- “‘Hate speech’ is not a legal category, and banning it wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny.” [Cato Daily Podcast episodes with Caleb Brown interviewing Matthew Feeney and Lou Perez]
- “Civil FOSTA Suits Start Showing Up In Court; Prove That FOSTA Supporters Were 100% Wrong About Who Would Be Targeted” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt, earlier]
- Cause célèbre in the U.K.: employment law tribunal, an institution with no exact counterpart in American law, rules against worker fired from nonprofit over tweets expressing view that sex is immutable biological characteristic [Owen Bowcott, The Guardian; Jodie Ginsberg (chief executive of Index on Censorship group]
- California attorney general’s office demands donor lists of non-profits, including those out of state. Supreme Court should now clarify its doctrine that all laws infringing on First Amendment freedoms be narrowly tailored [Ilya Shapiro, Trevor Burrus, and James Knight on Cato certiorari amicus brief in Institute for Free Speech v. Becerra; earlier and related here, here, etc.]
- Trump sues the New York Times for libel over a Max Frankel op-ed and Eric Turkewitz doesn’t think much of his prospects [earlier]
- “Was This the Decade We Hit Peak Free Speech?” [Jesse Walker]
“Democratic presidential candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard filed a defamation lawsuit Wednesday against Hillary Clinton seeking $50 million in damages, claiming the former Democratic presidential nominee ‘carelessly and recklessly impugned’ her reputation when she suggested in October that one of the 2020 Democratic candidates is ‘the favorite of the Russians.'” [Erik Ortiz, NBC News; Jonathan Adler (“quite skeptical” as to “whether the suit gets anywhere on the merits”); Christian Britschgi, Reason; text of complaint; Popehat] Related update, March: judge tosses Gabbard’s separate case against Google.
Harvard law professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination but withdrew before the primaries, “has filed a defamation lawsuit against the NY Times, its executive Editor Dean Baquet, its Business Editor Ellen Pollock, and reporter Nellie Bowles. Lessig is upset about the way some blog posts he made were portrayed by the NY Times…. saying this is his attack on what he calls ‘clickbait defamation.'” [Mike Masnick, TechDirt]
- Should an assault that does not injure its target count as non-violent? New York’s version of bail reform encounters strong pushback amid rash of street attacks [Israel Salas-Rodriguez, Khristina Narizhnaya and Laura Italiano, New York Post; Lauren Krisai, Jason Pye, and Norman Reimer, Slate; Rafael Mangual (New Jersey’s reform compare favorably); Scott Greenfield]
- “I think if they pay a small [amount of] money to us on the island, it would be better”: Vanuatu indigenous group says bungee jumping has roots in traditional land-diving ceremony [Prianka Srinivasan, ABC (Australian)]
- Thread on AirBnB liability for crime [Kate Klonick on Twitter]
- Federalist Society podcast with Andrew Grossman commenting on outcome in New York v. ExxonMobil [earlier and generally]
- “The New York Times and the sheriff do not understand the ‘stand your ground’ defense. Or they are purposefully misinterpreting it.” [Jacob Sullum, Reason; earlier on SYG]
- Claim: businesses have incentive to stop marketing and selling to perennially discontented persons, and law should restrain them from doing that [Yonathan Arbel and Roy Shapira, Vanderbilt Law Review forthcoming]
Over the years, the New York Times and writers associated with it have done more than most of us to debunk scares over purported cancer clusters. “When multiple cases of cancer occur in a community, especially among children, it is only human to fear a common cause,” wrote George Johnson in a 2015 Times piece. “Most often these cancer clusters turn out to be statistical illusions, the result of what epidemiologists call the Texas sharpshooter fallacy. (Blast the side of a barn with a random spray of buckshot and then draw a circle around one of the clusters: It’s a bull’s-eye.)”
Johnson’s writings in publications other than the Times have cogently analyzed dubious claims of cancer clusters in Toms River, N.J. and Love Canal, N.Y. Times science reporter Gina Kolata was a pioneer in questioning claimed incidence patterns, and a Times editorial helped in dispelling one of the most famous cancer cluster theories, that of breast cancer on Long Island.
Dozens of refuted cancer cluster scares later, are we more cautious when new ones are put forward? Or has nothing changed?
On Jan. 2 the Times published, to predictably sensational reaction, a piece by Hiroko Tabuchi profiling a claimed childhood cancer cluster in Johnson County, Indiana. Local campaigners have collected cases of childhood cancers — diverse kinds of it, not all one type — associated with the county since 2008, which would imply a rate of six cases per year. The piece, unfortunately, omits to mention the county’s population; it’s 139,654. It does concede, somewhat backhandedly, that the county is within a broadly normal range on its numbers, by noting that it has an incidence of childhood cancer slightly above the average for American counties, placing it in the 80th percentile of all such counties, which in this kind of statistical distribution means not really any great outlier at all.
Cluster alarms call for a culprit, and the local campaigners have settled on a now-shuttered industrial plant that used TCE (trichloroethylene), a solvent familiar from dry cleaning and used at many thousands of sites. They suspect it may have spread through the water and subsequent evaporation, which would explain — or would it? — which some sick children lived in homes distant from the plant and why current water testing is at best inconclusive.
I’ve written a fair bit about cluster controversies in the past, including the one in Hinkley, Calif. made famous by Erin Brockovich, and the Woburn, Mass. story captured in the book and movie “A Civil Action.”
In the New York Times, financial writer Andrew Ross Sorkin asks why credit card companies and banks should not be made to monitor customers’ accounts for unusual gun purchases and share the information with law enforcers. Excerpts from my response at Cato.
