Social Question

Pandora's avatar

Has Ann Coulter broken the rules of freedom of speech?

Asked by Pandora (23410 points ) October 2nd, 2012

She is a news commentary personality so I’m not sure if this applies to her since journalist (I don’t know if she is one) are pretty well protected under the law but unless you are a comedian, why are political commentators allowed to actually lie to the public and advance ignorance.

Maybe Ann has done us one favor. She shows us how misinformation is extremely harmful on a huge and public scale.
I’ve seen several videos where she says things that simply are not true and she has no fact to back her up. Luckily there seems to always be someone there to set the facts straight but there will always be people to believe she is right.

Personally, whether you are a commentator or a journalist, you should not be allowed to spread misinformation and share it as fact without penalty. The amendments where created to protect our government and its citizens. It was not meant to be a billy club to spread lies and hate so you can make a quick buck.

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33 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

Coulter isn’t a reporter; she’s a commentator – paid for giving her opinion. So the ‘rules’ such as they are are whole lot looser for commentators than they are for people who are supposed to be reporting the facts. (Although there have been plenty of blurred lines in the last 10 years)

There is no accountability in opinion journalism, The only people who can force someone to tell the truth would be her advertisers and her audience. And they would do that by ceasing to pay for her show or simply stopping listening or reading what she said. And there are far too many sheep in this country who live for people like Coulter because it feeds their paranoia. Look no further than Hannity, Boortz, O’Reilly, Cain, Maddow, Beck, and out old friend Limbaugh.

Extremism sells.

marinelife's avatar

Freedom of speech is not at play here because it does not require that the speech be truthful.

Coulter is a disgusting liar, but the onus for determining that is on the hearer. We can but hope that people will stop giving her airtime. You could write a letter to news outlets on which she appears.

SavoirFaire's avatar

“Error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”
—Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address (1801)

“Let [Truth] and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?”
—John Milton, Areopagitica (1644)

The First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees US citizens the freedom of speech, is more about what the government cannot do than it is about what citizens can do. The Founders believed that every person was born with a natural right to free speech that was in no need of explicit recognition from the government. It was instead the government that needed a reminder about its limitations.

The right to free speech has it’s own limitations as well. Over the course of history, however, it has been decided again and again by the Supreme Court that the government is not justified in intervening unless someone’s speech is likely to cause serious harm to others. Moreover, the Court has continuously narrowed the kinds of speech against which the government may take action by adopting increasingly specific standards of harm.

Today, for instance, one can only be prevented from or punished for speaking if it can be shown that one’s speech is intended to incite an imminent and likely violation of the law. One can speak of unnamed acts of violence at some vague time in the future, and one can even speak of specific acts of violence in the immediate future that no one is likely to commit. See Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) for more.

There may be one other avenue of recourse, though. For while the First Amendment tells us what the government cannot do, citizens may still hold each other accountable for their speech through civil law. Defamation laws allow for citizens to sue other citizens who slander or libel them. If Ms. Coulter has broken any laws, then, it is almost certainly one of these. Hers is the rhetoric of vilification and calumny, after all.

The burden of proof for defamation is notoriously high in the United States, however, and the reward for suing a political commentator is extremely low (as it can make the plaintiff look petty and weak). Thus you will rarely see a political commentator brought to suit over defamation. Instead, it is up to those who know the truth to fight back. This is why the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

I’ll leave you with one last quote:

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”
—John Stuart Mill, On Liberty (1859)

wundayatta's avatar

We do have laws regarding libel and slander that we are all subject to. But I’m not sure willful disregard or ignorance or mistatement of the facts counts as libel or slander, since they are not aimed at hurting an individual.

I think that Ann Coulter’s looks make conservative men’s dicks stiffen. She sounds so smart and confident and they probably all want her. And as you know, when a man is in estrus… or the male equivalent thereof, he can’t think logically. So she is an effective conservative misinformation delivery agent.

The fact that she lies means that she has the morals of a gnat. Personally, I think she is a sociopath. But she brings eyes to the TV, and that is all the TV producers care about. Which means, they are sociopathic, too. That is what the conservative media bias is all about.

By the way, the conservatives like to say there is a liberal media bias. It turns out, that isn’t true. It’s just another lie in the conservative pantheon of lies that, if repeated often enough, seem to take hold.

Well, we can repeat the truth, and repeat it often. The facts are that, according to studies reported by “On The Media,” NPR exhibits a measurable conservative bias. They cover more conservative issues and views than liberal ones. They give more time to conservatives than to liberals. And why? To try to maintain public funding? Really. It isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, it is true. Ann Coulter’s lies, and the lies of her conservative friends are working. They have turned the media conservative even as they still complain the media is liberal. These lies are moving the country to the right. It’s time to correct things. We must all repeat as often as possible that the media has a conservative bias. We must pressure the media to correct this bias and become more fair and balanced.

Notice how Fox News has started to present more of a liberal voice. If they can do it, then surely the sheep that are the rest of the media can follow and start to be more fair an balanced. The media must cover liberal views more fairly. They must not be fooled by the lies of Ann Coulter! Even if she is a hottie and all the liberal producers want to “date” her.

CWOTUS's avatar

The way to fight speech you don’t like is with better speech, and more of it.

@marinelife is completely correct.

tedd's avatar

While I find her to be utterly revolting….. She is well within her freedom of speech to spout of lies as she does.

just like you are within yours to call her out on it to your friends and family

zenvelo's avatar

@Pandora There are some errors in the premise of your question. The first amendment in no way is meant to protect the government, and is only to protect its citizens from the government itself.

I think the Republic is strong enough to withstand the verbal assault of Ms Coulter.

Pandora's avatar

@zenvelo I would have to disagree. Freedom of speech (although it really doesn’t work the way it should most of the time) is to preserve our Government so it does protect it. It is suppose to keep government honest. The media is suppose to be able to report things it knows about the government if they should knowingly lie to us. Freedom of speech is suppose to enable the public to hear truths about our government so that it cannot deceive the people.
I just think it should be simpler than what it is. If I was writing it I would make it, that anyone who would ever give a speech or statement of fact to a crowd of 100 people or more must present factual proof or not say nothing again. Hearsay isn’t allowed in the court and neither is opinion so why is it allow in government and in media.
The only time it should be allowed is if the person is a known comedian or starts out with stating that their opinions have no fact based truth to it that they know off with certainty.

I see people like Ann Coutler no better than a conman who uses lies to fool the ignorant. I am sure that is not what our foundling fathers was trying to protect.
Freedom of speech was meant to protect the people from being able to speak the truth. Not lies or to spread hatred. I don’t see how protecting lies helps a nation.
She calls herself a Christian and she totally misses Jesus message about loving thy neighbor. She spreads hate and discontent to follow her own god, the almighty dollar bill. My dog is more of a Christian than she is and that is my opinion. LOL

JLeslie's avatar

Is Ann Coulter a liar? I see her interpret and give opinions that I think have a twisted way of looking at something. She certainly outs together research and statistics to support her claims, but the stats can be questioned on how they were gathered and calculated, but a liar? I don’t think she usually crosses any lines that I would say her speech is crossing any rules of free speech or “journalism.” she does not present herself as an impartial balanced jourmalist. We all know she generally speaks for the right wing. She is a personality.

Did you have a specific example of something she said that you believe to cross the line?

CWOTUS's avatar

Um, @Pandora what is your basis in fact for the statement that she totally misses Jesus message about loving thy neighbor. She spreads hate and discontent to follow her own god, the almighty dollar bill. My dog is more of a Christian than she is and that is my opinion.

I don’t think you can support a single word of that.

If Ann Coulter weren’t a “public figure” (as the term has come to be known in legal parlance) – and if she cared to – then she could probably mount a successful libel suit against you for those statements.

@zenvelo was right. The First Amendment is a protection “for citizens” against being muzzled “by government”. Other than the protections of the First Amendment, laws already exist against libel and slander, fraud and misrepresentation of goods for sale, inciting to violence, et al.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie Wouldn’t that be the way a child would think of things. Well I only insinuated or omitted the important parts. And example. Everytime she says that Obama is responsible for the deficit but doesn’t mention that Bush got that ball running before it and simply left us in a hole for the next guy to scrape out of it. I wouldn’t be surprised if that is why the republican party chose Palin as McCains running mate. They knew that they would stink. Oh, wait! Now I understand how they chose Romney. Like Pontius Pilate they want to wash the blood off their hands. LOL
It also explains Ann. She’s in the conspiracy. We keep a democrate in office long enough till the public forgets how f-up republicans really are. If we stack the crap up so high and wide the only way the democrates can go to the other side is to walk through it, so she come out stinky no matter what they do and we can walk as pure virgin snow and look like we did a fine job of fixing stuff.
At least that is how I would play it. I’m sure they are already way ahead on this.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora I understand your point, but I actually think she believes her “lies” so to speak. I don’t think in her mind she is purposefully lying. I do think some of the right wingers say their bullshit, probably happens on the left too, anyway, they say their BS and then when they turn of their microphone they think to themselves….suuuucckkkerrs, and throw in a little giggle. Most people pay attention to data that supports the position that they believe in, and dismiss data that doesn’t. Very few people understand what is needed for good and valid research. Plus, I am guilty of saying out loud, “we should let ethe republicans win because the next few years will suck.” But, I never mean it, and I doubt the other side purposefully hopes for it either.

Pandora's avatar

@JLeslie That is a scarier thought, since she graduated with a BA from Cornell and got her law degree from the University of Michigan law school. I guess crazy people can have degrees.
But still scary. Smart and delusional all at the same time.

JLeslie's avatar

@Pandora Unless she majored in sociology or some sort of science where there is discussion on effective researching, I don’t think it would have been part of her studies. My knowledge of these things is from a high school class I took, and my dad was a researcher. I have a BA in Marketing, which was in the Business school, but I don’t remember learning about creating good research models in college. Maybe @wundayatta can enlighten us, he graduated Cornell, but I don’t know his degree, but he works in research.

wundayatta's avatar

I’m not sure what credentials have to do with this discussion, but it doesn’t matter where I went to school, and frankly I wouldn’t be impressed with a degree from any Ivy League school.

Politics is about propaganda and ideology and wordsmithing. It is about money, most of all. It’s about making rules that help the people you care about most. If you’re really rich, you want the rules to help you get richer. If you’re an ordinary person, you just want to get a job and have things improve.

Research is complicated, and it is very political, a fact that drives academics nuts. For them, it is science. But for policy makers, it gives them a way to meet constituent needs and make money.

There are many ways to spin a story, and that includes research results as well. And if the results go against your ideology, then there are many ways to attack the research and poke holes in it.

We see this going on explicitly in the campaign, as the republicans are attacking pollsters as biased, the same as they attack the media as biased, even though studies show the media bias is towards the conservative point of view, especially, oddly enough, at NPR.

Now, suddenly, people are getting into the details of polling and weighting polls and whether you should weight according to registration, and it’s all about creating a perception that plays to people’s biases. And most importantly, it’s to give Romney supporters hope, because we know that if supporters think a candidate has lost, they won’t show at the polls—although this is not as much of a problem for Republicans as it is for Democrats.

Still, Obama has a significant lead, and if I were Republican, I would spend the rest of the campaign drowning my sorrows in beer, because Obama will be reelected. Romney has almost no chance of winning now. And nothing that can happen in the debates will change that. Indeed, there is no October surprise big enough to change that. It’s over.

Of course, I say that because I am spinning the facts like a politico. The truth is that the race is very close, and every Democrat needs to vote—as many times as possible. The voter ID law has been struck down. So now we can vote six times apiece, as per usual.

I’m kidding. I’m kidding.

The truth is that Romney’s answers won’t work. Obama was handed a horrible mess and it takes more than four years to fix it. We are seeing signs now that there is a turnaround. Reelect Obama and keep us on the path towards universal health insurance and a good economy. Keep us working for fair treatment for immigrants. Make sure the banks don’t get out of control again and steal billions from us. Only Obama can do that. Romney will open up the public coffers to the rich, and let them steal our shirts.

That’s the truth. But I wouldn’t take it to a bank, if I were you! ;-)

JLeslie's avatar

@wundayatta I only meant that you might have an idea of what was taught if your major was similar to hers, not so much that ivy league should mean she knows everything. As I said, my coursework never really taught much about research validity.

Pandora's avatar

@wundayatta You are a riot! LOL

Nullo's avatar

@Pandora Could you please link us the speech that troubles you, and perhaps present and source a counter? I stopped watching the news again, for health reasons, so I have no idea what any of this is about. I’m with @JLeslie: Coulter may be wrong, but she probably isn’t lying. It has been my experience that, when a rant starts with the assumption that Person A is lying, what we’re really looking at is a radically different paradigm.

