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New York Times gets Rand Paul wrong

(Long, important post. Delicious dose of fun, courtesy of @JamilSmith, after the jump -- I promise.)

(Long, important post. Delicious dose of fun, courtesy of @JamilSmith, after the jump -- I promise.)

Here goes: To understand Wednesday's interview with Rand Paul, it helps to remember why Rachel Maddow kept asking Paul whether he believes the government can ban private businesses from discriminating. For instance, should a restaurant be able to bar Latino customers, or a hotel turn Asians away? Maddow and Paul kept talking, blowing through commercial breaks and burning up the Twitters and testing the mettle of our control room because Paul hadn't answered the question. Did he believe the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was correct in restricting private businesses from discriminating? Yes or no? Kentucky's new Republican nominee for Senate didn't really answer. So you can imagine our surprise when we read this report today in the New York Times:

Asked by Ms. Maddow if a private business had the right to refuse to serve black people, Mr. Paul replied, “Yes.”

And it's true that if you read the transcript of the interview without watching the interview itself, you might think Paul had answered the question in the affirmative -- instead of not answering, which was in fact the case. The transcript reads:

MADDOW: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don‘t serve black people?

PAUL: Yes. I‘m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race.

But I think what‘s important about this debate is not written into any specific “gotcha” on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent?

First, please know that the people who transcribe our show do exactly what they're supposed to do -- they write down the words that get said, as best as the situation allows. Then it's up to other human beings to do their own homework. If you watch the interview, you'll see that Rand Paul's "Yes" -- or "Yunh" -- is really "I hear you, I'm listening, our wires got crossed, I'm about to answer." Paul utters that "Yunh" after a bit of crosstalk and a delay in transmission from the remote hookup. He's being polite. Watch this:

The "yunh" is so inconsequential that the Huffington Post, which wrote about the interview before the transcript appeared, left it out. As a preventive measure, I'll point out a second spot in the interview that could trip folks up. You might think Paul was advocating resegregation, if you just read this snippet of the transcript:

MADDOW: But unless it‘s illegal, there‘s nothing to stop that--there‘s nothing under your world view to stop the country from re-segregating like we were before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 --

PAUL: Right.

MADDOW: -- which you‘re saying you‘ve got some issues with.

In the flow of the interview, that "right" from Paul just means, again, "I'm listening." It's not "I'm listening and I want resegregation." Roll the tape:

Why spend so much time correcting the Times? Because Paul holds distinct views about government intervention, views that some find inspiring and others troubling. He most certainly believes in the sanctity of the private sphere. That has real-world implications. If government can't regulate restaurants with regard to discrimination, can it regulate them with regard to food safety? Does Paul care more about the principle of free speech on a Jim Crow sign than the free travel of African Americans? These are important questions, ones the public should wrestle with and earnestly try to figure out. OK, we've reached the fun part. Jay Smooth watched the Rand Paul interview, and he didn't see yes-or-no answers. Smooth suggests Paul dodged the questions -- because he knows his ideas are going to sound "really weird and alienating." Let him tell you: