New York Times on CPSIA: “needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises”

by Walter Olson on February 18, 2009

blowingbubblesatus
Clueless. Disgraceful. Grossly ill-informed. And cruelly hard-hearted toward families and businesses across the country that are facing economic ruin.

Yes, after months of silence, the editorialists of the New York Times have finally weighed in with their view of how CPSIA is going. How bad did you expect their editorial to be? It’s that bad, and worse.

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In a six-paragraph editorial about toy safety, exactly one paragraph is spent informing readers that anything about the law might have aroused any public criticism. And here is that paragraph:

Unfortunately, the commission has yet to implement important aspects of the new law. The delay has caused confusion and allowed opponents to foment needless fears that the law could injure smaller enterprises like libraries, resale shops and handmade toy businesses.

Got that? “Confusion” about the law, and “delay” in implementing it, are the real problems. Fears that small business will be hurt are “needless” and are being “fomented” by presumably sinister opponents.

Or, put differently: anyone who imagines this law might be impractical for libraries, resale shops, handmade toy businesses, or other small businesses is just imagining things — fooled, perhaps, by misinformation spread by the law’s opponents.

Libraries are just imagining things if they listen to people like Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association, who spoke to the press last month about the choices facing libraries if some sort of exemption could not be found. (“Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she said, “or they ban children from the library.”) Or people like Chip Gibson, president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books, who spoke to Publisher’s Weekly about the prospective effects of the law: “This is a potential calamity like nothing I’ve ever seen. The implications are quite literally unimaginable. …It has to be stopped.” It’s true that the CPSC’s last-minute stay of enforcement did save the new-children’s-book trade from calamity — but remember, to the Times, “delay” has been one of the problems in implementing the law, not something that has (so far) spared us its worst effects.

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Thrift stores are just imagining things if they listen to people like Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops, who said, “The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill.” They should ignore all the reports, no matter how numerous and from how many sources, of local Goodwill operations and other thrift stores’ closing children’s departments or sweeping more than half their contents off the shelves, and of kids’ resellers and consignment shops taking massive financial hits or closing down entirely. All of these episodes are either imaginary or, if conceded as real, an instance of overreaction to the needless fears those moustache-twirling opponents have “fomented”. (Some more thrift-store coverage not previously linked: North Carolina, Nebraska, Minnesota with Goodwill pic, upstate New York (“We can’t be sure of the risk unless we take everything off the shelf”), South Dakota, Colorado). They should also stop predicting that the pursuit of their charitable missions will suffer a major blow from the loss of children’s resale revenue, because that sort of thing just undermines morale.

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Handmade toy businesses are just imagining things if they listen to anyone like the Handmade Toy Alliance. It’s not as if anyone like them is on its list of members.

The Times editorialists warn against “needless fears” that the law “could injure” smaller enterprises. Got that? Not only will they not be driven out of business, they won’t even be “injured”. So small enterprises from coast to coast are just imagining things if they plead desperately for places like the Times to notice that they have already closed down, or will have to do so in the foreseeable future, or have lost thousands of dollars in unsalable inventories. Motorbike dealerships around the country are just imagining things if they think they’re staring at massive losses from the inability to sell their products, even though news-side talent at the New York Times has in fact covered their story well — coverage which the editorial studiously ignores.

For as long as anyone can remember, the New York Times has unthinkingly taken its line on supposed consumer-safety issues from organized groups like Public Citizen and Consumers Union. In this case, the result of such reliance has been to render the nation’s leading newspaper a laughingstock.
Public domain image: Grandma’s Graphics, Ruth Mary Hallock.

(& welcome Virginia Postrel, Christopher Fountain, Patrick @ Popehat, Carter Wood/ShopFloor, Mike Cernovich, Katherine Mangu-Ward/Reason “Hit and Run”, Jonathan Adler @ Volokh Conspiracy, Memeorandum, Above the Law, Tim Sandefur, Mark Thompson/Donklephant, Alison Morris/Publisher’s Weekly Shelftalker blog, Jacob Grier, Amy Alkon/Advice Goddess, Joe Weisenthal/ClusterStock, Valerie Jacobsen/Bookroom Blog readers. And: Deputy Headmistress at Common Room, Faith in Truth, Amy Ridenour/National Center and NewsBusters, Charles Kuffler/Off the Kuff.)

And more: Forbes.com liked this piece and has now reprinted it in slightly altered form. And I’m particularly grateful to Robert Ambrogi/Legal Blog Watch for his generous coverage.

{ 15 trackbacks }

PointOfLaw Forum
02.18.09 at 1:33 pm
New York Times publishes deceptive editorial endorsing Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, while Greenpeace sells non-CPSIA compliant babywear. | Popehat
02.18.09 at 2:17 pm
New at Forbes.com: “The New York Times Betrays Small Business”
02.18.09 at 4:49 pm
The Volokh Conspiracy
02.18.09 at 5:48 pm
A Time for Anger: Fisking the Times | The League of Ordinary Gentlemen
02.18.09 at 7:18 pm
Advice Goddess Blog
02.19.09 at 3:22 am
CPSIA chronicles, February 19
02.19.09 at 4:20 pm
Rant: No Books Please, Our Children Are Safe « Faith in Truth/Förtröstan I Sanningen
02.20.09 at 1:05 am
The HTA and the Times « Off the Kuff
02.20.09 at 6:16 am
CPSIA chronicles, February 21
02.21.09 at 11:03 am
CPSIA: N.Y. Times prints Nancy Nord letter
02.22.09 at 10:52 am
CPSIA chronicles, February 26
02.26.09 at 2:39 pm
U.S. Lawmakers Get the Lead Out - The Blogs at HowStuffWorks
03.02.09 at 3:19 pm
CPSIA and children’s jewelry
03.07.09 at 11:00 pm
CPSIA: one for the books
03.26.09 at 8:54 am

{ 25 comments }

1 Patrick 02.18.09 at 12:22 pm

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.

The best answer for this editorial is to blog about it. Thanks Walter.

2 Donna 02.18.09 at 12:36 pm

For the life of me I never have understood why certain reporters such as the one with the New York Times write or tell a story without finding out the facts or the WHOLE truth. No wonder our country is in such a mess. Growing up I always wanted to be a reporter, but unfortunately life took a turn and my dream career ended up down a different road. Not one I would ever give up, as I love the life I’ve had. However, I wanted to be a reporter because I had a burning desire to tell the truth…to find out the “facts” and weigh all sides of an issue before allowing my feelings to get in the way of a situation. Maybe it’s the Libra in me wanting to keep the world balanced. I’ll admit, at first when I found out about the CPSIA back in January, my very first thought was that some some business owners or work at home moms were overreacting. I’m a small business owner too and someone emailed me a link to an article that had information about the CPSIA and said I might be interested in reading. Well I read it was interested in knowing more. But before passing judgement, before talking with local store owners, before contacting my daughter’s school principal, before blogging myself I wanted to “understand” what the CPSIA was about. So, I researched the law, read it word for word over and over again, read the concerns of those involved, read the letters of concerns and the replies by the CPSC who addressed some concerns and then I knew.. I knew how I was impacted as a business owner, and as a consumer. I knew after weighing in all the information and watching the videos of the public meetings held with the CPSC regarding concerns of small business owners, manufacturers, work-at-home moms, and libraries just who this law affects and to what extent. Because I took the time to actually read and research before, blogging or speaking out I feel I can back my own opinion on how this law was formed hastely, and without thought, only as a means to shut the public up from their rants and raves in 2007 about how the government or the CPSC was not doing enough to protect them. And, now more consumers…yes consumers…and many businesses are will be hurt because of it. Thank you Walter for knowing the facts and reporting on the truth and in writing in such a a way everyone can understand and see the truth. I just wish there were more like you. Only those who can provide an informative voice, unbiased opinion can call themselves true reporters.

3 Greg 02.18.09 at 12:43 pm

At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist: I wonder if the reason that the New York Times and most of the other leading newspapers have ignored or downplayed this issue is because any honest reporting on it will necessarily make Congress look like a bunch of fools, and these newspapers are hoping for a bailout from that same Congress. If they’re hoping for a bailout it would be stupid to give a lot of attention to a story that makes the people deciding on a bailout look stupid.

4 Paul 02.18.09 at 12:44 pm

Thanks for your great coverage here Walter, I’m usually a lurker just reading. I’ve shared the link with many people the last few weeks.

It’s sad, but I’ve come not to expect anything more from the Times :/

5 Suzie 02.18.09 at 12:50 pm

Does anyone wonder why you can buy the NY Times’ stock for less than the cost of a newspaper?

6 Melanie 02.18.09 at 1:15 pm

I’ve long held the opinion that the only use for the NYTimes is to line the bottom of a birdcage…this just helps prove that theory! Thanks Walter for staying on this…I too have shared many of your articles and pointed countless people to your website to help educate them on the broad and overreaching aspects of this terribly written law…

7 Alton 02.18.09 at 1:48 pm

Yes, all that is needed is “enlightened” leadership (and more pork…I mean more “resourses”) to rectify Bush’s failure to put a priority on toy safety.

We need enlightened leadership to stimulate the growth of CPSC jobs. Thousands of small businesses? Not so much. Hope and change.

8 Gerry 02.18.09 at 2:21 pm

You can buy NYT stock for less than the cost of the newspaper for two reasons

1- The quality of writing has descended from reasoned discourse to the level of cable television rants — there’s not a single fact bolstering any of the claims made in the editorial.

2- The New York Times has forgotten its roots as a reporter of facts. Rather than “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, it’s “All the News That Fits Our Ideology”

9 Bumper 02.18.09 at 2:28 pm

Anyone familiar with the Old Gray Lady’s coverage of the Duke Lacrosse debacle will not be surprised at the faulty logic and outright lies contained in any article or editorial contained therein. All the while the owners, publishers and editors just can’t understand why their paper is losing readers and is considered irrelevant in the world of news and opinion. Blame it on the Internet, not putting out a crappy paper.

10 John 02.18.09 at 2:44 pm

Clark Hoyt is the readers’ representative. He responds to complaints and comments from the public and monitors the paper’s journalistic practices.

To reach Clark Hoyt, who represents the readers, e-mail public@nytimes.com or call (212) 556-7652.

http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/

11 MHodak 02.18.09 at 3:27 pm

I dropped our subscription to the Times about two years ago, and only held on to the Sunday Times that long because of the crossword puzzle. When they called up and asked why I left (very puzzling behavior for a New Yorker), I told them straight out because it was a crappy paper.

The thing was truly a rag, and I hear it has only gotten worse. I have never missed it. I can’t wait until it goes bankrupt, or is purchased by someone who isn’t a leftist ideologue.

12 Virginia Postrel 02.18.09 at 3:39 pm

Do keep in mind that this is an unsigned editorial, NOT a news story or feature. Don’t blame “reporters.”

13 Emily 02.18.09 at 4:12 pm

Eh, it’s just the Times taking another opportunity to slam Bush and Republicans and place blame on a Bush-appointee. It’s disappointing because it would be nice to see some clear-thinking out of that bunch but not really surprising.

14 Matt 02.18.09 at 5:19 pm

Ms. Postrel,

Thank you very much for the great blog!

The distinction between editors and reporters does not hold up all that well in this case.

I would suggest that at whatever point “journalists” and “editors” felt too superior to the term “reporter” to allow themselves to fall into it’s classification was close to the point where their laziness, close-mindedness and arrogance overlapped into the disgusting venn diagram which threatens Western liberty so disturbingly today.

15 Quin Dodd 02.18.09 at 5:27 pm

God bless you, Mr. Olson, God bless you!

Just when you think the NYT has reached a new low, they seem to have a limitless capacity to dig even deeper. Their level of deception (likely even self-deception) and just outrageous refusal to look at any truth that doesn’t fit their view of the world is truly something to behold. I can’t imagine even hard core liberals really take them seriously any more, do they?

16 Darby 02.18.09 at 6:49 pm

I used to love reading the NY Times. Now I’m so angry I don’t think I can bring myself to even look at it. Clueless, indeed.

17 Deb 02.18.09 at 7:42 pm

Feb 10, 2009 [Debit] Cost of goods sold = $xxx
[Credit] Inventory = $xxx
(Note: loss on merchandise made illegal by the CPSIA)
Feb 10, 2009 [Debit] Disposable Expense = $xxx
[Credit] Cash = $xxx
(Note: Fees for disposing of hazardous waste.)

Needless fear? That, dear NY Times, is the reality of accounting entries being made all across the U.S. by businesses who cannot return merchandise. Imagine the impact of those accounting entries on income and sales taxes collected by government entities for the next year.

18 Tristan Benz 02.18.09 at 11:44 pm

Ah, NOW we’re getting to the point I have kept banging my head against a wall to make – where are all the REAL journalists anymore?

They have become BYSTANDERS, not reporters. IF the NYT had done its proper job of informing WE the people of the negative impact of this ridiculously poorly written law on our everyday lives and businesses, there is NO WAY it would have gone down the way it has – with silence of the masses standing in for approval. The previous post where you mentioned the quiet removal of books in a thrift, so as not to cause a “panic” was VERY TELLING, if you ask me. The fact is, if WE the people had been consulted on the making of this law, we would NEVER have voted for its extreme measures and demands – NEVER!! That quote confirms the truth we already know – that people panic ONLY when they have had NO PRIOR INFORMATION and, as a result, automatically go into “crisis mode.” It’s basic human nature.
Well, we in our industry have been in crisis mode for months now and I, for one, have been at this place of downright outrage at our public servants and media alike for some time now. NO, it does not make me the most popular gal on the planet to criticize either – the truth does hurt. Now, it’s time for everyone to get into the act and, as with our public servants, require our media to serve our information needs (not he needs they deem ours SHOULD be). The NYT may be the ‘heavy’ but there’s a nation of silence in our media being “tolerated” by WE the people these days. Frankly, e are as much to blame for buying their papers as they are for printing them. Where are we headed? I shake my head…

I love that you’ve been so level-headed (I am so done with all politicians and wet noodle journalism that I can’t help but be an activist at this point) – but I’m most glad to see you throwing this punch Walter. Keep ‘em comin’!

19 marianne 02.19.09 at 8:27 am

As usual you have hit it on the head. Thank Goodness small businesses have you championing for them. We have been so appreciative of your commitment to fighting CPSIA and all of the misinformation out there. Thank you for this post. I intend to share it with our followers on Twitter and beyond.

20 Shauna 02.19.09 at 11:12 am
21 Heather Idoni 02.20.09 at 1:07 pm

Excellent article.

I wrote this last night — a Dr. Seuss style story about CPSIA –

http://easyfunschool.com/the_CPSIA_meets_Dr_Seuss.html

22 Melvin H. 02.22.09 at 12:38 pm

Just remember everyone . . . this is the same New York Times which has “predicted” on at least seven occasions in the last 100+ years that we are going through or about to go through either “global warming” or “global cooling”, alternating depending on when the story was written. (It’s now the “global warming” phase.)

23 Melvin H. 02.22.09 at 12:50 pm

Gerry (#8)–that’s an insult to so-called “cable television rants”!!! :-)

24 Dad 02.23.09 at 10:31 pm

I, too, appreciate all your efforts in championing small businesses.

I find it interesting that the CPSIA makes ASTM F963 a mandatory standard. The standard is only available from astm.org and it is not free ($58) . It’s a small cost compared to testing for lead and phathlates, but another irritating expense for a handmade toy maker who wants to know all the rules before producing another toy.

25 Steve Owens 03.20.09 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for the hard work and giving an actual evaluation of what those brain dead representatives on Capitol Hill are up to.

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