Human Rights Campaign Responds; I Reply

A spokesman for the HRC (I’ll spare her email in-box by not posting her name) has replied by email to my Open Letter about their campaign to get Ann Coulter out of newspaper syndication. Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you for contacting the Human Rights Campaign regarding censorship and the First Amendment.

We take freedom of speech and First Amendment issues very seriously, and we understand your concerns.

We believe that this is not a question of censorship. There are plenty of other people on the right who share Coulter’s values and views but understand the value of civility and respect.

Ann Coulter is free to spew her vile and hateful speech but as a community we are also free to exercise our collective power. And when Coulter defends herself on Fox News by saying “‘faggot’ isn’t offensive to gays,” it is our responsibility to make sure she, and those who carry her columns, understand that we know otherwise. “Faggot” is a loaded word — a word that too often is used as a weapon to demean and wound our community.

If she had made a racist or anti-Semitic remark, there would not have even been a question of whether a newspaper should continue carrying her columns. We must speak out in order to move the “F word” into that same column of universally understood hate speech.

Thank you again for contacting us and if you have any other questions please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

Now here’s my reply:

I hate to belabor the point–well, really two points–but it’s important to note that Coulter’s comment did not appear in her column, but rather in a speech. Surely there’s a First Amendment issue involved when one is punished for one’s views, no matter how reprehensible, by being deprived of earning a livelihood in another forum.

If I own a restaurant, for example, should I fire a waiter after I learn he is a neo-Nazi skinhead? Even neo-Nazi skinheads are entitled to pay their rent, as long as they don’t spew their political beliefs at my customers, other waiters or myself. To believe otherwise is to advocate economic censorship. To say otherwise is to embrace the sophistic statement that one is free to say whatever one pleases as long as one is willing to accept starvation as a result.

You are mistaken when you write: “If she had made a racist or anti-Semitic remark, there would not have even been a question of whether a newspaper should continue carrying her columns.” Coulter has in fact made numerous racist comments in her column, including her use of the derogatory slur “raghead” to refer to Muslims. It is a tribute to the Muslim-American community that they did not try to counter her bigotry in this respect with a call for censorship–one that only would have served to strengthen her.

I agree with you that “faggot” is not a word that elevates civilized debate. Its use epitomizes not only homophobia in the most literal sense, but the anti-intellectual strain that keeps America from being as good a nation as it could be. But it’s only a word—and no word should prompt us to go down the road that leads to any form of censorship or would-be censorship.

There are more constructive ways for political progressives to flex their muscle. When gays and lesbians in Columbus, Ohio had trouble convincing local bar owners to open their doors to a “gay night” a few years back, they wrote “gay money” on their paper money and spent it locally. When “gay money” began turning up in the till, bar owners realized they were ignoring a potential source of income at their own detriment.

Anyway, Ann Coulter is not the enemy. The “mainstream” Republicans who embrace her as their attack dog, such as presidential candidate Mitt Romney who introduced her at CPAC, are those who are truly keeping us back.

21 Responses to “”

  1. Matt Says:

    the “mainstream” Republicans… are those who are truly keeping us back…

    Exactly. The ones who should be getting the flack here are the CPAC and the Republicans who have supported Coulter, paying her for appearances and buoying her books up the best-seller lists.

    Republicans say they are shocked – shocked – that Coulter would use derogatory language in her speech at CPAC. Really guys? Someone who called Muslims “ragheads”, said that we should invade Muslim countries and convert them to Christianity, joked that Ted Rall and Garry Trudeau entered the Holocaust cartoon contest, and wrote a book to rehab McCarthy’s character… and you were surprised? Bullshit.

    People like Coulter serve a useful purpose for the Republican Party. They motivate the racist, homophobic, redneck idiot wing of the party to vote without requiring that Republican politicians say things that would horrify moderate voters and get them bounced from office. In other words, they give Republicans plausible deniability, so that Republicans can act surprised when the fact that many GOP voters are driven by hate surfaces from time to time, the same way that a US president can act surprised that the CIA was behind toppling leftists in backwater countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala.

    The idea that a majority of Republicans are offended by “faggot” is laughable. These people have built a political base around denying homosexuals the right to marry, adopt, and so on. You can enact any bigoted policy you want if you’re in the GOP, as long as you talk nice. So, you can’t use the n-word, but you can allow thousands of African-Americans to suffer terribly after Hurricane Katrina.

    The reality is that CPAC knew exactly what they were getting with Coulter. The reality is that her views exactly reflect the views of the Republican Party. The only difference is that she has the balls to be honest about her views. CPAC didn’t count on Coulter’s appearance becoming a story in the mainstream media, because usually these things go undetected. With their faces covered with enough egg to make an omelette the size of Afghanistan, Republican politicians were forced to go into “we’re a big tent party, we don’t hate anyone, we can’t believe Ann Coulter would say that” mode.

    That should be the issue – the fact that the Republican Party is built on hating gays, Muslims, blacks, and liberals – not some stupid word that Ann Coulter used.

  2. Andy Says:

    But how do you go after the entire Republican Party? They’re too big and they are diverse enough one runs the risk of making a foul of oneself.

    Coulter gets free speak, but so do we. There is no reason we shouldn’t tell the media we think she should be fired for being an idiot. Your waiter point is sophistic because expressing opinions on anything but food is outside the waiter’s job description. Not so with a political columnist.

    That said letter campaigns in where people misrepresent themselves as subscribers are immoral. HRC should caution their members NOT to engage in this sort of behavior.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    The really unintentionally funny thing Coulter said later was that gays should all be voting Republican because most of them are rich and the GOP would offer protection from high taxes, failing, of course, to understand that most gays are less obsessed with the accumulation of wealth than insuring their personal liberties.

    It is obvious why this would not occur to her because Republicans are like Sauron: the only measure they know is desire for power (and money), and thus do they judge all others.

    As far as the campaign to get her sacked; unfortunately, Ted, you are 100% correct. As nauseating as it is to admit it, the true Liberal (or Progressive, as many too ashamed of the “L” word call themselves) MUST accept that for Coulter to be sandbagged as she is, and to be the target of an organized effort to censor her by penalizing her monetarily, is just as wrong as when the right-wingers do it to one of ours. Any other stance is hypocrisy.

    Having said this, there is one point I would like to add regarding your Nazi-skinhead example. Would not the restaurant owner be forced to fire the waiter if people refused to come knowing such a person worked there, regardless of whether or not the employee was spewing hate on the clock? Again, this is an economic decision of the employer, not a political one. After all, the employer has to pay his rent and feed his kids, too. In a situation like that, it is easier to forgive the restaurant owner than the waiter since the waiter brought it on himself.

    Personally speaking, banning Coulter from print or the airwaves is not much different than the media outlets banning Paris Hilton news for a week. Neither one really has anything worthwhile to add to life in general, let alone the national debate.

    Evil Kumquat

  4. JXC Says:

    There’s about zero chance that Coulter’s ever going to be cencored, there will always be a market for that kind of filth.
    She’s already rich, she’ll never go broke unless she adopts the spending habits of Mike Tyson. Her future income and livelyhood are hardly in doubt.
    That being said, is it the responsibility of the activist at HRC to protect her right to profitable hate speech? Probably not in their charter, they’re more about protecting the dignity of the agrieved minorities and even dishing out some payback.
    The HRC is not trampling the Constitution here, they’re hitting back at one of the vilest haters out there, one who defends the dismantling of the Constitution at every opportunity. I respect your view but those who object to Coulter’s outburst have to do so by the strongest means possible.

  5. Craig Says:

    I love your columns and cartoons, Ted, but I must disagree with you here on Coulter.

    The problem with Coulter isn’t her right to exercise free speech, it’s that she’s utterly and totally abused that right by continuing to spew hate. Not only that, but she preaches hate for financial gain.

    Hate speech should not be protected, nor should it be tolerated.

  6. Dave Says:

    With all due respect, Craig, I believe that shying away from hate speech by curtailing one’s freedom to say what they believe is a cowardly act. When Neo-Nazis or the Klan march in Washington DC, what you get is 100 police defending the rights of 20 morons against 2,000 protesters. The message is clear, they aren’t in the majority. Sunlight has always been the best disinfectant, and Republicans would like nothing better than to have well-intentioned liberals do their dirty work of censoring Coulter so that they can continue to pretend their hands are clean.

    They own her, and she owns them, I say as a proud liberal that they deserve each other and we decent people should stay out of it. Labeling what she does as ‘hate speech’ is a value judgment, and if you sanction her for her beliefs, you validate her as a martyr.


  7. Elizabeth Says:

    It makes me giggle like a twelve year old to imagine how galling it must be for Ms. Coulter to realize that her most eloquent defender is Ted Rall. Way to go, Ted!

  8. Yamara Says:

    A lot depends on how the restaurant owner discovered the neo-Nazi in his midst. Obviously it didn’t come up in the job interview, so probably others know. This will impact his business, and while he can take the integral, ethical road, one must presume he is businessman, who has his own rent to pay.

    What if it were a kosher restaurant? That’s the metaphor of Coulter and her ilk squatting on our free press. They have no integral respect for it, and yes, that makes them inimical voices in a free society.

    Sure, I’ll defend her right to say whatever she wants; I’ll defend that right to the proverbial death.

    But there is no right to be paid for it.

    That right simply doesn’t exist, and it never has. Oh, copyright surely protects one from others profiting from your work, but there’s no law requiring anyone to buy a column or a cartoon in the first place, any more than I am required to eat off a plate touched by a neo-Nazi.

    There is also a disingenousness at arguing for a livelihood from cartooning– or even writing opinion– ten years into the Web, while your work has appeared free of charge on it the entire time. The economic model has simply moved away from the syndicates, and this is the problem will prevail; boycotts (and similiar non-governmental so-called “censorship”) are little more than a coup de gras.

    I have every respect for you a journalist trudging through war zones, and you deserve a livelihood for such mind-boggling courage. I gravely doubt I could ever be so brave.

    But demanding combat pay for graphic design sounds a little silly.

  9. Anders Says:

    Nice reply, mr. Rall. Are you kicking yourself for not using it for weekly column material yet? 😉

  10. Anonymous Says:

    I’m glad HRC was able to see through Ted’s hypocrisy. Good on them! Don’t fall for Ted’s game, which he’s convinced nobody will call him on.

  11. Craig J. Says:

    “you validate her as a martyr.”

    Not that I think that this would make her a martyr anyways, but she’s one of the ones I wouldn’t mind seeing cold and buried.

    When you get down to it, Coulter is no different than the Muslim extremists that we are fighting in this ‘war on terror’. But unfortunately many failed to notice that we are indeed fighting them here, because we constantly have to fight the likes of Coulter, somebody who isn’t interested in discussion or dialogue.

    So, I say again, I see no reason to defend the speech of those like Coulter any more than I think we should defend a terrorist’s right to say “kill all the infidels”.

    Free speech does, in fact, have its limits.

  12. Jonathan Says:

    Protection from prosecution or persecution based on what you say does not mean that you should not expect that there may be consequences. The NBA fired Tim Hardaway from its All-Star weekend for what he said because he violated the league’s policy on tolerance. If Ann Coulter’s syndicate has a similar policy, or if public outrage convinces it to fire her, they should be able to do so.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    “Free speech has its limits.” And who sets those limits?

    Those who say “kill all the infidels” or “convert all the Muslims” surely aren’t helping interfaith dialogue, but when you silence them you give them power. Trying to stifle their point of view only shows you’re afraid people will follow them.

    As Dave said, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Let them air their hate, and the light of day will show the saner viewpoint and where people really stand. Give the old ‘marketplace of ideas’ a fair chance.

    Hate speech must be tolerated, unless you’re willing to let others decide what ideas and information you should and should not hear.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    I think it’s admirable to try and convince HRC to not do this. Unfortunately, most people are idiots (whether they side with Coke or Pepsi) who care more about their team winning than healthy democracy.

    I’m not expecting a change in position from HRC, but I’d be delighted if I saw it.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    This is BS Ted. Anyone who gets a job commenting must be considered tenured for life? I’m sure there’s no economic self service in that rationale.

    What if Ms Coulter’s employers decide, in light of this incident, that they want their conservative commentators to be either intelligent or funny? There’s a million shrill imbeciles with blogs; why does Coulter have some special permanent dispensation to be paid for her Tourettes attacks?

    No one’s trying to “silence” her. For starters, she’ll still get a buck from the truly shameless media outlets like Fox. Second, she has a website. But there is no logical reason why any entity is obliged to publish her brain-dead crap, unless they’re also obliged to send me and every other bastard in the world money for whatever literal crap we feel like dishing up.

  16. Anonymous Says:

    Ha,ha,ha, Ann Coulter, is brain dead! Maybe she could go to Oz, like the…snurk, snurk,… Scarecrow!

