CPSIA: N.Y. Times runs three letters

by Walter Olson on February 22, 2009

[Title of post revised to reflect the paper's printing of two more letters in its online (but not physical) edition on Monday.]

When I blasted the New York Times for its wretched editorial on CPSIA Wednesday, Patrick (SSFC/Popehat) made the following prediction:

Those tempted to write the Times to inform its readers about where this editorial gets it wrong will find that, no matter how many letters in opposition are received, the Times will print exactly one. The Times will also print one letter of thanks, from Greg Packer or someone affiliated with PIRG.

It is too early to say whether Patrick’s prediction will come true [see below for update]; the Times did print one short letter today from Nancy Nord of the CPSC, which fits the scheme, but there’s no way of knowing whether it will return to the subject in days to come with a letter supporting its editorial view or additional letters from critics. Before according the Times’ editors any credit for running this one, remember that having called for the removal of a named federal official, they really had to publish a letter from her in response; today’s letter as one would expect is mostly devoted to defending her record while also containing exactly one sentence disputing the Times’ ludicrous and much-derided assertion that fears of harm to small businesses are “needless”.

For the ordinary Times reader who knows little about this issue and is glad to skip to the next item, it will be easy to dismiss a short letter from a Bush appointee seeking to defend her managerial record. What else would you expect a Bush appointee to do? It would be a different matter — something to pause at, maybe ask questions — if a challenge to the Times’ assertions were to appear from wooden toymakers in New England, from apparel crafters in New York City’s garment district, from people who manage thrift and consignment stores, or from someone who deals in used children’s books. But — so far, at least — Times readers have been spared the danger of hearing any such discordant voices.

Update Monday a.m.: the Times online edition, though not the physical paper, runs two more letters today, and in doing so slightly (but only slightly) falsifies Patrick’s cynical prediction. The letter favorable to its own position, and ascribing no fault to the law other than its lack of tougher enforcement, comes not from PIRG but from David Pittle of Consumers Union (better prestige that way). And the Times also prints a mildly critical letter from the Toy Manufacturers of America, a group that 1) endorsed the law as a matter of general principle; 2) is often described in press coverage as closely aligned with giant toymakers who can live with its terms; 3) is cautious if not bland in its objections (“unrealistic”, “unwarranted”, etc.); 4) from its name and niche, reinforces the misimpression that “toys” are mostly what are at stake here, rather than a far wider range of children’s products ranging from books to apparel to minibikes. For all readers can discern from this TMA letter (and we do not, of course, know what the Times chose to condense or cut) the main economic costs of CPSIA might take the form of a quarter of down profits at Mattel or Hasbro. I have more to say in this earlier post about the tendency of CPSIA advocates to designate large and politically cautious industrial concerns as “the other” side for the press to consult, even though their interests and viewpoints may diverge widely from those of the smaller and family firms that dominate much of the children’s product trade. As of Monday, persons whose sole news source is the New York Times (especially the paper version) still have no idea that the law imposes any unusual burdens on this latter group.

Public domain image courtesy Grandma’s Graphics, Anne Anderson.


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CPSIA: Two more letters in New York Times
02.23.09 at 8:32 am

{ 4 comments }

1 Connie Ballas 02.22.09 at 11:29 am

I would like to see someone ask the Chicago Tribune these same questions. They boast of their role in bringing child safety issues to the forefront and were very vocal about the ‘hazards of shopping second-hand’. They happily took credit for bringing CPSIA about and I have yet to see even one article about the fallout from CPSIA.

2 BG 02.22.09 at 1:04 pm

I was wondering if the repeal of CPSIA 2008 would stimulate the economy more than the so-called stimulus law signed last week. I too, have not seen any numbers on the impact of CPSIA on the economy except for minibikes and national charities such as Goodwill. If the total numbers are as significant as I expect they might be then perhaps congress, Grandma Pelosi and Grandpa Waxman might listen.

I took a quick look around my house and there are plenty of things that the retroactive clause would force me to throw out if I were of the mindset that the government is a better parent than I am. We would have almost no blankets in our house to begin with (lots of quilts and afghans made by grandmas for children) and the list goes on from there. I can’t imagine that I would be let off the hook by children’s services if I used the CPSIA as an excuse for getting rid of blankets, beds, books, and other items that my children require and use on a daily basis. I would rather have a huge tax credit or refund to help get rid of the rest of the lead paint in my 90 yr old house than this CPSIA! Go where the real threat of poisoning lies.

Also, can you upload poor St Sebastian Bear to CafePress? I think I want a yard sign with him on it. The other CPSIA graphics at CafePress don’t apply to me. I think we know a little of what it’s like to be shot in the back–or at least plain angry. Congress needs to know that the mama bears are awake!

3 SSFC 02.22.09 at 1:18 pm

Grandma Pelosi and Grandpa Waxman might listen.

You’ll never get traction with Pelosi or Waxman, but if you’re represented by one of the Democratic representatives or senators who flipped Congress in 2006 and who could be flipped back in 2010 or 2012, a Heath Shuler for instance, someone might be quite interested in your opinion.

4 Sophie 02.24.09 at 11:05 am

I am in the toy industry and I am acutley aware of how absurd and far reaching the CPSIA has become.

The true fallout of this ridiculous law hit me hard on Friday. A friend who volunteers at a food bank (you know the place where REALLY needy people “shop”) told me that they had to pull all children’s clothes and items from their clothing selections.

It is cold today. It will be cold for a while. Think of the child who outgrew his winter coat, or warm clothes, and whos parents are clients of the food bank.

I wish someone would put a face on this tragic turn of events. Where is the MSM on this?

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