Good for Fordham University! The school’s College Republicans have cancelled an appearance by Ann Coulter, the prominent conservative pundit known for her slash-and-burn rhetorical tactics. The students could have gone ahead with the talk. Joseph McShane, S.J., Fordham’s president, made it clear that in the interest of freedom of expression, the university would not stand in the way if the club really wanted to provide a platform for Ms. Coulter.
Still, to say that Father McShane was not enthusiastic about Ms. Coulter’s pending appearance could be the understatement of the semester: “There are many people who can speak to the conservative point of view with integrity and conviction,” Father McShane wrote in an open letter, “but Ms. Coulter is not among them. Her rhetoric is often hateful and needlessly provocative.”
Father McShane, then, did not object to Ms. Coulter’s appearance at Fordham because she is a conservative. For all we know, he may have some sympathy for her positions on certain public policy questions. No; Father McShane did not want Ms. Coulter at Fordham because, in a word, she’s mean. Whatever else it means to be a Catholic institution, it should mean at a minimum that the community esteems charity above all else.
Ms. Coulter has spent many years cultivating a mass market for her particularly potent form of political snake oil. The type of controversy that beset New York City’s Jesuit university is exactly the kind of public frenzy that builds Ms. Coulter’s brand and helps sell her books. Ms. Coulter is a mega-star in what the columnist David Frum calls “the conservative entertainment complex...people who have made politics a theater for identity politics for a segment of America, rather than as a way to solve collective problems.”
It’s not just some conservatives who are building and profiting from a political entertainment complex; liberals can be just as cynical. A recent Pew study found that left-leaning MSNBC’s coverage of the 2012 presidential campaign was even more biased than right-leaning Fox’s. Yet both networks made fresh millions from their neo-yellow journalism, while the decorously objective CNN limped across the Nov. 6 finish line with fewer viewers and even fewer advertising dollars.
Before we jump to any self-righteous conclusions, however, we should recall that the only reason these media outlets do what they do is that we watch them. Quite a few of us are watching, in fact, even some of us, the numbers suggest, who claim we’re not. If things are going to change, as this week’s editorial suggests, then all of us need to take an honest look at how we are part of the problem. It is not enough to point fingers, sigh and move on, as if it’s only our neighbors who profit from our commercialized political culture.
That last point is the first point that John Kavanaugh, S.J., might have made in his next column for America. Father Kavanaugh died the day before Election Day. Remarkably, John first wrote for these pages in the year I was born. We treasured his analysis, his wisdom and his wit. He would not hesitate to challenge his readers, but he always did so with charity and humility; as a Jesuit, a priest and a journalist, he lived according to the Golden Rule. We would do well to remember his words: “To resist a consumerist culture,” Father Kavanaugh once wrote, “that weaves itself into every fabric of our lives, we must engage our personhood with our whole heart, our whole mind, our whole being. Not only will we find ourselves more able to counter the culture’s dogmas; we will also be more ardent disciples of Christ.”
The public debate in this country desperately needs more John Kavanaughs, especially now that it no longer has the John Kavanaugh this journal relied on and loved for more than 40 years.