[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
In my last real Stengel-gate post, I asked why on Earth Richard Stengel was presented to the world as an expert on the Constitution given that he was clearly clueless on the subject and I promised that I would be writing to NPR’s Ombudsman about this. Well, I have written that letter and I quote it to you below the fold.
Dear Mr. Schumacher-Matos,
My name is Aaron Worthing, and I write to you as a concerned member of the public. Last Monday, July 4, 2011, NPR’s show “Talk of the Nation” featured a discussion on the Constitution and its application to current issues, an altogether appropriate subject for Independence Day. The problem came in the roster of guests. While Yale Law School Professor Akhil Amar is correctly seen as an expert on the Constitution, I believe it was inappropriate to include Richard Stengel as another “expert” on the Constitution.
On paper Mr. Stengel looks like he should be an expert on the Constitution. He used to be President and CEO of the National Constitution Center and still works with their Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution. But while those credentials suggest he *should* be an expert on the Constitution, a brief examination of his writings on the Constitution reveal that he is literally incompetent on the subject. And one need look no further than the very Time magazine cover story that host Andrea Seabrook promoted. You can read that story here: [link]
I have discovered fourteen clear factual errors in that document and I wrote a piece documenting them, here: [link]
Eight of those errors specifically relate to the interpretation of the Constitution and are generally obvious on the face of the document. The most remarkable part of his piece was this patently false statement about the Constitution: “If the Constitution was intended to limit the federal government, it sure doesn’t say so.” Sir, I can assure you that the Constitution contains numerous explicit limits on the power of the federal government, particularly in Article I, Section 9 and the Bill of Rights. He also asserts that the Constitution is not law, and that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to emancipate the slaves and to end racial discrimination in the franchise (that was actually the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, respectively).
My point is that these are significant errors that should be obvious to any lay person possessing common knowledge about the Constitution. So it would have taken the staff of “Talk of the Nation” nothing more than a quick reading of Mr. Stengel’s article to realize he had made significant errors, which should have called into question whether he qualified as an expert. That might have justified perhaps challenging Mr. Stengel on these erroneous statements, which might have made for an interesting program, or perhaps dropping him as a guest entirely. Instead, despite these obvious errors that should have called his expertise into doubt, he was presented to an unsuspecting public as an expert on the constitution.
As a result, Mr. Stengel’s presentation was a disaster. The public was positively misinformed about the Constitution. For instance, during “Talk of the Nation” he was asked about the legality of federal laws banning marijuana. This was his response:
Well, of course the high court did prohibit the use of alcohol as an amendment, and then that was overturned. I’m not sure that the Constitution says very much about that. But if you look at the use of alcohol and medication, you know, state courts right now, you know, have the predominant opinion about that. And if the states can legalize marijuana, as some states have, then, you know, that’s – you should probably live in one of those states.
First, his suggestion that prohibition was the result of Supreme Court action is ludicrous. It was accomplished by ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment, and it was repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment. The Supreme Court has recently held that the growth and use of Marijuana, even if wholly local, can still be regulated by Congress under the Commerce Clause in Gonzales v. Raich. And he made many similar mistakes in that interview, which I have cataloged here: [link]
I don’t want you to take that as criticism directed at Ms. Seabrook for failing to recognize and challenge him on those errors as he made them. I recognize it can be hard in radio to catch every error by your guest. Instead I take those errors as the natural consequence of inviting a man so clearly clueless on the subject of the Constitution and my criticism is focused on the decision to book him on your program, and to fail to challenge him for his serial inaccuracies about the Constitution in his Time magazine piece. Someone really failed when vetting your guests.
As such I would appreciate a correction and a statement that Mr. Stengel will never again be brought on as a supposed expert on the Constitution.
I thank you for your time.
Aaron Worthing, Esq.
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]