Keeping Up With the Jones Act

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Have you heard of the Jones Act? Unless you read Newsmax and listen to a lot of right-wing radio, probably not. It’s an obscure statute that’s been on the books since 1920, and it requires all shipping between U.S. ports or in U.S. coastal waters to be carried in U.S.-flag ships that are owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.

So why are conservatives suddenly up in arms about it? Because, they claim, it’s a labor-inspired rule that’s obstructing aid to a Gulf Coast being ravaged by the BP oil spill. Why, if only President Obama would stand up to the union bosses and grant a waiver to the rule, we could get help from the Dutch, the Norwegians, the Belgians, and all the other countries that desperately want to help but are being kept away. Sarah Palin got the ball rolling on this meme a couple of weeks ago when she said, “It’s amazing to me and to so many others that though President Bush had been able to waive Jones Act provisions for Katrina, President Obama hasn’t thought to do that yet?” It’s been a right-wing talking point ever since.

This is, as it happens, entirely false. No waivers have been requested yet because so far none have been needed. The Jones Act doesn’t apply to vessels like oil skimmers that would be used in coastal areas, and the world’s largest skimmer, a converted Taiwanese supertanker, is in the Gulf and will begin operations soon. It doesn’t apply at all more than three miles off the coast, where the spill itself is taking place. There are, it turns out, over a dozen foreign flagged ships helping out with spill operations. “To date,” reports FactCheck.org, “25 countries and four international organizations have offered support in the form of skimming vessels, containment and fire boom, technical assistance and response solutions, among others.” Only one offer has been declined.

Not surprised? Me neither. But I was pleasantly suprised by this headline on a Jones Act story distributed on Wednesday by McClatchy:

GOP’s false talking point: Jones Act blocks Gulf help

One of the reasons that conservatives get away with mendacious memes like this one is because the media rarely calls them out directly on it. When it came up on Meet the Press last weekend, for example, David Gregory’s response was “Mm-hmm,” and it was left to Rep Ed Markey (D–Mass.) to explain why the charge was baseless. So three cheers to the heroic but anonymous copy editor at McClatchy who read William Douglas’s story and didn’t try to fudge things. It’s a false talking point, full stop, and it’s nice to see someone in a mainstream organization say so plainly.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest