote. One Presidential election could make that happen."

Such simplicity reeks of an exasperated desperation. The notion that the Second Amendment protects a collective and not an individual right was discredited not by the late-breaking fantasies of conservative jurists but by the research of liberal academics like Sanford Levinson a quarter century ago. Even the dissenters in the Heller case recognized the Second Amendment as applying to individuals.

But it's more clarifying to think of post-shooting commentary as declarations of emotion rather than carefully thought-out legal history and policy analysis. Consider this child-like passage from Gopnik (emphasis in the original): "We know how to fix this. Gun control ends gun violence as surely an antibiotics end bacterial infections, as surely as vaccines end childhood measles—not perfectly and in every case, but overwhelmingly and everywhere that it's been taken seriously and tried at length."

When the Planned Parenthood videos started appearing in the summer, the overwhelming response by activists was bewilderment that the world did not share in their sense of horror. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who generally does a yeoman's job of describing conservative views to a liberal audience, likened the graphic footage in those videos with "that moment when you start pondering the possibility that an institution at the heart of respectable liberal society is dedicated to a practice that deserves to be called barbarism."

Having lost the big legal arguments, anti-abortion activists, much like their pro-gun control counterparts, are left with pointing at the blood and saying, "See?" It is undeniable that such emotional pleas to our sense of empathy and disgust are genuine, worthy of respect, and often persuasive, at least temporarily.

Please note the genuine declaration of empathy in that last paragraph. I am pro-choice on both issues—actually, anti-prohibition might be the best way to describe it—but on questions that literally involve life and death, it strikes me as self-defeating madness to fall into the typically inaccurate cliché that those who disagree with you about policy must be either evil, stupid, or both. There are plenty of libertarians who are anti-abortion from a principled point of view, and the next word I type disparaging their beliefs will be my first. And I have always been surrounded, geographically and professionally, by people who feel roughly the ways The New York Times does about guns. To which I—and more importantly, Reason—say, "Look, here are some tools for actually understanding the issue, regardless of what side you're on." Yes, we unapologetically advocate freedom and constitutionality, but we're also in the human-persuasion business. Compare that to the NYT:

Opponents of gun control are saying, as they do after every killing, that no law can unfailingly forestall a specific criminal. That is true. They are talking, many with sincerity, about the constitutional challenges to effective gun regulation. Those challenges exist. They point out that determined killers obtained weapons illegally in places like France, England and Norway that have strict gun laws. Yes, they did.

But at least those countries are trying. The United States is not. Worse, politicians abet would-­be killers by creating gun markets for them, and voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs.

Bolding mine. When I wrote and edited editorials at the L.A. Times, my tenure began just after Michael Kinsley's ended there. Somewhere on the Dark Web there are a series of fabulous memos Kinsley wrote about editorial writing and opinion journalism. A big, consistent theme: Do not use the worst of your opponents' arguments, engage with the best. Also, just because it's opinion, doesn't mean it shouldn't be fact-based and true. Quite the opposite, actually.

Take a look at that passage again through that lens. In order of the bolding:

1) It's not that 2nd Amendment enthusiasts are saying that no law is infallible and therefore there should not be laws, they are saying—over and over again—that the specific laws championed in the wake of the latest gun massacre would have specifically done nothing to prevent the massacre in question. This is true in almost every case. President Barack Obama called for "universal background checks" after San Bernardino, despite the fact that the four guns used in the attack were all legally purchased from federally licensed gun dealers, in a state that has the very types of gun control that Obama and others want to nationalize. Critics of the post-shooting measures are not seeking infallibility, they are asking about basic applicability.

2) Saying that "many" gun control critics are bringing up constitutional objections with "sincerity" is the same as saying that a significant subset are also being insincere. Which is a gratuitous insult, backed by zero supporting evidence. Meanwhile, for evidence of the Times' own flippant attitudes toward constitutional objections to gun control, look no further than its editorial from earlier this week, advocating that 2nd Amendment rights to keep and bear arms be stripped from people merely for having "several run-ins with the law" producing zero convictions. As Reason Senior Editor Jacob Sullum asked, "[W]hy should 'run-ins with the law,' including charges that are never proven, be enough to strip someone of the right to keep and bear arms? It is hard to imagine the Times endorsing that approach to any other constitutional right."

