Reporter David Cay Johnston vs. His Book Review Critic

Fight! Fight!

Times tax reporter David Cay Johnston and New Republic reporter Jonathan Chait face off in the letters section of the Sunday Times Book Review over a mildly unfavorable review Chait gave to Johnston's book in the Times book review two weeks ago.

Here's Johnston:

Jonathan Chait's review of my book "Free Lunch" (Feb. 3) ignores its central thesis and neglects to disclose that he wrote a competing book.

He writes that I embrace litigiousness to solve societal problems. In fact, I describe litigation as "scary and nasty" and show ways to reduce lawsuits. My solution is for taxpayers to cover the full costs of Congress, ending legalized bribery.

Chait writes that I regard corporations as "inherently malevolent," which is ridiculous given that I am chairman of the board of a small corporation with big ambitions. He says I regard deregulation as "evil," when I wrote that deregulation is a fantasy and I show new regulations that thwart market capitalism, drive up prices and hinder competition. The only things I call "evil," citing the Bible, are policies that take from the many to give to the rich.

Chait twists words I use to describe the shared values of those Democrats and Republicans who favor people over corporations to make them appear as my views, not a description of theirs.

Chait misleadingly connects me to a faction of Democrats and calls me a left-wing populist, even though I am a registered Republican, a matter of public record that is posted all over the Internet, and without mentioning that classic conservative values drawn from Adam Smith, Andrew Mellon and the Bible are invoked throughout "Free Lunch."

"Free Lunch" is full of news, hard facts and plain-English explanations of how market capitalism has been perverted. Chait did an excellent job of one thing - hiding what "Free Lunch" actually says from readers of The New York Times Book Review.

Chait replied in part:

That Johnston can deny that he embraces litigiousness is bizarre. He depicts trial lawyers as heroes and wrote that every American has dreamed of fighting a case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Johnston's quibble with "evil" is wordplay.

It is beyond clear that the views Johnston ascribed to "peoplists" are his own. It is equally clear that Johnston's views reside on the political left, despite his finding agreeable quotes from Adam Smith, Andrew Mellon and the Bible. I'm relieved that he does not dispute my characterization of his viewpoint as Naderite, because Nader's campaign is currently offering copies of "Free Lunch" to its donors.

Jonathan Chait is no one's idea of a conservative, by the way. Remember the article that began "I hate President George W. Bush?" That's him.