By: E&P Staff
Conservative Ann Coulter has an unlikely quasi-ally — liberal editorial cartoonist Ted Rall — as controversy continues to swirl around her use of the word “faggot” on March 2.
Rall, who shares a syndicate (Universal Press) with Coulter, threatened to sue Coulter last year when she “joked” that Rall had submitted a cartoon to Iran’s holocaust cartoon contest. But now Rall has sent an open letter to the liberal MediaMatters.org and the Human Rights Campaign gay-rights group saying progressives shouldn’t be pressuring newspapers to drop Coulter. (At least eight papers have done so already.) The Sunday letter, a copy of which Rall sent to E&P, is reprinted here in full:
As a progressive American who shares your views, it pains me to learn that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) 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 Web sites 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% of the e-mails 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 from 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,