3) To say that "The United States is not" trying to regulate guns, is to define the "United States" as only the federal government (there is plenty of such action on the state and local level), and to define "trying" as "succeeding." The Senate just this week produced 45 votes in favor of stripping gun rights from persons who are only suspected (not convicted, not even charged) of terrorism-related activity, an amendment that The New York Times editorial board predictably endorsed, even as respected constitutional scholars such as Eugene Volokh were writing such as analysis as "I can't see how that's constitutional." 

4) Here's a thought experiment: Do politicians "create" newspaper "markets" by declining to outlaw newspapers? Or are markets things that spring up everywhere people seek to trade with one another (including in items that are made illegal by politicians)? Do politicians "abet" knife-murderers by failing to prohibit kitchen knives? In its rush to emote, the Paper of Record is inventing causality and responsibility chains that do not make basic logical sense.

A final point about the NYT's petulance and self-regard. This is how the front-page editorial ends:

What better time than during a presidential election to show, at long last, that our nation has retained its sense of decency?

There may be hoarier editorial clichés ("A Modest Proposal"!), but maybe none with as much evident strain to bathe in some of the unearned glow from one of the journalism guild's favorite stories.

After the jump, more examples of Reason calling B.S. on the Times. Before the jump, a reminder:

Donate to Reason right the hell now!

A selection of NYT-related business from this year's Reason archive:

Oct. 7: "Did Soda Tax Proposals Cause a Decline in Soda Consumption That Started Years Earlier? Probably not, but The New York Times is eager to credit politicians," by Jacob Sullum.

Sept. 1: "Another Day, Another Bogus New York Times Attack on Clarence Thomas: The Gray Lady misleads its readers about the conservative Supreme Court justice," by Damon Root.

Aug. 28: "Is It Really 'Unclear' Whether a Background Check Would Have Stopped a Killer Who Passed One? The New York Times thinks so," by Jacob Sullum.

July 2: "New York Times: Shout Loudly Enough, and We Will Succumb to Your Heckler's Veto: Why will the Paper of Record publish a condom-Pope but not a Mohammed statue? Catholics aren't loud (or scary) enough," by Matt Welch.

April 7: "Another Day, Another Dumb New York Times' Story on Corporations and Free Speech: An error-filled op-ed from a liberal Times pundit," by Damon Root.

March 24: "The New York Times, a Corporation, Worries That the First Amendment Is Now 'Embraced by Corporations': Are liberals turning on the First Amendment because it protects the free speech of corporate entities?" by Damon Root.

Jan. 14: "New York Times Editor Dean Baquet Continues to Beclown Self Over Charlie Hebdo Cartoons: The Paper of Record is in the increasingly lonely position of not reprinting newsworthy cartoon image, yet agonizing over it," by Matt Welch.

Jan. 13: "Will American News Organizations Reprint the Most Newsworthy Cartoon of the Year? The New York Times had 9 years to come up with a better justification for not running images of Mohammed," by Matt Welch.

Jan. 6: "What is Wrong with the New York Times? Cops Not Bothering Minorities a Possible 'Civil Rights Violation,'" by Ed Krayewski.

And, of course….

NEXT: Tragedies Can Bring Out the Worst in Reporters and Politicians

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  1. "And, in conclusion, the Grey Lady can suck it."

    1. Also, BURN!

  2. Put bluntly, the NYT's cri de coeur is a vainglorious yet petulant act of emotive signaling that mangles the plain meaning of the English language in the service of persuading exactly nobody.

    Did you expect anything else? Seriously. There is very significant reason no one actually gives a shit what the Times "thinks". Because it's just the emotive signaling of children in adult bodies. Everyone will ignore them as they stamp their feet and make their petulant bleating whines, and then this tantrum will be forgotten along with everything else they cry plaintively about. And they'll go right back inside their bubble and not understand the tiniest bit of why they're utterly pathetic.

    Rinse, repeat. It's really very, very tedious.

    1. The other night Stossel had on Leah Barrett, with New Yorkers Against Gun Violence. My friend, you should have seen it. She was so hysterical, she refused to listen to a thing anyone else was saying. She just kept spouting nonsense over top of Stoss and his other guest, a former cop trying to explain the realities of the situation.

      1. "Why won't you just do what I tell you to do during my blubbering tantrum?!?"

  3. The New York Times sold more guns than newspapers today.

    Maybe they even triggered a few donations to Reason...

      1. My kids laughed hysterically at both of those.

        1. Tell me about it.

        2. I laughed hysterically at FoE's. That tells me your kids and I are about on the same level.

      2. I have GTA5 on XBOX Kinnect. Can I make it do that, or is it PC only?

        1. I haven't looked into it, really, but a quick google seems to show that they've created some kind of port to enable GTC 5 mods on Xbox


          I don't know if this means already existing PC-mods can be used on Xbox, or if there will be a subcategory of 'xbox only' modifications.

      3. Wow, that piano mover knows his stuff!

    1. To me, Matt's intense eloquence blossoms like a beautiful flower:


        1. I'm sensitive and in touch with my inner-fag.

          Got a problem with that?

          1. I repress mine and only let it out when no one's looking. Hit it, Haddaway!

        1. Oh real mature.

          Go smoke your dick.

  4. Donate to Reason right the hell now!

    I agree that it's a worthwhile use of any liberty-minded individual's money, but I don't care for the swears.

    1. Is he swearing, cursing, or blaspheming? I get them mixed up. Maybe if he did all three.

      1. I didn't faint, so it's definitely not all three.

    2. Thank you for your opinion, Ms. Postrel.

  5. The Times
    Fearing for their lives after a pro-conscription Civil War editorial ignited one of New York's Draft Riots, the iTimes <?i elected to deploy not one, but two Gatling guns to defend its newsrooms

    1. Look, that was just common sense gun control. As in "controlling keeping it on target".

    2. Check this link before the *Times* scrubs it.

      "At Newspaper Row, across from City Hall, Henry Raymond, owner and editor of The New York Times, averted the rioters with Gatling guns, one of which he manned. The mob, instead, attacked the headquarters of abolitionist Horace Greeley's New York Tribune until forced to flee by the Brooklyn Police."

      But you'd expect that sort of right-wing vigilantism from Raymond, who was a Republican.

      Which is why the mob didn't like him.

  6. Likening gun control to restricting or regulating abortions is intellectually dishonest as one has nothing in common with the other. And, it does the same "social signaling" Reason accuses others of doing. The right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in our Bill of Rights, for starters, while the penumbral right to suction out your living baby is not. And speaking of statistics, the US counts over 1 million abortions per year compared to around 8 or 9 thousand gun-related deaths.

    I get it that Reason management must praise the virtue of easy access to abortions, as it is apparently a social signal that they "think the right way." However, it is also costing the libertarian movement a lot of membership. Just as those here accuse the Left of snubbing flyover country, articles like these do exactly the same thing.

    1. " 8 or 9 thousand gun-related deaths'

      if you use your own wording ("deaths"), the number is ~30,000 or so

      because deaths includes 'suicides', and because gun control people are assholes, they will insist on including that #

      apparently in your desperation to accuse people of "socially signaling" you need to willfully try and ignore the point that Reason is being entirely consistent in advocating "greater liberty", at least from the perspective that the liberties of the Already Born take priority over the not-yet-viable.

      If you disagree and think the not-yet-viable-humans deserve equal consideration as walking, talking, tax-paying individuals, feel free to make that case. "its a free country". But don't be a moron and expect your argument that the only consistent thread between the Freedom to Bear Arms and the freedom to control one's own body are somehow nothing but emotional appeals for the approval of social peers... which is frankly just stupid and juvenile.

