M. Stanton Evans May Be Gone, But His Legacy Is Felt In Journalism Today

John Berlau Senior Fellow, CEI
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What do best-selling author and New Yorker correspondent Malcolm Gladwell, ABC News Chief Foreign Correspondent Terry Moran, popular conservative journalist and author John Fund, and this writer have in common? We are all graduates of the National Journalism Center internship program, under the leadership of M. Stanton Evans.

Stan, as he was called by friends (and whom I was privileged to call a friend after I graduated from the program) died last week at 80 of pancreatic cancer. He had no children, but left behind a legacy of students dispersed in prominent positions in media and public policy. All of us benefitted from the lessons he imparted on the importance of finding facts, regardless of opinion, on the subjects we were researching.

“I tell my students even if you are an opinion journalist, your opinion should be based on facts,” Stan told New York Times reporter Adam Clymer in an interview that was quoted in Clymer’s NYT obituary (which is a surprisingly good summation of Stan’s life and impact). This is a lesson I took with me from my NJC internship in the summer of 1993 to my reporting positions at Investor’s Business Daily and the Washington Times’ Insight magazine, and to which I still adhere in my current position as policy researcher and advocate at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Stan had many accomplishments other than his leadership at NJC from its founding in 1977 until 2002. A founding member of Young Americans for Freedom in 1960, he authored its famous “Sharon Statement” outlining conservative and libertarian principles. Among other things, the statement affirms “that the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government, and that it is at the same time the most productive supplier of human needs.”

Also in 1960, at the age of 26, Stan became editor of the Indianapolis News, a position he would hold for 15 years. He was chairman of the American Conservative Union from 1971 to 1977, and oversaw the creation of ACU’s Conservative Political Action Conference (better known by its initials, CPAC). And he authored or co-authored 10 books, including Blacklisted by History – a controversial yet well-researched defense of Sen. Joe McCarthy’s investigation of communists in the U.S. government – and The Theme Is Freedom – which shows that individual liberties stem from Judaism and Christianity.

Many of Stan’s witticisms – such as “Liberals don’t care what you do as long as it’s compulsory” and “Gridlock is the next best thing to having a Constitution” – have been quoted in his obituaries. As conservative pundit Ann Coulter (another NJC grad under Stan) wrote, “For decades, Stan was tapped to MC every conservative event in Washington because of his dry wit.”

I witnessed first-hand the power of Stan’s humor as an NJC intern and in subsequent years. Recognizing the importance pop culture, Stan would pepper his talk with references that would take many younger folks by surprise at his knowledge of the day’s trends.

For instance, in explaining how things in politics aren’t always what they appear to be, he once said: “It’s like the [MTV] show Beavis and Butthead. You would think that the fellow named Butthead would be the most stupid of the two, but that’s not so. It’s Beavis.”

Later, at an Accuracy in Academia conference I heard him give in 2013 to a crowd mostly consisting of students, Stan said, “I am the last person in America who does not keep up with Kardashians,” and “I have a dumb phone.”

And I’ll never forget when Stan gave to my intern class at NJC what is to this date best explanation of the folly of price controls I have ever come across. “Suppose the government dictates that bikes can only be sold for a dollar,” he opened, explaining that he hesitated to even make such a suggestion on the chance that some politician would take it up, no matter how absurd. “It costs you $100 to make a bike. How many bikes would you make for $100 that you could only sell for $1. Try none!”

If only politicians who voted for price controls such as Dodd-Frank’s Durbin Amendment — which mandates “reasonable and proportional” interchange fees that banks can charge retailers for debit card transactions — or net neutrality – which in its latest incarnation from the FCC will set “just and reasonable” prices internet companies can charge for bandwidth — could have heard Stan’s lecture! Maybe they still would have voted for these foolish policies, but they would have at least known how wrong they were in their hearts and their heads.

Fortunately, Stan’s wisdom, wit, and kindness touched the heads and hearts of so many in journalism and policy today. R.I.P Stan.

John Berlau, senior fellow for finance and access to capital at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, interned at National Journalism Center – under the leadership of M. Stanton Evans – in 1993