Walter E. Block complained that he spent hours explaining to the newspaper’s Sam Tanenhaus that libertarians abhorred the use of violence as coercion but the reporter had quoted only some of his most representative remarks.
“I gave him all sorts of examples,” Block wrote. “I tried to make the point as dramatically as I could to him. I went so far as to say that the only thing horrid about actual slavery was that it violated the (non-aggression principle).”
The Jan. 26 article — which served as a profile of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and his ties to the libertarian movement through his father, former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) – identified Block as a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who had described slavery as “not so bad” and was highly critical of the Civil Rights Act.
Block does not dispute this, and, in fact, bolsters the reporter’s characterization even as he threatens to sue over those remarks.
“Apart from that one thing [violation of the non-aggression principle], slavery was innocuous: you could pick cotton in the healthy outdoors, sing songs, they would give you gruel, etc.,” Block wrote. “This of course was a hypothetical. A point made to dramatize exactly why slavery was wrong. Not because of cotton, gruel, singing, etc., but due to the vicious violation of the NAP against innocent black people.”
The libertarian economist took particular exception to what he described as a “minor problem” – an alleged misquote.
“‘Woolworth’s had lunchroom counters, and no blacks were allowed,’” Block was quoted as saying in the Times article. “‘Did they have a right to do that? Yes, they did. No one is compelled to associate with people against their will.’”
But Block disputed the quote’s accuracy by broadly stating his views.
“I never in a million years would have said ‘No one is compelled to associate with people against their will,’” Block wrote. “This is an obvious falsity, what with affirmative action and other anti discrimination laws. Rather, my view is, ‘No one should be compelled to associate with people against their will.’”
Block wonders whether Tanenhaus “twisted [his] words” out of “maliciousness or stupidity,” but concedes that he may have a difficult time proving the notoriously high standards in a libel suit because the quote was technically accurate.
“I have also been told that I don’t have a good case, since I did indeed use the exact words the NY Times quoted me as saying,” Block said.
But the libertarian argues that publishing only one paragraph of his lengthy remarks in an article about someone else who holds similar views had unfairly taken those comments “completely out of context.”
“I don’t much care if some people think I have a good legal case or not,” Block said. “I very much want to sue them. I would appreciate any help anyone could give me on this.”
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