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Ted is right. Those of you who argue for censorship are not using your noggins. Foolish. And you call yourself freedom loving, “tolerant” liberals? HA! You are as reactionary and blindly intolerant as the worst snaggle-toothed right winger. Bottom line–you are no different. Look in the mirror and think.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Referring to a candidate as a “faggot” is NOT the same as saying “kill all the infidels.” One is a rude and insulting remark, and must be considered protected speech, no matter how irritating or offensive, and the other is a threat of murder and should be dealt with as a criminal matter. Threatening someone is not protected speech. It is harassment or even assault, depending on the context, which could certainly be determined by a judge and jury (if you’re wondering who makes those determinations.)

    Say you’re a Muslim having a bad day, you could say “I wish all those damn infidels were dead” but you can’t walk up to someone on the street and say “You’re a dead man, infidel!” well, unless he’s a friend of yours and you’re just messing with him. A rational person could tell the difference.

    Main thing is, it’s a big leap between saying “that John Edwards is a big ole faggot!”, and a group of thugs surrounding someone on a subway platform and saying, “let’s kill all the faggots!”

    I think HRC is doing the same crap as Donald Wildmon, and though they can ask to pull her column, if I were her syndicate, I would not comply. Frankly though, a private company can fire you for just cause, say if her column was losing them money, or if she were to assault her editor. I don’t really think either of those things is currently an issue.

    Just because she’s an asshole doesn’t mean she can’t spew. If everyone were fired for saying something hateful or insulting, most of us would be out of work, be honest. If she is silenced, I guarantee it will come back ten times harder when a Demo is in power and some commentator calls a Repub a “Nazi”, as if that’s an acceptable thing to call someone.

    So, hateful insults -> protected. Threats -> not.

  19. Anonymous Says:

    I think it is perfectly acceptable for the HRC to be asking her distribution channel why they are providing a conduit for this woman’s worthless ideas and trash. And it is perfectly acceptable for the HRC to tell them that they must stop. This is not censoring someone – this is holding those accountable who profit from her sins.

  20. Doc Nebula Says:

    It amuses and appalls me simultaneously when I hear or read someone explaining at great length how much they believe in freedom of speech, except, you know, when someone ‘abuses’ their freedom of speech.

    Speech can and often does offend people, it cannot, on the other hand, injure or assault anyone. People tend to get these things confused, and believe that when they are offended, it is the same as being injured.

    It isn’t. Grown ups can choose not to be offended if they (we) want to. Far too few of us ever trouble ourselves to do so, but it’s important to remember — being offended by something doesn’t entitle you to anything. You have not been injured; no one is obligated to make you whole. If you find something offensive, walk away from it.

    Things get tricky, though, when one starts throwing around the word ‘censorship’ in application to a media outlet. We all have the right to freedom of speech, but nobody has a ‘right’ to a TV show, or a book contract, or a syndicated column, no more than anybody has a ‘right’ to any particular job.

    You can fire your neo-Nazi waiter for anything you feel like firing him for, legally, provided you do not violate his civil rights. In practice, this simply means you have to be careful never to actually vocalize your distaste for his opinions. He has no ‘right to work’ in your business; you can get rid of him for anything at all… unless you’re silly enough to say “you goddam Hitler lover, you’re fired”, in which case, if you say it in front of witnesses, he might have a civil suit.

    Coulter has no ‘right’ to a syndicated column. She can get a free blog just like the rest of us po’ folks. Now, if her boss were to fire her from her job writing a column for her views, she’d have a civil suit, but her boss ain’t gonna do that… he’s only going to fire her if her views start costing him money. That’s the kind of pressure that has to be brought to bear by those who want to see Coulter punished for voicing her views… financial pressure. And if they can’t do that (and, well, they can’t — Coulter’s publishers don’t make any money from the people Coulter offends, and therefore, they won’t lose any money no matter how many times the people Coulter offends complain to them, because those people don’t buy Coulter’s work anyway), well, they can protest all they want — that’s THEIR right — but it won’t accomplish anything.

    To sum up — Coulter has a right to say what she wants. Others have a right to say what they want in response. Coulter has no right to a syndicated column, but those she offends have no power to remove her syndicated column. They cannot censor her, however, her losing a syndicated column would not amount to censorship.


  21. Realist Says:

    Ann Coulter is not the enemy

    You’ve got to be kidding. Ann Coulter would happily see everyone posting on this thread locked up or worse.

    I agree with you that she shouldn’t be censored – she does more for progressives every time she makes some stupid comment than most of our so-called “leaders” – but the idea she’s just another member of the family is painfully naive.

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