Pandora's avatar

@Nullo This is one clip you can find on you tube I believe. True most of what she says is more of her own opinion but unfortunately there are people who believe she is speaking facts. I am sure most are tea baggers but it fans the flames.
She thinks Canada joined our forces in Vietnam and we recently dropped bombs in Egypt. I don’t think she believes half of what she says but, hey it sells her books to be controversial.
She is a real life troll.

Nullo's avatar

@Pandora Looks like exaggeration and inference errors, nothing malicious. Canada wasn’t wholly uninvolved in the Vietnam war – they had a few thousand volunteers, though I doubt that Coulter was thinking of that specifically.
Libya got bombs during their unrest; it is not unreasonable for an underinformed person to think that Egypt (which is in the same neighborhood and is having related issues) would get the same thing.

If you want someone to really gripe about, I recommend Sheila Jackson-Lee, who can’t distinguish between Vietnam and Korea, and she’s a legislatrix.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I love it when these questions break down into “the other side is worse” fallacies.

Pandora's avatar

@SavoirFaire How so. I was simply asking a question that actually has more to do with Freedom of Speech, than Ann Coulter. Yes, I personally don’t like her. I believe her to be a bigot and I have little patience for that. But my main point (and perhaps I should’ve made it clearer) is why are people, and even the media allowed to use freedom of speech to slander and mislead people for their own gain. I think freedom of speech was to protect people from being punished for speaking the truth about the government. Not solely to make up things or give half truths to make people believe the opposite of the truth. The nation is not being served in these half truths or straight out lies. Tell me how lies and half truths serve our nation.

Pandora's avatar

Oh, I would like to add that people who run for office should also have to be completely honest when running their campaigns. I think freedom of speech shouldn’t give them a nice cozy blanket to misrepresent themselves to the public or to misrepresent their opponent.
It is too much of a chore to cut through the bullcrap.
Just take a look at this

CWOTUS's avatar

I’d like to buy the world a Coke®, too.

But we’re not in middle school any more, and it’s time to start dealing with people as they really are, and not as we would like for them to be.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire I am non-partisan, tyvm. I was simply so surprised at Jackson-Lee’s historical incompetence that I take every opportunity to share.
I’m building a collection of useless politicians, if you have anyone you’d like to add. Bonus points for video.

Pandora's avatar

@CWOTUS Make mine a pepsi. LOL I deal because I have too, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Pandora I was reacting to @Nullo.

@Nullo Someone as hopelessly dedicated to the patently fraudulent “culture wars” as you have been cannot honestly claim to be non-partisan, but it doesn’t matter whether you are non-partisan or not. One can still play the mainstream parties off one another and respond to questions about one side with “the other side is worse” fallacies without thereby endorsing anyone. So being non-partisan is no defense here.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire Certainly I can. There is no party that I feel represents me, so I don’t have a party. I’ll grant that it’s not immediately relevant.
I have a natural tendency to run off on tangents. It’s not so pronounced when I write, thanks to English teachers past, but discipline takes effort and sometimes I don’t feel like exerting the effort. The Coulter gaffe reminded me of Jackson-Lee, a yakker that I think is worth a chuckle, and down she went with a cheap but serviceable segue.
I don’t make a habit of questioning other jellies’ honesty; I would appreciate the same from you.

Why do you say that the culture wars are fraudulent?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo I say the culture wars are fraudulent because they are the fevered invention of a political party and its surrogates. That’s why I said it is impossible to be so dedicated to them and honestly claim to be non-partisan. There is a slight error in that statement, however. What I should have said is that one so dedicated to the fraudulent “culture wars” cannot truthfully claim to be non-partisan. Since honesty is a matter of saying what one believes is true, and not necessarily what is true, those who have been thoroughly deceived (or are expert practitioners of self-deception) can, in fact, make such a claim honestly. What they cannot do is make the claim truthfully.

Nullo's avatar

@SavoirFaire “Culture war” is another name for the way that particular ideologies compete in society. Hardly imaginary: you have almost certainly noticed the Church losing social prominence. You’ve heard of people wanting to remove “under God” from the Pledge, you’ve heard of people wanting to secularized Christmas. Even people wanting to ban public religious expression, up to and including the prohibition of Christian-themed musical performances like Ave Maria. And I’m absolutely certain that you’re familiar with the abortion debate, and the efforts to advance or suppress the procedure.
It’s not actually a political war, but a spiritual one that overflows into politics (since legislation can force people to act against their will).

