Sunday, March 28, 2010

Misguided Canadian Students and Their Foolish Fear of Ann Coulter

As I consciously avoid paying attention to Ann Coulter, I hadn't heard about her scrum with Ottawa University until attending a terrific panel discussion featuring Sheila Kennedy and Erin Rosenberg last Thursday at Butler University (GO BULLDOGS!) entitled "Rights and Wrongs: Achieving Civil Discourse."

Coulter was invited by a conservative student union to speak on campus, and a protest wave ensued. The Vice-President of the University even e-mailed Coulter to remind her, in the words of the Huffington Post, "to watch her mouth."

The short version is that Coulter was told that Canada lacks the same defamation protections as America, and further, has criminalized "hate speech."

Coulter spun the e-mail as Ottawa University creating a "climate of hate." (Kudos to Coulter for acknowledging for the first time that humans can adversely affect a climate!) Student protestors by the hundreds appeared and shouted Coulter down and, ultimately, the lecture did not go forward.

Coulter and Fox News made it sound like some liberal gestapo shut down the event, though the Vancouver Sun reports that the conservative organizers told campus security the event wouldn't go forward because of "safety concerns."

Ahh, to be young, idealistic, revved up, and so utterly stupid again!

Apparently, it's time for Professor iPOPA to teach the young whipper snappers a thing or two about public relations in politics.

First, the media loves controversy, and Ann Coulter IS media.

Second, controversy can't happen if only one side plays the game.

Third, somebody who does professional media for a living will almost always outspin you and make you look like a complete jackass.

Let's think this through.

Fifteen hundred kids spent who knows how many hours organizing protests, spreading "the word" to stop Coulter from speaking hers, and actually took their evening off to chant, "Ann, go home!" Why? Because they said you wanted to ensure their University was not a discriminatory place.

But you know what they actually did?

They made Ann Coulter a First Amendment hero, they proved everything she says about how "tolerance" toward other ideas is a one-way vehicle for "liberals," they gave their own University and country a huge black eye, and they deprived some independent-minded people who didn't know Coulter of the opportunity for her to say something insensitive that might prompt them to conclude on their own that she's a vapid, intellectual-bereft puff pastry.

Dr. Phil gets mocked, but he asks this great question: "Do you want to be right, or do you want to do what works?"

Here, some college students wanted so desperately to be part of some morally superior ("right") direct-action tactic, they got completely owned.

Any college kids thinking about leading a similar protest against a speaker, please remember that if you must make yourself part of the story (which you'll admit if you're objective is a bit self-indulgent because it's about you), make these your actions:

(1) don't protest the coming of the speaker;

(2) don't go;

(3) take your 1,500 people and on the same night and time, build houses for Habitat for Humanity or engage in some other philanthropic venture that supports multiculturalism; and

(4) issue a brief statement saying, "While Ann Coulter is tearing down our neighbors, we are building together."

Seriously, do you realize how many collective hours you wasted (that could have been spent constructively) just so Ann Coulter can tell this story of liberal persecution in her next book?

I don't want to be too hard on the students because they are not alone. Every time a klan or skinhead rally is announced, everybody wants to do a counter-protest. Do you know that nobody covers six klansmen walking down the street, except ironically? It's only when somebody plans a counter-protest that the media will cover the story because you've given it "balance." (I promise you there are news editors praying somebody will organize a counter-protest in every instance).

But try telling people who love to be in front of cameras and microphones and who covet having their followers see them as "action-oriented" that the best play is not to play at all. Some are so blinded by the spotlight, they don't realize that they put the klansmen in it with them.

In other words, to paraphrase that classic philosophical connundrum, "If an Ann Coulter appears in an auditorium but nobody is there to hear her fall, does it make a sound?"

Not a notable one, unless you foolishly amplify her.



Anonymous said...

Hey Chris,

I think using the term "utterly stupid" to describe those student protesters applies your assumptions, issues, and hangups as an American to a bunch of people who don't share them. I think you're wrong to assume that *Canadian* students should or do care all that much about "amplifying" American right-wing ideologues within American media markets. Those protesters, right or wrong, wanted to deny Coulter a platform in their community and in their country and at that they succeeded. As a result, her platform in *our country* got bigger, yes, but that is *our problem* not theirs. You might reflect on that before you call them naive, misguided, and foolish.

erin said...


The panelists actually talked about this prior to the event. What I would have said during the actual panel is this:

I think it is very important (as Jane Kirtley mentioned) that when challenged, Ann Coulter says she was just joking, that she is a professional provocateur. And, so to me, it is very important to have Ann Coulter speak in settings where people can ask her questions because she backs down from her assertions and paints them as "jokes." It is much more dangerous and confusing for her to be able to speak unchallenged because when people hear or read her in that setting, they take her statements as facts and arguments worthy of consideration. I think there is tremendous value for those same listeners to hear directly from her- "oh, I am just kidding" because it helps them realize that if they were agreeing with her, they don't actually have a partner in asserting her arguments as serious. She personally doesn't even defend them in a serious manner.

I can think of no better setting than an academic environment to engage her in acknowledging that she is joking. Universities are not shields for students. They still hear and read everything being said in the outside world and may find those ideas persuasive. If the universities don't provide a setting to directly challenge those outside influences, they are not doing their job.

I think everyone should listen to Ann Coulter speak and ask her questions and, then, hear her back down, try to laugh it off. It is quite informative and important in terms of then being able to talk to your fellow students who may have taken her seriously. But, if you don't hear her say it is a joke you will have a much harder time dispelling her nonsense.

All the best,


P.S. Thanks for the shout out and glad you enjoyed the symposium!

Marycatherine Barton said...

At least those Canadians weren't politically apathetic and indifferent, like way too many Americans.