Blogs > Liberty and Power > When Good Magazines Go Bad

May 4, 2008 2:51 pm

When Good Magazines Go Bad

When I first became a libertarian back in the late 1980s I used to love Reason Magazine. On the day an issue appeared in my mailbox it got read cover to cover and the information presented was invaluable to a budding activist trying to convince others that freedom was the correct path. Now, I would not let my dog take a dump on it because it is just not good enough for him.

A case in point, Ron Paul has published a book, The Revolution: A Manifesto, which shot to the top 10 of the bestsellers lists virtually upon release and that has the potential to be the most influential book with the general public, in the cause of liberty, since Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose: A Personal Statement and this libelous nonsense is how Reason responds to the event. Author David Weigel should be true to himself, quit his job, and go to work for The Weekly Standard where he belongs.

Hat tip to Justin Raimondo

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Vedran Vuk - 5/8/2008


I have never suggested that this affects your objectivity. It just makes libertarians look bad to the public. Koch's funding has been great but it has also become the Achilles heel of the movement.

If a Leftist knows you're funded by an oil company, your chance of convincing them for example I would say drops down by about 90%. And if one of your co-workers is a former board of directors member at Enron, your chances of convincing anyone of anything drop to near 0%.

People shouldn't judge based on your funding or co-workers but they do.

Also, I wouldn't write on these subjects of oil and Enron because I have some class, character, and care about the movement as a whole not just the parts that I think are the greatest. It's a point of view some other libertarians should strongly consider taking instead of bad mouthing others at every single opportunity.

Steven Horwitz - 5/8/2008

Yes, folks, I know that. The accusation I was responding to was that Reason "broke" the story with really bad timing. THIS round, the story was "broken" by TNR's piece. I wasn't suggesting TNR was the first place to report on the newsletters.

And as far as Vedran's concerns about funding go... bring it all out in the open. I could not care less. I have done work for Reason, Cato, and Mercatus, all of which are funded by Koch and others. Not once have I *ever* been told to what to write or how to write it or in any way suggested that I change my views to meet even the vaguest preferences of those who pay the bills.

So if the accusation is that somehow knowing who is funding this undermines the objectivity of the organizations, it's just wrong. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

Finally, I think it's a bit unfair to expect every libertarian to know every detail of a decades-old movement. My surprise at their ignorance of the paleo push in the early 90s was more about realizing how long I've been around and how briefly they have, rather than surprise at them not knowing something they should have. It just never occurred to me that libertarian writers wouldn't be aware of it, but I realized later - why should they? It's not like when I first got involved with the movement I knew everything that went on in the early 70s for example.

Vedran Vuk - 5/8/2008

You're right Mark but it's even more recent than you think. Paul's 2006 Democrat House of Representatives opponent, Shane Sklar, also brought out the newsletters and lost by about 70% of the vote.

Mark Brady - 5/8/2008

Steven writes, "Bill is quite right that it was TNR who broke the story."

What story did they break? I guess it was news for some ignoramuses who write for Reason but if they had checked the Houston Chronicle for May 23, 1996, they could have read Alan Bernstein's article entitled "Newsletter excerpts offer ammunition to Paul's opponent/GOP hopeful quoted on race, crime."

Vedran Vuk - 5/7/2008

Maybe we should start advertising that most libertarians around the Beltway are funded by oil. Just so everybody knows. You know just to be fair. Further by an individual who funds the politicians who supporting the Iraq War. Just to have it in the open you know. Do you think that's a good idea for the movement? Or some of the other sparkling characters who work for certain libertarian Centers who happen to be former board of directors for Enron. You think these are seriously good ideas? Should I write about this stuff just so everyone knows?

If you think people didn't like Ron for the letters, imagine the above mentioned stuff for the rest of the crowd.

Vedran Vuk - 5/7/2008

No one has addressed timing as I mentioned. I think it's great if anyone wants to write anything about the libertarian movement's history good or bad. But was this the most appropriate time to write that specific article?

It's like pretending that exposing Reverend Wright is just a story about black ministers with extremely unpopular views. This wasn't just a piece about paleos just like the Reverend Wright controversy is not really about a single minister with strange views. No one has said that Obama is directly a racist but what impression do you think writers of these subject matters want you to have of the candidates?

