Ann Coulter, Steve Young, Nazis and Media Matters... A Response

On Tuesday, I sent an email to supporters of Media Matters for America, in which I asked people whose local newspapers carry Ann Coulter's column to contact those papers and ask them to either drop her column or explain why they chose to continue distributing her vile hate speech.

In response, Huffington Post blogger Steve Young compared my email to Joseph Goebbels' work in Nazi Germany, and accused Media Matters of attempting to deny Coulter her first amendment right to free speech.

Young isn't the first person to compare Media Matters to the Nazis; doing so is one of Bill O'Reilly's favorite tactics. Like O'Reilly, Young is badly mistaken.

Media Matters does not contest, nor do we seek to eliminate, Ann Coulter's right to write and say what she believes. Nor do we contest or seek to eliminate the rights of news organizations to promote her views by running her columns or hosting her on television. We simply urge them to reconsider whether their decision to do so serves their readers and viewers.

That's what Steve Young wants us to stop doing - he wants us to stop expressing our views about what news organizations should do.

Telling people to keep quiet about their belief that newspapers should not carry Coulter's hateful, irrational, and misinformation-laden writings is very nearly the opposite of defending free speech.

Just look at Young's headline: "Media Matters Needs to Lay Off Ann Coulter." Young compares Media Matters to Nazis for urging newspapers to exercise their freedom of the press in a way that we think is responsible. Yet Young feels no problem telling us how we should exercise our freedom of speech.

We, as private citizens - not agents of the government - are simply expressing our opinion about how news organizations should use their freedoms. Just as Young, as a private citizen, is expressing his opinion about how we should use freedoms.

In other words, if my email reminded Young of Joseph Goebbels, what must he think of his own response?

To be clear: It is not our position that Ann Coulter should not be allowed to express her opinions. It is our position that newspapers would better serve their readers if they did not carry her column. That is not an infringement on Ann Coulter's freedom of speech; that is a call for news organizations to exercise theirs responsibly.

At our urging, our readers have also asked newspapers that continue to carry Coulter to explain their decision, and some have done so. We think it is helpful for readers to understand a newspaper's decision to carry columns that spew hatred, bile, and misinformation as freely as Coulter's do. Knowing that a newspaper chooses to carry Coulter's column, and knowing the reasons why, helps readers understand the judgment and worldview of the newspaper they rely on for daily news and information. Similarly, knowing that NBC's Today frequently hosts Coulter, or that CNN hired Glenn Beck -- after he publicly fantasized about killing a prominent progressive - tells viewers something about those news outlets.

Young writes:

"Defending someone as contemptible as Ann Coulter makes one feel some sense of camaraderie with the public defender who is obligated to take on Jeffery Dahmer's case even though you know damn well he's guilty. You know he's reprehensible but the law says he has a right to a trial. Or maybe it's closer to the ACLU defending the Nazi Party's right to march in Skokie. But defending her right to write we must."

This badly misses the point. First, the Skokie analogy is simply inapt. The Nazi march involved a question of government censorship. We are talking simply about the responsibility of private actors (the newspapers) to make judgments about what content they should publish. Second, Young need not defend Coulter's "right to write" - because we do not challenge that right. Nor do we challenge the right of newspapers to publish Coulter. We question whether they should do so. And we argue that they should not - and ask that they explain their decision if they disagree. Coulter has a right to write, but she doesn't have a right to have her writings appear in newspapers or her vicious ramblings appear on television.

To sum up, we believe the following:

Ann Coulter has the right to write and say whatever she wants.

Newspapers have the right to publish her, or to refuse to publish her.

Media Matters and our readers have the right to speak out against her, and to urge newspapers not to pay for and distribute her hate speech.

Steve Young has the right to speak out against us and urge us not to do so.

Steve Young says that when we exercise our rights, we are behaving like Nazis - but when he exercises his rights in a similar way, he is a noble defender of free speech.

He has the right to say that, of course, but that doesn't mean he is right.