Conservative author Ann Coulter discusses the state of the First Amendment with Berkeley Professor Robert Reich.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: 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, FMR. LABOR SECRETARY: 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.
ANN COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, thank you, professor, for allowing me and my constitutional rights.
But, I mean, I must say, I think this debate has – I mean, first of all, has divided leftists in the country from those who believe in the constitution and those who don't. I think we have seen this thuggish violence at university after university after university. Mario Savio (ph), the one who stood up in the '60s and yelled free speech at Berkeley. That was free speech for lefties. But like they say about democracy in the third world, one man, one vote, one time. As soon as lefties took over the the university, that's it free speech is shut down.
But any way, I think that hill, when we have Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Bill
Maher, among others, all saying of course you should let Ann Coulter speak and not let violent thugs shut it done, OK, we're done with that hill.
Now, let's move on to the hill where it's considered – I mean, some of these people, not you,
professor, keep saying, well, of course, it's hateful. But hateful speech is allowed to exist. No, I'm sorry, I'm engaging in a public policy debate. That is not a hateful speech. I think those are the lefties we need to discuss with next. These are important issues of public policy.
KARL: But, Ann -- the reaction of students at a place like Berkeley can't surprise you given some of the things you have said.
COULTER: Oh, please.
KARL: Well, let's take a look. You have said that getting rid of women's right to vote is a personal fantasy. You said of one group of 9/11 widows and I quote, I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much.
And then there was the tweet that you put out just the day before the election, saying, "If only people with at least four grandparents born in America were voting, Trump would win in a 50-state landslide."
I mean, on that one, by the way, neither Donald Trump or Mike Pence would be able to vote.
COULTER: I -- OK. Let's just take that one. We can go through all the greatest hits of much of my commentary. I watch roughly 24 hours a day, the Hispanic vote, the Hispanic vote, the Hispanic vote, how the -- how the, you know, the browning of America and how are African Americans voting. How are women voting.
I describe one demographic and say how it would come out.
And that's hate speech?
Why isn't it hate speech to keep telling me how Hispanics are going to vote?
What you're talking about are rhetorical flourishes. And I don't know, maybe you guys think you are smarter than the Founding Fathers. But they did not put an asterisk on the First Amendment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we all agree --
COULTER: The Founding Fathers just forgot about that, that -- and no rhetorical flourishes. No jokes.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
And what this shows, this whole incident shows, again, it shows this radical, insulated Left on the college campus. And the entire left wing, including President Obama and Bill Maher on the other side and what useless institutions our universities are. The prices have gone up 3,000 percent since the '70s.
Is the education better?
No. It's worse. The lefties are on the side of the thugs. They’ve taken over the universities. I don’t think anyone learns anything at college anymore. It's a four-year vacation. And I think that’s what people ought to be looking at because the taxpayers are supporting these universities, not just University of California but with federal grants every university in America.
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.
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.