Also if they are unaware of the history of the libertarian movement, maybe they shouldn't be writing for a libertarian magazine in the first place. It's time to hit the books instead.

Steven Horwitz - 5/7/2008

Let me add one thing to Bill's post:

As I said at the time, the most shocking thing to me about this whole affair was how FEW of the Reason-Cato libertarians, especially the Reason ones, knew about the whole paleo strategy that Bill refers to. Many of them are in their 20s and 30s and came to libertarianism well after the early 90s when the worst of this stuff was happening.

Bill is quite right that it was TNR who broke the story. Reason followed up and they did so by interviewing people who were actually around the movement at the time because they themselves were not! That's why there was never an earlier story about this. Most of the Reason staff were unaware of it.

Bill is also right that none of Reason's writers called Paul a racist. In my own comments on the newsletters, which I found to be racist among other things, I was very careful to say that I had no reason to believe Paul was a racist. He had bad judgment for allowing things to be said under a masthead with his name on it that WERE racist etc, but that's different.

Bill Woolsey - 5/7/2008

The New Republic broke the story on Paul's newsletters. The article in the New Republic was inaccurate in a variety of ways.

Reason tried to get to the bottom of the story.

Reason didn't say that Paul was a racist. It said the opposite.

It did say that a faction of the libertarian movement used Paul's newsletters as part of a strategy to reach out to racists. It is hard not to conclude that the authors are
people prominent in the paleo faction today. Presembably the people who, contrary to Paul himself, insist that there was nothing wrong with what they wrote.

Andrew J. Gomes - 5/7/2008

This is the most appropriate time to discuss the newsletters. As a libertarian, I am deeply concerned that the candidate who claims to represent my values and ideals actually does so. Therefore, I am indebted to Reason and others for bringing the newsletters to my attention as I definitely believe they are worth considering. What would you have Reason do? Just keep everything under the rug? That does not seem right to me. You seem to believe that Reason is sabotaging Paul's campaign because they didn't discuss Paul and race earlier. An alternate explanation is that Paul's presidential campaign naturally invited additional scrutiny.

Vedran Vuk - 5/7/2008

Do you feel it was appropriate to have this conversation just at the time Ron Paul is running for president and using his newsletters as an example? What it's just an accident that Reason thought hey you know Ron Paul is running for president this is a good time to have a random discussion about his newsletters 20 YEARS AFTER THEY HAD BEEN WRITTEN!!! Reason could have put this article out at any time in 20 YEARS!!!! Why not earlier Bill? If they just wanted to talk about racist paleos, why now?

Bill Woolsey - 5/7/2008

I find this comment incoherent.

The coverage of the Paul campaign by Reason has not suggested that Paul appeals to racists. It is rather that certain paleoconveratives developed a strategy of appealing to racists and used Paul's newsletters as an element in that strategy.

On the contrary, the Reason writers have pointed out the obvious, that racists are not a significant source of support for Paul at this time. The reason why this is relevant is because Paul's newsletters were part of a strategy aimed at a appealing to racists. This strategy went no where.

Paul himself has rejected the sentiments expressed in those newletters. However, members of the paleofaction have insisted that there was nothing wrong with those sentiments at all.

Paul's book recommends work by various members of the paleo-faction, some of whom, (including Raimando cited here,) claim that there was nothing wrong with the racist statements, disagreeing with Paul.

So, various writers in Reason, have
pointed out that Paul is no racist. Paul has explicitly rejected the racist sentiments expressed in his newsletters and said that someone else wrote them. Various members of the paleo faction defend the racist remarks even now. Paul continues to support the Paleo faction (asking that people use them as a source of information.)

And, people here claim that all of this amounts to Reason claming that Paul is a racist. I think it is red herring.

I often read things from paleos about Reason or Cato that are more or less lies. That they are smearing Paul as a racist is one. That they are pro-war is another. All it does for me is create more disdain for the paleos.

Vedran Vuk - 5/6/2008

What I think is more disturbing than the Ron Paul smear is the people trying to defend Reason.

For example Bill Woolsey above,

They're not calling him a racist, but he just appeals to racists....and this is ok how???

Seriously, Bill, if I said to you, "Bill you're not a racist, you just appeal to the Ku Klux Klan." You wouldn't see that as an insult or attack at all?