…In an advocacy piece imperfectly dressed up as a news story, New York Times financial reporter Andrew Ross Sorkin observes that some perpetrators of mass public shootings have bought guns and ammo using credit cards, and asks why credit card companies and banks should not be made to stop this. How? Well, they could “create systems to track gun purchases that would allow them to report suspicious patterns” and “prevent [customers] from buying multiple guns in a short period of time.” Invoking the Patriot Act – you knew that was coming, didn’t you? – the piece goes on to ask why the sweeping financial-snooping powers bestowed on the feds by that act should not be deployed against everyday civilians who purchase more guns than would seem fit for them to buy.,,,
The piece mentions one reason gun dealers are reluctant to pass on to banks information about what products their customers buy: someone else might come into possession of the list and know to pitch guns to those names. It doesn’t spell out nearly as clearly what might seem a bigger fear about a who-bought-guns data file, namely that it would go a long way toward identifying owners once confiscation of existing weaponry gets on the table as a proposal. The ACLU may not care about gun rights, but as Sorkin concedes, one of its policy analysts gets to much the same point by a different route: “The implication of expecting the government to detect and prevent every mass shooting is believing the government should play an enormously intrusive role in American life.”
Whole piece here.
Will revelations over data use by Cambridge Analytica lead to more intense government regulation of Facebook? Julian Sanchez and I talk to Caleb Brown at the Cato Daily Podcast. Separately, Sanchez writes that we shouldn’t expect regulatory micromanagement to do a good job of safeguarding user privacy. “How Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook targeting model really worked – according to the person who built it” [Matthew Hindman, The Conversation] Note that regulation tends to entrench incumbents [Tyler Cowen linking Stratechery (one consequence of outcry is that social media providers may make it harder for users to export their data to other platforms)]
Related: “In Europe, platforms are incentivized to take down first, ask questions second.” [William Echikson, Politico Europe] Pro-censorship UNC professor and New York Times contributing op-ed writer (and what a phrase that is to type) recalls days when media had but one throat to squeeze [David Henderson on Zeynep Tufekci in Wired] How Facebook recently navigated pressures on hosting a group whose leaders were prosecuted under British hate-speech laws [John Samples, Cato] From LBJ and Nixon to Trump and Elizabeth Warren, “regulation is an inherently political act.” So maybe think twice before putting Facebook and Google under the thumb of your worst political foe? [Donald E. Graham]
- Bryan Caplan and Arthur Brooks on international adoption, the Hague Convention, and Type I and Type II error [Caplan/EconLog, Brooks/NYT]
- It’s about the pecking order: enrolling a 3-month-old chicken in a “distinguished lawyer” marketing program [Conrad Saam]
- West Baltimore police checkpoints, Montgomery County rent control proposals, taxes, regulations, gerrymandering and more in my latest Maryland policy roundup [Free State Notes]
- Also from me: with Oprah Winfrey in the news, I recall the time I was on her talk show [Frederick News-Post]
- Yet more from me: as part of a Reason symposium on Trump’s first year, his administration’s centrist course on gay issues;
- More work for age discrimination lawyers? “The New York Times is looking for young writers” for paid positions according to its ad [archived original, and updated current page with legally safer wording, via @jackshafer]
- “Copyright Troll Gets Smacked Around By Court, As Judge Wonders If Some Of Its Experts Even Exist” [Tim Geigner, TechDirt]
Federal judge Jed Rakoff has dismissed Sarah Palin’s libel suit over an unfair and inaccurate swipe at her in a New York Times editorial [Eriq Gardner/Hollywood Reporter, Tim Cushing/TechDirt, Jacob Sullum/Reason, Tom Rogan/Washington Examiner]
We are rightly proud of the broad sweep of First Amendment protection our constitutional law gives to wide-open discussion about public figures, even when, as in the Times’s reference to Palin, it results in commentary that the Times itself recognized within a day was grossly off base and retracted. If the New York Times expects professional respect, however, it needs to hold itself to standards higher than the ideological schlock merchants of both sides, which would mean not printing such things in the first place.
Maybe the best outcome in the case would be if the Times paid $0 damages, but the editor who wrote the false words resigned in shame.
- Occupational licensure reforms advance in Mississippi and Arizona [Eric Boehm, Reason, first and second posts]
- I should live so long: “Will the New York Times’ Labor Reporting Ever Get the Facts Straight?” [Jim Epstein; coverage here of the NYT’s 2015 nail salon reporting embarrassment]
- Silliest claim about proposed salary-history-inquiry bans is that they would advance “transparency” in hiring [Seth Barron]
- Many states complicate offender re-entry after incarceration with needless licensing barriers and fingerprint checks [Eli Lehrer, Inside Sources]
- H.R. 1180 (“Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017”), introduced by Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL), would curb some overtime litigation by allowing private sector comp time under some conditions [Evil HR Lady]
- Layers of irony: “Disability Services Company to Pay $100,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Lawsuit” [commission press release in EEOC v. ValleyLife (Arizona), h/t Roger Clegg]
It is not clear whether a Thursday tweet from President Donald “Sue the Press” Trump should be interpreted as a serious policy proposal as distinct from an irritable gesture, but if its logic were pursued it might suggest that the chief executive favors extending defamation liability to coverage that is incomplete as opposed to untruthful and would have been fairer if it included points to be made on behalf of a covered personage. That’s not how defamation works under current First Amendment law, though [Jacob Sullum; earlier on Trump and libel]