On ABC, Liberals and Conservatives Agree, Free Speech Must be Defended

A breath of fresh air wafted across the mainstream media on Sunday when ABC’s This Week hosted conservative firebrand Ann Coulter and liberal Berkeley professor Robert Reich. Host Jon Karl had invited the two on the show to discuss the recent unrest at Berkeley and the school’s decision to not allow Coulter the opportunity to speak on campus this past week. The group also discussed the current culture that is seeing conservatives marginalized on campuses across the country, not just at Berkeley.

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Much to everyone’s amazement it seems that in these cases, where free speech is being undermined on college campuses, both sides agree – everyone’s right to free speech must be defended.

Reich, who was once the Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton, goes even further, and argues (as conservatives have for some time) that so-called “hate speech” is also protected by the First Amendment and his liberal students are wrong when they say “hate speech is not free speech.”

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Watch as even Reich and Coulter seems surprised to finally agree on something… (and then they actually agree on other things as well)!

Jonathan Karl: Joining me now, Ann Coulter and Berkeley professor and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Professor Reich, let me start with you, you and Ann Coulter agree on basically nothing. But you said that Berkeley made a, quote, grave mistake by canceling her speech. Why do you believe that?

Robert Reich: Jonathan, as you said, I don’t ever remember agreeing with Ann Coulter on anything. Maybe there is something Ann and I have agreed on, but I do believe in the first amendment, and I will fight for her right to say what she wants to say. The first amendment is, and freedom of speech, is the cornerstone of our democracy. And, whether it’s college
campuses or somebody burning a flag or it’s the — newspapers having a right to say whatever they want, we cannot toy around with the first amendment. It is absolutely critical.

Robert Reich: Well, we finally found something, after all these years, where I agree with Ann Coulter, that is there is no hate speech exemption for the First Amendment.

Jonathan Karl: So I want to ask you about the similar controversy that we saw at Middlebury over Charles Murray’s attempted speech which caused violent protests. He ultimately was unable to speak. And then a student at Middlebury explained the situation to “The New York Times” this way.

“For too long, a flawed notion of free speech has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions, dehumanizing and subjugating people of color and gender minorities.”

So you’re there. You’re a professor at Berkeley. You spent a lot of time with very smart Millennials. Are you concerned that there is a growing view among young activists that freedom of speech simply does not apply to offensive speech, that there is that asterisk?

Robert Reich: Jonathan, to the extent that there is that view at Berkeley or anyplace else, I am concerned because one of the purposes of a university education is to be provoked, to examine what the evidence is.

And if somebody says something that is offensive, well, that is not per se, you know, a violation of any kind of university norm; in fact, quite the opposite. I tell my students all the time, the best way to learn something is to talk to people who disagree with you because that forces — that forces you to sharpen your views and test your views.

And you might even, might even come out in a different place. A university of all places is the — is the locus where we want to have provocative views. We want to have views that some people find to be offensive.

Jonathan Karl: Ann, can we find another place where the two of you might agree?

I want to ask you, and I talked to Reince Priebus about it here just a short while ago, about what the president has said about opening up the libel laws. And we heard Priebus that this is something they’re still looking into. In other words, giving the president the ability to sue “The New York Times” or other news organizations for coverage that he does not like.

Can we agree that that is not a good idea?

Ann Coulter: I can answer that very quickly, no, I have always thought there should be a pure truth falsity standard and a limit on damages. But I do want to agree with the professor on universities ought to be places where I’m not the only conservative most students will hear in four years of college…

Robert Reich: If I can just get to your question, Jonathan, the libel laws should not be widened. I mean, we really do need a free press. One thing that concerns me about the present administration is the willingness of the administration to not only talk about widening the libel laws and also criminalize flag-burning but even the President of the United States last night, using an opportunity in Harrisburg to summon his supporters and to criticize the press once again.

This is dangerous. I mean, if we believe in the First Amendment, we believe in a free and independent press.

Jonathan Karl: All right, Professor Robert Reich and Ann Coulter, a debate that you couldn’t have seen at Berkeley, thank you for joining us on THIS WEEK.

Did you see that? There were at least 4 places of agreement in that discussion – First, free speech is for everyone and conservatives should be heard on college campuses. Second, so-called “hate speech” is protected by the First Amendment right to free speech. Third, College campuses should be places where students are offended, stretched, challenged and forced to hear opinions that do not reinforce their own values, beliefs, and behaviors because this is how education works. Fourthly, they agree that libel laws should NOT be expanded.

That’s a lot of agreement from a far-left liberal and right-wing pundit. And I agree with them on all of it.

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