• 72°

Leonard Pitts: Ann Coulter was right

Look, I’m the guy who once called her a “viperous harridan,” OK?

That was 11 years ago in this space. I described her as such after she savaged four widows whose husbands died in the Sept. 11 attacks, denouncing them as “witches” and “broads” who were “enjoying their husbands’ deaths.”

So I don’t need to be convinced Ann Coulter is a bad person. But for as much as readers with whom I have been sparring on Twitter the last few days might wish otherwise, her character is not the issue here.

“Here” meaning last month’s standoff between the abrasive conservative pundit and the University of California, Berkeley. As you may know, Coulter was invited to speak on the famously liberal campus, but UCB first restricted the time of day she could do so, then tried to convince her to switch to a day when classes are suspended as students study for finals. When Coulter refused, the school canceled the event.

Berkeley, you should know, has been the site of recent political street fighting. A February riot, orchestrated by about 100 black-clad punks, caused $100,000 in damage and succeeded in preventing an appearance by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannoupolos. UCB said there was a credible threat of a repeat performance if Coulter spoke.

She had vowed to show up anyhow and appear, if need be, in Sproul Plaza, an open public concourse that was, not incidentally, the 1964 birthplace of the free-speech movement. Last Wednesday, under pressure from UCB, the two conservative groups that were sponsoring her visit rescinded the invitation, and Coulter said she would not come.

Many of my more liberal Twitter followers, loathe to support Coulter on  … well … anything, have resisted — sometimes with desperately creative logic — the notion that this is an issue of free speech. Here are some of their arguments and my answers:

Them: The First Amendment applies only to government censorship.

Me: You’re right. And UCB is a public institution, supported by taxpayer money, which makes this a government issue.

Them: She’s milking this for publicity.

Me: Maybe. So what?

Them: She doesn’t care about free speech. She’s getting paid.

Me: I get paid when I speak, too. Again, so what?

Them: UCB never actually said she couldn’t speak.

Me: The courts have held that you may not “unduly burden” the right of free speech, i.e., impose special requirements upon a controversial speaker. That’s why the city of Miami lost in federal court in 2003 after it billed a promoter for the cost of extra security required to bring a band loathed by some in the Cuban exile community to the Miami Arena.

Here’s the bottom line: I don’t care whether it’s Castro’s favorite band playing in downtown Miami or a viperous harridan speaking at Berkeley. It wouldn’t matter if it were Louis Farrakhan at Ole Miss or Bernie Sanders at the High School of Economics and Finance just off Wall Street. The right to free expression is either secured for all or it’s guaranteed to none.

So here is what should offend you even more than Coulter, particularly if you live in a place like Berkeley, with its 121,000 people and 170 police officers. A bunch of thugs just established that you can bully a public institution in a relatively small town into disinviting a controversial speaker. Which of our other freedoms will they come after next?

Coulter called Wednesday “a sad day for free speech.” This next sentence will cause physical pain for some of you to read, but you need to just the same:

Ann Coulter was right.

Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.

Comments

Local

Catawba holds baccalaureate services for Class of 2021

News

$9M settlement for two men wrongfully sent to death row

Nation/World

China lands spacecraft on Mars in latest advance for its space program

Business

Gas crunch hits Washington; Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in Bitcoin ransome

Coronavirus

State mostly returns to normal operations after 15 months of lockdowns, restrictions

Crime

Blotter: Man accused of stealing car, crashing it

Crime

Man faces new charge of attempted murder for father’s shooting

BREAKING NEWS

Gov. Cooper lifts indoor mask mandate for most situations, gathering limits

Crime

Barnes gets new punishment of two life sentences in Tutterow couple’s 1992 murder

High School

High school football: State’s top honor goes to Jalon Walker

Local

Scout’s Honor: With dedication of flag retirement box, Salem Fleming earns Eagle Scout rank

College

North Carolina king, queen of NCAA lacrosse tourneys

Education

Kannapolis seniors walk elementary schools

Local

Local real estate company employees come out in force to build Habitat house

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Auditors find oversight lacking for $3 billion of state’s pandemic aid

Nation/World

When will gas situation return to normal?

Local

Rowan native Shuping posthumously receives Concord Police Department’s Medal of Valor, Purple Heart

News

GOP measure on penalties for rioting draws fire

News

Black high school softball player told to cut hair

Coronavirus

State shows 303 COVID-19 deaths in Rowan

Coronavirus

CDC: Fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

Crime

One arrested, another hospitalized in Castor Road stabbing

China Grove

China Grove Roller Mill open for tours Saturday