AJC Stirring Up the Anti-Census Crowd with Falsehoods

Bob Barr says--without evidence--the gubmint can force its way into your home when you're not there

Drudge is linking to an incendiary Atlanta Journal-Constitution blog post by former congressman Bob Barr.

Barr claims in his headline that “Census workers can enter your apartment in your absence.” Which sounds awfully fishy to anyone not cowering in the census-is-taking-our-freedoms fever swamps, watching for black helicopters. Here’s Barr:

What many Americans don’t realize, is that census workers — from the head of the Bureau and the Secretary of Commerce (its parent agency) down to the lowliest and newest Census employee — are empowered under federal law to actually demand access to any apartment or any other type of home or room that is rented out, in order to count persons in the abode and for “the collection of statistics.” If the landlord of such apartment or other leased premises refuses to grant the government worker access to your living quarters, whether you are present or not, the landlord can be fined $500.00.

That’s right — not only can citizens be fined if they fail to answer the increasingly intrusive questions asked of them by the federal government under the guise of simply counting the number of people in the country; but a landlord must give them access to your apartment whether you’re there or not, in order to gather whatever “statistics” the law permits.

Get the shotgun, Mable!

Excuse me for being skeptical, but Barr doesn’t report any anecdotes of such home invasions. Surely they’d make for good copy and surely they’d exist since the relevant code is more than a half-century old. Nor does he link to anything like or quote from the U.S. Code so we can read it for ourselves. All red flags. And sure enough, there’s a good reason he doesn’t:

Here’s the relevant section (emphasis mine):

Sec. 223. Refusal, by owners, proprietors, etc., to assist census employees Whoever, being the owner, proprietor, manager, superintendent, or agent of any hotel, apartment house, boarding or lodging house, tenement, or other building, refuses or willfully neglects, when requested by the Secretary or by any other officer or employee of the Department of Commerce or bureau or agency thereof, acting under the instructions of the Secretary, to furnish the names of the occupants of such premises, or to give free ingress thereto and egress therefrom to any duly accredited representative of such Department or bureau or agency thereof, so as to permit the collection of statistics with respect to any census provided for in subchapters I and II of chapter 5 of this title, or any survey authorized by subchapter IV or V of such chapter insofar as such survey relates to any of the subjects for which censuses are provided by such subchapters I and II, including, when relevant to the census or survey being taken or made, the proper and correct enumeration of all persons having their usual place of abode in such premises, shall be fined not more than $500.

The law is clearly talking about landlords of community-housing buildings like apartment complexes and the like. “Ingress” and “egress” refer to requiring the landlord to let Census workers onto the property to knock on doors—not to let them into the apartments when you’re not there.

So Barr is willfully misreading the law. He adds the “in your absence” part just for spice and Drudge links.

There’s a journalistic problem for the AJC here, of course. At a sensitive time when demagogues are stirring up ridiculous fears about the Census, the AJC is printing evidence-free rantings from a demagogue stirring up more ridiculous fears about the Census. That matters. It’s giving the mainstream, responsible press’s imprimatur to the paranoia of the Internets, which is perfectly captured by a comment on Barr’s post:

If they have the balls & spine to enter my house where my 120-lb police-trained German Shepherd lives – then enter at your own risk. We are locked and loaded for these ACORN thugs! There are over a dozen reports around the US of the Census hiring pedophiles, convicted rapists, and illegals who are forcing their way into homes and raping women in the home. The 2nd Amendment applies before the 4th — if you enter my home, without my permission – good luck! I would especially love it if you do work for ACORN, SEIU, the black panthers, or the other thug groups OPovertyPimpDaddy pays!

You’re entitled to your opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts. And it’s not okay to willfully misread a law, back it up with no evidence, and scare the living daylights out of your readers.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.