I ask you: which party am I supposed to be endorsing, then? The Democratic Party has taken up the causes of the other side of the culture war. The Republican Party treats me like a sure thing, and so does whatever it feels like doing without worrying about losing my business. The third parties are too weak to do any good, and don’t share my ideals anyway.
Unless I have completely missed my estimation of the Democrats, and they aren’t pro-abortion/gay marriage/pluralism/etc.? Or that there’s a party that fits me well and isn’t a complete waste of a vote? I admit that my knowledge of the political landscape isn’t the best.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@Nullo The first paragraph of your response is precisely what I mean by “hopelessly dedicated.” You can’t even begin to see the fraud. “Culture war” is not just a name for the competition of ideas or even ideologies. Such competition is older than history and may take place in any number of ways. In its contemporary usage, the term “culture war” is about a putative polarization of public opinion into two diametrically opposed camps. But even this is part of the lie, for there are not two ideologies.

There is one ideology that insists the diverse groups that oppose parts of its agenda are secretly—and maybe even openly—organized against them and seeking to prohibit their way of life. And what’s more, that ideology is a product sold by people who do not believe it in the hopes of getting others to give them power. The very wording of your response reveals your bewitchment by the lie, and that you give any credence at all to the existence of the supposed “culture wars” is already a partisan act.

How could this be? Because it’s not just about your vote. It’s not about consciously accepting a particular political party as your own and casting your ballot accordingly. It is about getting people to acquiesce to their depiction of reality. By falling for the claim that the world is the way they say it is, regardless of what you choose to do about it, you have already surrendered. It is a battle over minds, and you’ve given them yours. I’m sorry to say it, but the Matrix has you, @Nullo.

The Democrats have not taken up the “other side” of the “culture war.” The Democrats are not a monolith, and neither are the Republicans. Human opinion comes in more than two flavors, and that’s just as true within parties as it is between parties. As for the wasted vote myth, that’s just one more illusion of the binary system you’ve been tricked into accepting.

CWOTUS's avatar

Well said, @SavoirFaire.

I’ve always looked askance at those who decry “the culture war” in the US, without really putting a finger on what I particularly disliked about the characterization. I think you’ve stated it very well: Those who loudly promote their view of (any facet of) “the culture wars” are just part of a press gang, trying to enlist (more like “shanghai”) recruits into their camp, to carry their signs and to chant their slogans… while the leaders don’t even necessarily believe the nonsense they spout. (I’ve often wondered if any of the Popes really believes in God, for example. It seems to me that if they’re smart enough to be Pope, then… Well, maybe that’s not a good example.) But that process does give them a certain power, and puts the enlistee “in the group”, where he’s encouraged not to think too hard about everything, because that (having doubts and questions) plays into “the other side”.

And you’re absolutely right that this is done without regard to political party, religion or ideology. It’s why we continue to see nonsense about “the radical right” whenever a Republican says a thing (without regard to the nuances of what is actually proposed) or “the elitist libs” when the idea comes from someone at the other guys’ convention. It’s more and more clear to me now why John Adams predicted at the birth of the Republic that parties would be the death of republican democracy here.

But part of the problem with our government, and what makes this group-joining so attractive to so many, is that it has gotten so big and so powerful in the past hundred years or so that the temptation to join one group or the other and get on the bandwagon to share some of that power (and the trappings that go with the power: money, fame, sex, access to more power, etc.) is too great a temptation for some to resist.

zenvelo's avatar

@Nullo Many of us who are Democrats and also religious or spiritual believe the Democrats are closer to following Jesus’ teaching: help the poor, care for the sick, care for those imprisoned, defend the persecuted, fight for the oppressed. As St James said, “faith with out works is dead”. To follow Christ one must pick up his own cross, we don’t get to pick and choose.

It was Pat Buchanan in 1988 that declared the Culture War, which was expressed as defending the white protestant majority from any interaction with other races or nationalities or believers of other faiths. It is not about ‘competition” it is about right wing evangelical whites working as hard as possible to keep anyone who is different suppressed and oppressed. To state otherwise is dishonest and ignorant of the history of the term.

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