Conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter says she will make an appearance at the University of California at Berkeley on April 27 despite university officials cancelling a previously scheduled on-campus event. [See updates below.]
I’m not a fan of Coulter. I wrote about the conservative’s narcissistic “antics” in my last book, Shameless: The Ethical Case Against Three Out-of-Control Critics, and the Need for Civility Now, More Than Ever!
“I used to like Ann Coulter,” I wrote, “back in the day when she’d appear on Politically Incorrect, an earlier incarnation of comedian Bill Maher’s cable show. She was smart, sharp, and incredibly fluent on a variety of political and social issues. …
However, I pointed out, “armed with eight weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and the release of her second book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right (2002), Coulter [began to believe] her own press-clippings and engage in saying and writing anything outrageous, because for Coulter it’s not about the message, it’s all about the messenger. …
“…the indispensable tactic in the Coulter Catechism is, first and foremost, the ad hominem assault.
“ ‘I was going to have a few comments about John Edwards but you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot.’
“ ‘I think our motto should be, post-9/11, ‘raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.’
“ ‘Press passes can’t be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the President.’ ”
Nonetheless, as much as I dislike Coulter, I like and support the First Amendment more.
In the 50s and 60s, U.C. Berkeley had speakers who rallied against everything from Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy’s anti-communist oath to the war in Vietnam, Civil Rights, and the Free Speech Movement.
Free Speech, Berkeley… FREE SPEECH!
“In a letter to a campus Republican group that invited Coulter to speak,” The Washington Post writes (Apr. 20), “university officials said Wednesday that they made the decision to cancel Coulter’s appearance after assessing the violence that flared on campus in February, when the same college Republican group invited right-wing provocateur and now-former Breitbart News senior editor Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. As the protest and clashes escalated during the Yiannopoulos’ event, some began setting fires, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails and attacking members of the crowd.
“The violence and damage caused by Yiannopoulos’s invitation garnered national attention and forced officials to put the campus on lockdown.”
While I can understand Berkeley’s concern for student safety, I would argue that officials dealt with far worse violent protests in the 60s.
“The decision to cancel Coulter’s speech,” The Post continued, “drew sharp criticism from some on the campus, such as Robert Reich, a Berkeley professor who served as Labor Secretary under President Bill Clinton.
“ ‘This is a grave mistake,’ Reich wrote in a Facebook post. He said universities should ‘do everything possible to foster and protect’ free speech, writing that students should be allowed to hear Coulter’s arguments and question them.
“ ‘It’s one thing to cancel an address at the last moment because university and local police are not prepared to contain violence … It’s another thing entirely to cancel an address before it is given, when police have adequate time to prepare for such eventualities,’ he said.”
It’s hard for me to believe that Berkeley, the bastion of Free Speech, has capitulated to…
We interrupt this commentary for … BREAKING NEWS…
In a swift about-face, administrators at Berkeley will now permit Coulter to speak at the university on May 2.
As reported by The New York Times (Apr. 20), “At a news conference on Thursday, Nicholas B. Dirks, the chancellor, said the police had ‘very specific intelligence’ of threats ‘that could pose a grave danger to the speaker’ and others if it had allowed Ms. Coulter to appear next Thursday. Some recent speeches at Berkeley and other colleges have attracted violent protests.
“The university had said on Wednesday that it would try to reschedule her appearance in September, but on Thursday Mr. Dirks said it had found ‘an appropriate, protectable venue that is available on the afternoon of May 2.’ …
“The original decision to cancel next week’s talk had been criticized not just by Ms. Coulter, but also by groups and thinkers across the political spectrum who viewed it as a letdown for free speech.
“ ‘Free speech is what universities are all about,’ Robert Reich, …wrote on his website. …
“Mr. Reich also let it be known what he thought of the speaker, while defending her right to speak. ‘How can students understand the vapidity of Coulter’s arguments without being allowed to hear her make them, and question her about them?’ he said.”
Despite last February’s protesters, officials now believe that they will be able to provide a safe on-campus venue for both Coulter and students.
I’m glad that Berkeley administrators are returning to reason, common sense, as well as safety, when it comes to hosting controversial speakers.
And now…. MORE BREAKING NEWS — April 21, 2017
As reported by The Washington Post, Coulter now “…says she can’t make it that day, and the student group that invited her is threatening to sue the school.
“The university announced Wednesday that it was canceling Coulter’s appearance following several political protests in Berkeley that turned violent. But on Thursday, the university said it had found a venue where it could hold the speech on a different day, May 2, instead of the original April 27 date.
“Coulter and the college Republican group arranging her event said they are rejecting the new invitation, and a lawyer, representing the organizer, has been hired.”
In response, Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said, “Everything we’re doing is so the speaker and students can actually exercise their rights without disruption,” Mogulof said. “It’s hard to understand this display of disdain and disregard for the assessment of law enforcement professionals, particularly when their primary concern is the safety and well-being of college students.”
Milk every last ounce of media attention you can. But sorry, Ann, you’ve lost this one.