Or take another example politically unrelated. What if I'm to say to you, "Bill it's not that the shirt you're wearing is ugly, it's just that it appeals to people who have no taste in clothes"

Bill Woolsey - 5/6/2008

The article doesn't even come close to saying that Paul is a racist.

Perhaps I am being too cynical, but
I think there has been a repeated
red herring strategy to deflect
criticism of the paleo faction by
asserting that the "cosmos" are claiming Paul is a racist. The most blind Paul loyalists will see nothing
else but a conspiracy by Reason to smear their hero as a racist.

In reality, they have never believed that Paul is a racist. They have never said that he is a racist. They are instead pointing to this old strategy by some paleos to try to appeal to racists. They have criticized those paleos for failing to come forward.

It is pretty obvious.

Keith Halderman - 5/5/2008

I may be wrong but to my mind but just bringing up ht subject of the already discussed to death newsletters again warrants the adjective libelous, especially in the context of discussing the book where one has nothing to do with the other. Clearly, the author's intention is to remind people of the charge.

Anthony Gregory - 5/5/2008

It names a name and implicates others as being guilty of writing those newsletters, without actually proving it.

Aeon J. Skoble - 5/5/2008

I read it a third time, and honestly didn't see it that way. My impression was that it was not calling him a racist, but rather that it was contrasting his clearly anti-racist views with the pieces in the newsletters.

Also: here's a different link to Reason mag's website in which Paul is treated with great respect:

Keith Halderman - 5/5/2008

No offense taken about the not being a purist remark. I have always believed in the saying never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. To me it is a question of direction and right now we are moving towards totalitarianism at an increasingly rapid pace. Think of it as a giant tug of war and Ron Paul got a lot of people to start pulling in the right direction but the editors of Reason chose to pull on the other side. As far as Ron Paul only appealing to purists that is a ridiculous statement it was the influx of anti-war leftists and right wing Constitution Party types that gave me so much encouragement and that process continues. With regards to Reason read the comments section on the link I provided. I am not the only person who thinks that the quality of that magazine has precipitously declined.

Keith Halderman - 5/5/2008

The post is once again indirectly calling Ron Paul a racist. I did not use the term with a strictly legal definition in mind.

Aeon J. Skoble - 5/5/2008

Um, can you be more specific about what's libelous here? I read the post twice, and it seems just to be saying that it's plain from Paul's anti-racist writings that he couldn't have been the author of the controversial passages from his newsletters about which we were fretting some months ago.
Also: that's a blogpost on Hit and Run; it doesn't follow that the magazine won't have more serious discussion of the book. Hit and Run isn't synonymous with Reason Magazine.
For the record, I too have been reading Reason Magazine for a long time, since fall 85 if memory serves. It's very slogan, "Free Minds and Free Markets," was inluential on shaking up my old-school "left-right" thinking. I continue to subscribe, and I get gift subs to enlighten and annoy friends on the left and right.

Anthony Gregory - 5/4/2008

I mean, this is, after all, a discussion over Ron Paul's book making it to the bestsellers' list. And odd time to say his supposed purity has made him so ineffectual in the mainstream.

(For the record, I do consider myself something of a purist, but not a sectarian.)

Anthony Gregory - 5/4/2008

I don't really consider Ron Paul a "purist" libertarian. And, by my standards, I don't think Halderman is a purist, either. (No offense, Keith.)

Don't you think Ron Paul has succeeded in "injecting libertarian ideas into the mainstream"? I think, considering how principled he is and yet how big tent he is, he has done a great job at radicalizing, educating and energizing many, many Americans -- probably more than have ever been excited by any other libertarian endeavor. Just my guess.

Bruce Bartlett - 5/4/2008

This comment is BS and shows the author to be both ignorant and juvenile. I used to work on Ron Paul's congressional staff and have great respect for him. And I have no affiliation with Reason Magazine. But Ron's prest of the pure libertarian campaign will never appeal to anyone except the true believers. That's fine, but a prescription for political powerlessness. Reason has made significant strides in injecting libertarian ideas into the mainstream in a way that purist websites have not and never will. As far as I am conerned, being a purist is the same as being a child. I say, grow up