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Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel says a key portion of the Civil Rights Act should be eliminated, because, he says, “[p]rivate businesses ought to get to discriminate.” (Media Matters 5/20/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010) The 1964 Civil Rights Act (see July 2, 1964), signed into law by then-President Lyndon Johnson, prohibits discrimination in public places, provides for the integration of public schools and other public facilities, and makes employment discrimination illegal. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; National Archives 2011) Stossel, a guest on Fox News’s America Live, tells host Megyn Kelly that he agrees with libertarian Rand Paul, a Republican candidate for the US Senate, in recommending that the portion of the Civil Rights Act mandating no discrimination in public places should be repealed. (Both Paul and Stossel argue that the Americans with Disabilities Act should also be repealed—see May 17, 2010 and September 1, 2010). Paul has said: “[Y]ou should let businesses decide for themselves whether they are going to be racist or not racist. Because once the government gets involved, it’s a slippery slope.” When Kelly quotes this comment from Paul, Stossel says he is “in total agreement” with Paul, stating: “[I]f a private business wants to say, ‘We don’t want any blond anchorwomen or mustached guys,’ it ought to be their right. Are we going to say to the black students’ association they have to take white people, or the gay softball association they have to take straight people? We should have freedom of association in America.” (Kelly is a blond anchorwoman, and Stossel wears a mustache.) Kelly says: “When you put it like that it sounds fine, right? So who cares if a blond anchorwoman and mustached anchorman can’t go into the lunchroom. But as you know, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 came around because it was needed. Blacks weren’t allowed to sit at the lunch counter with whites. They couldn’t, as they traveled from state to state in this country, they couldn’t go in and use a restroom. They couldn’t get severed meals and so on, and therefore, unfortunately in this country a law was necessary to get them equal rights.” Stossel notes that those “Jim Crow” doctrines “were government rules. Government was saying we have white and black drinking fountains. That’s very different from saying private people can’t discriminate.” Stossel says that business owners should be free to discriminate, and if the “free market” punishes them by costing them customers, then that is a fair way to handle it. Kelly says the time of the Civil Rights Act “was a different time. Racism and discrimination was rampant. I’m not saying it’s been eliminated. But it was rampant. It was before my time, before I was born, but obviously I’ve read history, and I know that there is something wrong when a person of color can’t get from state to state without stopping at a public restroom or a public lunchroom to have a sandwich.” Stossel says: “But the public restroom was run by the government, and maybe at the time that was necessary.… And I would go further than he was willing to go, as he just issued the statement, and say it’s time now to repeal that part of the law.… 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.” (Media Matters 5/20/2010; Media Matters 9/7/2010) Stossel’s position provokes considerable criticism, and the civil rights organization Color of Change calls for a boycott of Fox Business until it fires Stossel. The organization writes: “Stossel’s position is an affront to black America and everyone in this country who believes in racial progress. It’s one thing to be a candidate with backwards views [referring to Paul]. It’s another to be employed by a supposed news network and to use that platform to push hateful ideas that our nation repudiated decades ago. It’s time that Fox drop Stossel.” (Salem News 5/22/2010) US Representative Bob Filner (D-CA), a veteran of civil rights protests, responds: “A ‘private’ business generally operates on a public thoroughfare, is protected by public police and fire departments, is served by public transportation, is staffed by people educated in public schools, is protected against fraud by the public justice system, may serve food or sell products protected by public inspection agencies, etc., etc., etc. Surely the public has a right to insist on non-racist policies! As a Freedom Rider in 1961, I rode on an interstate, publicly franchised Greyhound bus, and, as a member of an integrated group, was denied access to restrooms, lunch counters, and waiting rooms. The Supreme Court rightly ruled this was unconstitutional. Do Rand Paul and John Stossel want to take us back to a racist past from which so many people gave their lives to liberate us?” (Media Matters 5/21/2010) Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, says that Stossel has fundamentally misrepresented history, stating, “Market forces hadn’t exactly made anti-black discrimination disappear during the several centuries before the Civil Rights Act.” Even with the progress made since the legislation took effect, Grant-Thomas says, racial discrimination is still a major problem. “If you look at any market for which we’ve done extensive studies, significant discrimination remains,” he says. “It’s clearly better than it was. But there’s still discrimination.” There is a strong market for businesses that “currently, and legally, discriminate on the basis of race, or other grounds, in their membership. That hasn’t caused them to go under. Indeed… in some key arenas, like housing and schools, some people pay more for segregated settings.” He concludes: “The Civil Rights Act wasn’t passed on economic grounds, but on moral and ethical grounds. Suggesting that market logic would have sufficed to weed out discriminators is pretty much besides the point in that respect.” (McLaughlin 5/20/2010) A clearly aggrieved Stossel will respond to the criticism (see July 2, 2010).
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