Coulter in Bloomington
I DON’T RELISH the castigation of a student editorial, having written some terrible ones as an undergraduate. Even so, the Friday offering from the editorial staff of the Indiana Daily Student deserves attention on a couple of levels.
First, it is the only in-person report of a campus speech by the columnist Ann Coulter. It was not covered by newsrooms of either the Daily Student or the Bloomington Herald-Times. There was some responsibility, then, to record the event for posterity.
But after reading the piece for the second and third time, I had to admit defeat. I have no idea what Coulter said at Whittenberger Auditorium last Friday night.
All I know is that the Daily Student staff and, one must assume, the faculty advisors on its board do not like Ann Coulter one whit. Generally, headlines give the reader only a glimpse into content. In this case, it served as an over-wrought substitute for the entire work:
“Ann Coulter Storms Out After Lying to IU Students for 75 Minutes.”
Again, the editorial is our only record of however many minutes she spoke. Coulter says it was 90, not 75. Whatever, it was unusual — at least for coverage of a speech —that there were no full quotations from the actual speaker, only snippets to mark characterizations followed by denunciation.
Apparently, although we cannot be sure, Ms. Coulter made comments contrary to what is being taught at IU — horribly contrary if we can judge by the editorial tone. These comments, one by one, were labeled “lies” but L’Ami du Peuple of the French Revolution or the Soviet’s Izvetsia may have been more circumspect in use of the word.
For calling someone a liar is something of a bright line in journalism, even concerning a public figure such as Ms. Coulter. It is one of the few defamations that is legally actionable — our second concern.
To write that someone is a liar you must be prepared to prove that what they said is false. The writers at the Daily Student, shielded at the moment by court interpretations of the First Amendment, made no such attempt, primarily referencing social media opinion. (Does Indiana University still have an English language research library with history books in it?)
The purported “lies” included what others might consider the unremarkable and historically grounded description of the French Revolution as “liberal” and the American one as “conservative.” Also, the editors call it a “lie” to suggest that our nation was founded on Christian values or that it was created as anything other than a slave state. Finally, it is a “lie” to say that crime has become a political issue.
What exactly did Ms. Coulter say about any of this? The Daily Student doesn’t tell us.
And back to the headline. Did the newspaper get it right? Coulter described the audience as “lively” but said there was no heckling and that she didn’t “storm out.” There were many questions from liberals, she says, but they were polite “until the large girl refused to let anyone else ask questions.”
That was 90 minutes into what was supposed to be a 60-minute event, according to Coulter, and the audience was bid a good night.
Whatever happened in Whittenberger Auditorium Friday night, if you are paying tuition to Indiana University, especially to its media school, you should ask society’s forgiveness and understanding. — tcl