An Open Letter to the Human Rights Campaign

New York City, March 11, 2007

Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036-3278
Via email: hrc@hrc.org

Media Matters for America
1625 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Suite 300
Washington, DC 20036
Via email: mm-tips@mediamatters.org

Re: Ann Coulter Censorship Campaign

To the Boards of Directors:

As a progressive American who shares your views, it pains me to learn that the Human Rights Campaign and Media Matters for America have sunk to the same tactics to silence syndicated columnist Ann Coulter as right-wing extremists deployed against me and other commentators critical of the Bush Administration during the politically repressive years following the September 11, 2001 attacks.

I find Coulter’s work both ideologically and tonally at odds with my own. She is an intellectually dishonest purveyor of hate speech whose cover—”it’s only a joke”—is belied by the fact that she isn’t funny. My contempt for her is also personal. At the 2006 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., and in her column, she slandered and libeled me by falsely stating that “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau and I had both entered Iran’s Holocaust cartoon contest.

So Coulter is no friend or ally. She is my foe and, I believe, an enemy of core American values of decency, generosity and common sense. As a fervent proponent of the First Amendment and an opinion monger who relies upon the right to free expression to earn a living, however, I must set aside my personal resentment—and I ask you to do the same. “I disapprove of what you say,” Voltaire supposedly said (but probably didn’t), “but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It’s a noble and very American sentiment even if it’s a quotation misattributed to a Frenchman.

It is without pleasure but with profound sincerity that I respectfully request that you drop your campaign to ask newspapers to drop Coulter’s column in the aftermath of her archetypically reprehensible remark that Senator John Edwards is a “faggot.”

During the 1950s, a defining characteristic of McCarthyism was to deprive actors of work in Hollywood to punish them for political views expressed elsewhere. Attempting to stifle a creative person in a forum in reaction to content that did not appear in that forum is a chilling revival of the spirit of McCarthyism. Coulter’s “faggot” slur occurred in a speech to the 2007 gathering of CPAC, not her column. Displeasure at her remark would be more appropriately directed at that organization, which invited her back despite her equally distasteful rhetoric last year.

Moreover, the specific means you are encouraging people to use to contact newspaper editors are pernicious and possibly illegal. Many will misrepresent themselves as regular readers and/or subscribers to these publications, advocating a kind of fraud that may constitute a crime—”tortious interference with contract”—in many states. Your websites contain form letters and “talking points” which you ask people to send to a list of editors of newspapers that carry Coulter’s column. Your obvious intent is to convince each editor that his or her newspapers’ readers are angry about her column when, in fact, 99 percent of the emails received by each editor will be sent by someone who lives nowhere near the publication’s area of circulation, and her column is not directly at issue.

Will this work? Possibly, in some cases. Right-wing extremist groups used similar sleazy tactics against me between 2001 and 2005, asking conservatives to impersonate angry subscribers to my client publications. While most editors saw through the deception, some didn’t. In the ideologically charged atmosphere of the time, even papers with sterling, left-of-center reputations were cowed into submission. During the Clinton years, I was one of The New York Times’ most frequently reprinted editorial cartoonists, and a contributor to the Op-Ed Page. Under Bush my work appeared a few times before disappearing.

Now that the political winds have changed in our favor, progressives whose views were marginalized, insulted as acts of treason and subsequently vindicated by events are understandably tempted to get even with caustic personalities like Coulter for their vitriol and intolerance. More than ever, however, we must resist the urge to lower ourselves to their level. How can we complain about right-wing hatred if we match it with our own? How can we bemoan right-wing censorship campaigns if we do the same thing?

We must take the high road, and not merely because it’s the right thing to do. Remember, the “they do it too” race to the bottom cuts both ways. A few years ago, liberals who complained about right-wing censorship were reminded of 1990s-era campaigns to boycott the sponsors of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s radio show and get Rush Limbaugh fired from his side job as a sports commentator.

“The issue is that anti-gay epithets should be so beyond the pale that anyone who uses them immediately becomes anathema to public discourse,” wrote HRC President Joe Solmonese in The Huffington Post. Even for a militant defender of gay rights like me, this argument makes me shudder. Once we establish one litmus test for who’s allowed access to the public square—no “F” word, no “N” word—who’s to stop the other side for doing the same—no Bush-bashing, no criticizing the troops?

Censorship of pundits who spew idiotic words like “faggot” only adds to their hateful power. HRC would be much better off directing its energies towards it core mission of “working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality…[and] end[ing] discrimination against GLBT citizens.” Isn’t making marriage available to everyone who falls in love more important than spinning your wheels in a vain attempt to erase a single vulgar slur from the dictionary?

Media Matters for America’s mission statement states that it is “dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media.” Where does censoring people like Ann Coulter fit with this goal? She is, after all, one of the leading purveyors of “conservative misinformation.” If you get her and her ilk to shut up, what will you have to monitor, analyze and correct?

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Very truly yours,
Ted Rall

Ted Rall, winner of the 1995 and 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged, is a syndicated editorial cartoonist and columnist for Universal Press Syndicate. He is, most recently, author of “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?”

