The New York Times in its January 25, 2014, article entitled “Rand Paul’s Mixed Inheritance” maintained that I, long term libertarian that I am, regarded actual slavery, as practiced in the U.S. until 1865, as “not so bad.” How, pray tell, did this come about?
I did a series of interviews with Sam Tanenhaus a journalist of this “newspaper of record,” who was asking me what libertarianism was all about (his goal, I later learned, silly me, was to besmirch this philosophy, and me, so that he could undermine the then presidential candidacy of Rand Paul). I explained, as I always do, that the libertarian movement, properly understood, was predicated upon two major premises that Murray Rothbard had always stressed: the non-aggression principle (NAP), and private property rights based on homesteading.
I tried and tried to get this across to him. He just wasn’t getting it. So, eventually, I used the most extreme example I could think of: slavery. I asked why is slavery such an abomination, one of the most serious rights violation ever perpetrated on man by man. Was it due to picking cotton, eating gruel, living in a shack, and all other such things to which slaves were subjected? No, I answered, none of these things gets to the root of the atrocity of slavery. Rather, I averred, slavery was such an evil due to the fact that this “curious institution” violated the NAP. Mr. Tanenhaus still didn’t get it. So, digging deeper I said, suppose that all the evil things that were done to slaves were instead inflicted on free men; hypothetical coming up here, suppose picking cotton, eating gruel, living in a shack, and all the other things to which slaves were subjected was done on a voluntary basis. Then, this sort of “slavery” would not be so bad.
The New York Times then misquoted me as maintaining that actual slavery, as practiced in the U.S. until 1865, was “not so bad.” So, I sued them. The lower court threw out my case with prejudice, which meant that I had to pay the legal fees of the Grey Lady, which my lawyer estimated at about $100,000. (Do NOT send me any money to help defray my legal costs; I have not yet lost! If there are any funds burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to promote liberty with them, send them to the Mises Institute, which has been stalwart in my defense.) We appealed this decision to the United States court of appeals for the fifth circuit to override this lower court finding. At the hearing the Times claimed that they had used my exact words: slavery was “not so bad.” One of the members of this court charged that this newspaper had done to me what journalists would have done to Churchill had they quoted him as saying: “Democracy is the worst form of government” without adding the kicker: “except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” Namely, such a reporter would have used Churchill’s exact words, but, by dropping context, would have made him appear to say the exact opposite of what he actually meant to say, and actually did say. The judges found in my favor, and remanded the case back to the lower court. That judge again found against me. So, back it was to the higher court, which just found in my favor, once again, on August 15, 2017.
This does not mean I have won the case. It only means that the New York Times has not succeeded in derailing it. I am not sure, but I think my lawyers and I are now headed to this lower court judge for the third time. Wish me luck on this. It would give me great pleasure to take this periodical down a peg or two for their shoddy reporting.
If you want to read the latest finding in this case, Block v Tanenhaus et al, 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 16-30966, Go here.
Here is what Reuters had to say about this matter.