      1. The point where he interprets"anti-prohibition" as "prais[ing] the virtue of easy access to abortion" was the bit where I realized it was just emotive signaling that mangles the plain meaning of the English language in the service of persuading exactly nobody.


        1. I have some sympathy to the people who want to 'reduce' the number of abortions, if possible

          *which is not to say, "restrict access"... but rather find some way to perhaps modify the incentive-structure such that frequent abortions are not seen as a 'social good' to be celebrated, but a last-resort that only comes after other means have been made available to either prevent/reduce pregnancy, etc.

          I'd guess i see it a lot the same way Foreign Policy is sometimes treated in the mag; the de-facto Party-Line posture isn't really questioned and examined in the context of the entire range of other views. at best, its occasionally placed against simplified staw-man versions of the latter

          The recent 'baby-parts selling' thing was sort of notable not for any way that it reignited any pro/con debates about abortion itself...

          ....but rather, the fact that it shined a light on the current "Status Quo", and showed it to be morally disgusting.

          I still support free-choice, and think that stem cell research can be a huge contributor to medical advancement; but the defenders of Planned Parenthood in the context of that 'expose' really just wanted to pretend everything was hunky-dory and there was absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and any critics of the practices were just Woman Haters. Which i think is/was intellectually & morally dishonest.

      2. But don't be a moron and expect your argument that the only consistent thread between the Freedom to Bear Arms and the freedom to control one's own body are somehow nothing but emotional appeals for the approval of social peers... which is frankly just stupid and juvenile.

        Who's being the moron here? I've practiced law for many years and have had to fight much, much better losing arguments and sophistry than yours. You really need to work on your reading comprehension and back off on the spewing comebacks. You might just learn something. Gun ownership has an upside; abortion in most cases does not. There are far fewer gun-crime-related deaths per year than abortions. And yes, the logic and legally historic view as to why these two are not comparable relates to due process, whether it's substantive or procedural, for the unborn. I choose to protect the life and liberty of the innocent.

        I can point to no great political philosopher or statesman, no matter how far back you go, who would say that killing the unborn in any way pursues "the greater liberty." The other reason Reason doesn't appeal to many people is that the commenters, and often writers, are complete assholes, like yourself. Whenever someone challenges an article, the commentariat descends upon that person with name calling. Petulant indeed.

        1. " I've practiced law for many years"

          Lord knows there's never been a stupid lawyer

          "Gun ownership has an upside; abortion in most cases does not."

          How do you define "upside"? and for *whom*? Abortion certainly provides 'upside' to women facing an unwanted pregnancy and no means to support a dependent. Pretending that this simply "isnt an issue" is being willfully obtuse, as i've already pointed out.

          "There are far fewer gun-crime-related deaths per year than abortions"

          Comparing 'violent murder' to a medical procedure terminating a pregnancy and pretending there's moral equivalence is intellectually dishonest, as i've already pointed out.

          "I choose to protect the life and liberty of the innocent.'

          "Innocent" as a legal term is typically not defined as "unviable outside the womb".

          A clearer way of putting it would be to say you want to sacrifice the life and liberty of already-born people to protect some mythical conception of "rights" for the unborn

          Again - if you want to make this case, feel free... have at it. Its why there's a comments section.

          But pretending the only reason people disagree with you, or that the magazine holds that "the greater liberty is of the already born" is because it yields 'social approval' is stupid

          Pretending that no legitimate arguments (much less *better* arguments) exist other than your own is also intellectually dishonest.

          If you think this is 'name calling', you're confused.

            1. yes. on the other hand, i don't bother with pissing matches anywhere else. (or in meatspace)

        2. abortion in most cases does not

          Beg that question.

        3. Being a lawyer who has practiced a fair number of years, few things piss me off more than fellow lawyers citing their lawyerness as some type of argumentation trump card. Being a lawyer does not magically make you the winner of an argument. Yes - there are brilliant lawyers, but there are also quite stupid ones, too. And it's rather common to find a lay person arguing even legal matters with more coherence and logic than practicing attorneys.

