Media

Fox News' John Stossel Calls For Repeal of Part of Civil Rights Act

The Fox News commentator called for the repeal of the public accommodation section of the Civil Rights act, saying "private businesses ought to get to discriminate."
VIDEO AND TRANSCRIPT APPEAR AT THE END OF THIS ARTICLE.

On the Thursday edition Fox News' America Live, Fox analyst John Stossel discussed the 1964 Civil Rights Act with host Megyn Kelly. Kelly asked, "How do you know that these private business owners, who owned restaurants and so on, would have said, 'You know what? We will take blacks. We'll take gays. We'll take lesbians,' if they hadn't been forced to do it?"

Stossel replied, "Because eventually they would have lost business. The free market competition would have cleaned the clocks of the people who didn't serve most customers."

Stossel went on to say, "[I]t's time now to repeal" the Public Accommodation section, "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."

The Public Accommodation section of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination "on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin" by businesses open to the general public, such as restaurants, hotels, and theaters.

John Stossel's argument that the Public Accommodation section in the Civil Rights Act should be repealed and that the "free market" likely would have resolved the issue of racial discrimination by businesses is "ahistorical" and "unempirical," a civil rights expert said.

In an interview with Media Matters, Andrew Grant-Thomas, deputy director of the Ohio State's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, characterized Stossel's comments as "a silly statement," adding, "Market forces hadn't exactly made anti-black discrimination disappear during the several centuries before the Civil Rights Act."

When asked about Stossel's remarks, Grant-Thomas noted that even with the progress made since the Civil Rights Act's passage, racial discrimination is still a problem. "If you look at any market for which we've done extensive studies, significant discrimination remains," Grant-Thomas said. "It's clearly better than it was. But there's still discrimination."

Grant-Thomas pointed to the housing and employment markets as domains where the free market has not entirely dealt with the problem of racial discrimination.

"There are plenty of private organizations that currently -- and legally -- discriminate on the basis of race, or other grounds, in their membership. That hasn't caused them to go under," he said. "Indeed ... in some key arenas -- like housing and schools, some people pay more for segregated settings."

Ultimately, Grant-Thomas took issue with Stossel's suggestion that a market would be the source of solution to the moral problem of discrimination. "The Civil Rights Act wasn't passed on economic grounds, but on moral and ethical grounds," he said. "Suggesting that market logic would have sufficed to weed out discriminators is pretty much besides the point in that respect."



KELLY: Rand Paul is a libertarian. You are a libertarian. He is getting excoriated for suggesting that the Civil Rights act -- what he said was, "Look it's got 10 parts, essentially; I favor nine. It's the last part that mandated no discrimination in places of public accommodation that I have a problem with, because you 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." Do you agree with that?

STOSSEL: Totally. I'm in total agreement with Rand Paul. You can call it public accommodation, and it is, but it's a private business. And if 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: OK. 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: Absolutely. But those -- Jim Crow -- those were government rules. Government was saying we have white and black drinking fountains. That's very different from saying private people can't discriminate.

KELLY: How do you know? How do you know that these private business owners, who owned restaurants and so on, would have said, "You know what? Yes. We will take blacks.

STOSSEL: Some wouldn't.

KELLY: We'll take gays. We'll take lesbians," if they hadn't been forced to do it.

STOSSEL: Because eventually they would have lost business. The free market competition would have cleaned the clocks of the people who didn't serve most customers.

KELLY: How do you know that, John?

STOSSEL: I don't. You can't know for sure.

KELLY: That then 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: But the public restroom was run by the government, and maybe at the time that was necessary.

KELLY: But that's not what Rand Paul said. Rand Paul agreed that if it's run by the government, yes intervention is fine. He took issue with the public accommodations, with private businesses being forced to pony up under the discrimination laws.

STOSSEL: 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

KELLY: What?

STOSSEL: 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.


Matt McLaughlin is the managing editor at Media Matters for America.
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