Rand Paul, son of former Libertarian presidential candidate Ron Paul, became the Republican Party candidate for the Senate in Kentucky last week. He celebrated his victory by immediately making the wrong kinds of headlines. Here he is explaining to NPR’s Robert Siegel why he thinks the Americans with Disabilities Act went too far:
RAND PAUL: I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who’s handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor, rather than the government saying you have to have a 100,000-dollar elevator.
BOB GARFIELD: But the real headlines came after a Paul appearance later the same day with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who performed a gentle vivisection on the brand new nominee. Maddow discovered, for instance, that Paul doesn't wholly support the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
RACHEL MADDOW: And should – Woolworth lunch counter should have been allowed to stay segregated? Sir, just yes or no.
RAND PAUL: What I'm saying is, is that I don't believe in any discrimination, but if you want an answer, you have to say then that you decide the rules for all restaurants, and then do you decide that you want to allow them to carry weapons into restaurants?
BOB GARFIELD: But if the media were surprised, they needn’t have been. In April, Paul articulated those very same views in an interview with The Louisville Courier-Journal editorial board.
RAND PAUL: I like the Civil Rights Act in the sense that it ended discrimination in all public domains, and I'm all in favor of that.
EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: But?
RAND PAUL: [LAUGHS] You had to ask me the “but.” But, at the same time, I do believe in private ownership.
BOB GARFIELD: Why the time lag between the editorial board’s stunning discovery and the reaction by newsrooms across the country? One theory, floated by The Atlantic’s Joshua Green, is that the story, or lack of story, begins in The Courier-Journal’s own news department. The Paul revelations didn't create a stir, Green suggests, because in Kentucky, quote, “There is no longer a healthy aggressive press corps. Candidates don't run the same kind of gauntlet they once did.” The Courier-Journal’s Opinions Page editor, Keith Runyon, says that while he can't speak for the news team, his editorial board did due diligence.
KEITH RUNYON: We just asked him point blank, would you have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and then he gave what turned out to be a fairly complicated answer. And we followed up by saying, but – because he hadn't told us whether he would vote yes or no – and then he went on to say that he did have a problem with that provision.
BOB GARFIELD: However, it didn't make that big of a splash until NPR seized on it, and then Rachel Maddow on her cable program on MSNBC. It seemed to sort of slip past the world’s notice. Do you have any regrets now that you didn't hit harder on this scoop in the editorial itself? I'm not suggesting you necessarily buried the lead but you didn't call as much attention to it as you might have.
KEITH RUNYON: Well, I thought it was a pretty clear editorial. It was striking, for one thing, in the fact that we didn't endorse anyone in that race. I've been on the editorial board of The Courier-Journal for 33 years, and to my knowledge we have never dodged a major endorsement, even when the choices were very unattractive, but for Dr. Paul that answer was the deal breaker. So I don't regret it. I wish that more people had read it and listened to it, might have picked up on it. But, on the other hand, it really wasn't a huge national story yet. He was low on the radar screen. Kentucky is, you know, a relatively small state. And his opponent, the secretary of state, Trey Grayson, wasn't about to make that an issue in his campaign because he didn't want to throw that kind of a bomb into an already complicated primary campaign.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, putting aside for a moment whether the national press noticed this burgeoning story in Louisville, what about your own newsroom at The Courier-Journal? I mean, that’s a big story, when a candidate for the U.S. Senate repudiates [LAUGHS] the Civil Rights Act and, if you follow his line of thinking to its natural extension, a whole lot of other settled law going back about a century. Was your newsroom aggressive in following this up?
KEITH RUNYON: Well, as you know, certainly at our newspaper and at most newspapers, there’s a very strict line between church and state, and we don't have anything to do with the news coverage, and the news department doesn't do anything in terms of editorial policy setting. I have no idea what went into their thinking. I do know that we had a very tight Democratic Senate race too, and I just couldn't answer that question beyond that.
BOB GARFIELD: I'm certainly not asking you to speak as an executive of The Courier-Journal because of the separation between the editorial board and the newsroom. But as a reader of the A section, do you think that the paper that you work for was late on the draw?
KEITH RUNYON: Not really. I mean, I thought that we laid it all out in the editorial and that the Rand Paul profile that we did did get into some of his libertarian views. The fact is that who knows, I can't judge what they did, and I don't know anything beyond that.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, the reason I'm asking is because of a piece in The Atlantic, a guy named Joshua Green, who believes that the news side did underplay the story until it blew up in the national media. And his supposition is that the newsroom was so eviscerated by budget cuts, losing 69 editorial positions, that it just didn't even have the wherewithal to follow a huge political story or maybe even to recognize that one was brewing. Do you think there’s anything to what he has to say?
KEITH RUNYON: No, that’s ludicrous. We had a number of people; we still have. For a Gannett newspaper, we still have a very large news staff. We are profitable. We've won more awards in the last year and gotten more recognition than we have in quite a few years.
BOB GARFIELD: So now that you've been in the center of a bona fide media storm [LAUGHS], learn anything about what you do for a living, for having gone through this unbelievable tempest?
KEITH RUNYON: Well, I've worked at The Courier-Journal for 41 years, and I've lived through a lot of other tempests, like Watergate, and so forth. I'm very proud of this particular episode, as far as our editorial page goes, because if there’s any issue that we've stood up for over the years, it’s been the integration of America and the end of segregation, particularly in our region. And, uh, if this is a firestorm, then it’s worth having.
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BOB GARFIELD: All right, Keith. Thank you very much.
KEITH RUNYON: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Keith Runyon is the editor of the editorial page of The Louisville Courier-Journal.