10 Responses to “”

  1. SuperJared Says:

    Amen, Ted.

  2. Socialist Dave Says:

    I disagree. Why should we be civil to someone so bigoted? I’m sorry Ted, but most people don’t have the financial backing to have their opinions heard by millions. Ann Coulter does, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and be marginalized while assholes like her keep getting sponsors to help spread their racist and sexist ideas. Don’t talk to me about freedom of speech while millions of Americans are yelling at the top of their lungs and still aren’t being heard.

  3. Ted Rall Says:

    That’s what conservatives say/said to justify shutting me down. They said I was “bigoted” against the military, 9/11 widows, Bush, etc. They may not be right that liberals control the media but most grass-roots conservatives feel powerless compared to a guy like me–and they’d love me to shut up.

    Standing up for your opponent’s free speech isn’t nice. It’s self-preservation.

  4. Bil Says:

    I understand your point Ted and the painful part of trying to be better than they were to us, requires you to sort of look like you are defending Coulter. I could live with that since I think she can be funny and is usually trying to be provocative and succeeds. I also am not crazy about piling on and group behaviour in general when someone makes a mistake.
    BUT where I don’t agree is that I think you are seeing BOTH sides say THAT IS ENOUGH, STOP IT. And punishment is the way that works, Skinner was right, we just don’t want to admit it.
    Progressives need to mean up anyway, it is too bad but we have been trained by the best. Ann knew this day would come anyway. I don’t wish her any ill but I never imagined it would be a pretty picture.
    I appreciate your voice very much, don’t stop. Thanks.

  5. onetwothree Says:

    Simple way to increase Coulter’s popularity by 10x: Try to ban her. I mean–the same thing happened to “Al Franken”, and Bill O’Reilly did nothing but help him.

    Gotta wonder at the cluelessness of people sometimes.

  6. J. Gilhousen Says:

    Dear Mr. Ralls,

    I can certainly appreciate your reaction to the e-mail campaigns of Media Matters and Campaign for Human Rights seeking to reduce the number of newspapers carrying Ann Coulter, and the false air of authenticity her appearance in them provides. This is perfectly understandable, especially given your experiences with similar (although I would argue more sinister by virtue of their inherent deceptiveness) campaigns from the right against you.

    I have to respectfully disagree with your couching your position in First Amendment, and even McCarthyistic, terms. Nor do I agree that these campaigns seek to “silence” Ms. Coulter. A staunch civil libertarian (and one who greatly appreciates your creative work), I would oppose any attempt at preventing her writing whatever hateful, dishonest, and loathesome bile she chooses to spew. However, I enthusiastically joined the campaign against giving her literary vomit the imprimatur of the institutions of establishment journalism.

    In fact, you are proposal requires that MM and CHR and ordinary citizens voluntarily forfeit their own First Amendments by applying prior restraint rather than express their own opposition to the editorial decisions of those who have the power to make them, whether individually or by organizing to seek redress of their grievances with the press.

    Having had your own ox gored (admittedly under circumstances I consider a travesty), in honesty, I have to admit that were I in your shoes, I would probably be inclined to take your position in this matter. I would only ask that you consider that there are some legitimate circumstances under which members of the public can and must challenge the media. Were I a newspaper owner or publisher, I might be tempted to increase my circulation by publishing, for example, a serialization of O.J.’s tome, publication of which in book form was cancelled, as I’m sure you recall, as the result of a similar public uproar to the one now playing out. If I were to succumb to such temptation, I would expect the public to, at the very least, lobby me vigorously to reconsider.

    This may be a matter on which, as reasonable persons, you and I will continue to disagree. I felt compelled, however, to let you know that there are thoughtful and responsible individuals, like myself, who consider the publication of the work of the likes of Ms. Coulter, a professional purveyor of hate, in the pages of a newspaper to be rightly outside the scope of First Amendment guarantees.

    Respectfully,

    John-Mark Gilhousen

    P.S. I greatly appreciate your creative work.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    I think the entertainment corporations are ditching Coulter because her and transparently poor effort to push their agenda. They dropped Ted for the exact opposite reason; because his expression of his opinions were effective and counter to their perceived interests. If she was perceived to operate in the same (boys only)echo chamber as Limbaugh, Savage or Beck, I doubt everyone would have dropped her.

  8. sbalb Says:

    It is our civility towards those who despise us, and who arguably deserve our wrath in return, that marks us as being most profoundly different from them.

    Or, if you like: the quality of mercy is not strained. At any rate, where it is strained, you can pretend that your clenched teeth are actually set in a welcoming smile.

  9. Bil Says:

    I think I do get a sense of the utter disdain and contempt that conservatives have for liberals and progressives.
    Does ANYONE think that Ann Coulter would cut any of us any slack?
    Wonderful free country, free speech and right to switch my accounts from Amazon to Abebooks.com, I will go back to pinging Amazon and objecting that they are now the only advertiser left on Ann Coulter’s site, no welcoming smile ,-)

  10. Mark Case Says:

    Well done Ted, well done.

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