    2. I think it was more of an explanation of arguments/methods used by each side, not a comparison of the two things.

  7. How many words was this scathing assault on irrationality?

    It's gonna determine how much I may give.

    1. Inverse square law?

      1. Something like that.

  8. which generally opposes regulation, is reporting from a biased point of view."

    All reasonable and fair. "

    The New York Times which generally supports regulation, is reporting from a biased point of view."

  9. The New York Times: Wistfully reminiscing about the time the UK totally banned private ownership of handguns

    I love it. Please guys, seriously, go all out and call for banning and confiscation.

    1. But the public *demanded* it! Stamp stamp stamp!

  10. So, is it time to purchase the Black Rifle?

    1. Not at these prices. Wait for the hoopla to die down again, then purchase.

      1. ""Not at these prices.'"

        Maybe there's been a spike in smaller-sellers in the last few weeks...but larger online places were selling M&P15s; (the best deal in AR15s! and the choice of mass-shooters everywhere!) or the new Ruger AR for like $700 or less, and there's plenty of Rock River packages that are under $1000. This is arguably the cheapest and most-widely-available the 'black guns' have been since 2012

        1. Look, man, I'm trying to keep myself from buying guns I don't need. Stop ruining my self-deceptive narrative!

          I don't need an AK. I have an SKS. I just need to keep repeating this to myself.

          1. "I don't need an AK. I have an SKS. I just need to keep repeating this to myself."

            I've owned both, and I prefer the Simonov to the AK in most every category other than total weight. If making that choice for purchase right now.. I'd choose the Simonov.

          2. Recently I bought an SKS since my AK looked kind of lonely sitting all by its communist self. Now they're going to breed Bolsheviks, I just know it.

            1. Surround them with Mosin-Nagants

  11. One Presidential election could make that happen.

    Apparently not.

  12. There are plenty of libertarians who are anti-abortion from a principled point of view

    And I thought they were considered evil, stupid or both.

    1. True! Not for my opinion on abortion though. Quickest way to devolve a chat, abortion fights. I avoid them.

      1. I avoid them.

        ^This x1000

      2. "I avoid them."

        Same here. They get messy. Stick to pillow fights.

        1. *smacks Chipper's morning wood with a plush, deep buttoned, upholstered chair*

          Close enough?

          1. What are you gonna do when you run out of chairs?

    2. Telling people Libertarianism has nothing to say on the abortion issue always gets me confused looks.

      1. HoD's point about avoiding abortion debates is very true. The above is (personally) how I do it.

  13. voters allow those politicians to keep their jobs.

    You forgot to bold this part, too Matt.

  14. "[W]hy should 'run-ins with the law,' including charges that are never proven, be enough to strip someone of the right to keep and bear arms? It is hard to imagine the Times endorsing that approach to any other constitutional right."

    Haven't Democrats and progressives been doing a lot of heavy lifting in the argument that people shouldn't lose their constitutional right to vote, even when the run-in with the law resulted in a conviction?

    Can anyone think of a more potentially dangerous act of violence against a broad swath of the population than the act of voting?

  15. They released a picture of the female shooter.

    1. I called it when I saw the pic of the male.


  16. Several years back I ran into a certain celebrity libertarian in Las Vegas (tall fellow, very talky)

    Oh, Bullshit.

    1. I see what you did there.

    2. And then there's this asshole

  17. So wow, inever thought about it liek that before.


  18. I'd go to *Reason* for counterprogramming of the NYT's *economic* articles, but for their "culture war" articles - with the significant exception of guns - I expect Reason to generally be on the same team as the NYT.

  19. REASON you are going to have to wait until Monday. That's the day I get my finances in order. Also do not send the Capital I donate to you back to me in Junk Mail. I do not need it. Spend that Capital on your writers, and making a better Magazine.

    Keep up the good work.


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