Sunday, March 28, 2010

Coulter at U-of-O: In The Aftermath Of The Aftermath

A minor mystery solved, and some background on the organizational bungling at the University of Ottawa.

Margaret Wente writes:

Many people suspect that Ms. Coulter was getting her tactical advice from Ezra Levant, the loud-mouthed scourge of left-leaning academics and human-rights commissions. Mr. Levant, in his characteristic style, referred to the protesting students as “brownshirts.” Although he is widely suspected of leaking the Houle letter to the National Post, where it wound up on the front page, this is not the case. The letter was leaked by Doug Pepper, the publisher of McClelland and Stewart. He is an old friend and editor of the stringy agitator. His brother-in-law is the Post's editor.

Now we know. Coulter's editor leaked the Houle letter--presumably to stir up interest in the event, and what transpired in the face of this increased interest? Shiva (not her real name)--one of Coulter's organizers--gives some information which Free Dominion which, while obviously biased, nevertheless helps fill in a few of the blanks:

1) For one thing, she admits that the U-of-O protesters were non-violent. Although I doubt her further assertion that the building was "surrounded" by protesters. But by all means, read her whole statement can be read through the links.

2) In a later post, Shiva expands in detail on what happens in the lead-up to the U-of-O Coulter non-appearance:

Second event in Ottawa, Room capacity was only 475 so only approx 440 people were registered by the organizers. We were told on Monday afternoon at approx. 5:00 that if we did not hire (and pay for) 4 more security guards to add to the number we had already arranged for, that the event would be cancelled. Even though it felt like bullying, we readily agreed since they said they had reason to believe the event could turn violent and they wanted to ensure that we had a safe event for attendees. I have the proof in the form of a telephone message left for me and the subsequent email I received with the revised contract adding the additional security personnel that we were TOLD we must have or risk having our event canceled. At approx. 3:00 in the afternoon on the day of the event, I called the campus security contact and found a very concerned and confused man who said that he had been told the event was open to the public was first come, first serve, and who also told me that protestors had already begun to assemble themselves outside the venue. I set him straight regarding this event being first come, first serve and asked him why he would take the word of people who had not been involved in organizing the event? I made it clear that we had only registered a certain number of people and that they were the only ones who should be showing up. I've already addressed the other issues with how and when things became ugly but I'll add one other fact: The media in Ottawa were brutal. They were like a pack of jackals who refused to move out of the way as we tried to process registered people. We, politely at first, asked them to move out of the way instead of crowding the already congested registration area, so that we could get the registered people in and then determine if there was enough room to let the media in. They absolutely refused to get out of the way and instead kept pressing in and trying to find ways to sneak into the venue. They also refused to abide by the conditions we set, unlike the media in London who were cooperative in that respect. Am I surprised to find that most of the lies about the event are coming from the media who were present at the Ottawa event? When I put it to a few of them that they were contributing to an unsafe situation for the people in that room, a few of them had the nerve to say it was due to poor organization. I reminded them that we had, using the same methodology, managed to register double the number of people in London the night before without incident, but apparently we can't let logic get in the way of a good spin. There was NO conversation with me or anyone else at IFPS, about moving to a larger venue. That is an absolute lie because if they had said anything like that I would have told them to stuff it and would have instead suggested that the campus security we PAID for, do their bloody jobs and get rid of the people who had no business being there.

So, a couple of things here. The University had a full day previous to the event expressed concern at the size of the venue secured by its organizers. Shiva's response on Tuesday to the security guards worries re people already showing up outside the building is painfully naive given the fact that the Coulter camp has already leaked Houle's letter. How could they expect only those people who had pre-registered to show up, especially when they had done so much to attempt to draw wider attention to the event? We also know that many of the over-flow crowd consisted of people who had indeed registered, and who had not registered but were Coulter fans, as well as critics ad protesters. Just how campus security was supposed to separate these folks out and physically remove the rest is not explained. One assumes clubbing would be involved.

So, in the end, Coulter's organizers bungled the registration process in Ottawa, panicked, and then had Ezra go out and blame Canada for their screw-up. Too many of Canada's pundit class have, unfortunately followed this line of misinformation, probably because most of them can hack out a "Free Speech Under Attack" column in their sleep. Its presumably a little more difficult to crank out 500 words on the subject of how Conservative activists attempted to rent a room in Ottawa and failed miserably.

Hopefully, this will be my last post on Ms. Coulter.


Ti-Guy said...

I see Peggy Wente's repeating the old "free from offense" mantra typical of right wing know-it-all. When you examine how Rightists like Ann Coulter and to a certain extent, La Wente herself, never, ever submit themselves to a reasonable (let alone robust or hostile) examination and challenge of their so-called arguments, you can understand why offense is all they manage to see when this issue crops up. Because disagreeing with them, especially persuasively, is offensive enough.

When little Peggy Wente was growing up in Chicago, I wonder if she considered the horrific race relations in that city to be a mere matter of offense? Probably.

Anne Peterson said...

It seems an idea surfaces in the media in Ottawa and spreads and spreads and is repeated and repeated until everyone looks like a member of the Borg. You remember the Borg; they were interconnected and all thought the same thoughts. Well, I have some questions about it all.

Since when is it not a democratic right to protest. It seems that members of the media would like to demonize and perhaps even criminalize protests. If I go to Hyde Park in London and talk right back to the speakers there it's OK. Why not in Canada?

Why don't members of the media get the story right. She chose not to speak. There was no real threat to her. She didn't have the courage of her convictions and she ran away. And the university did not ask her to speak. It's not clear who did, but it wasn't them. Maybe someone could find out who it really was. Would that be too much trouble for some journalist to do.

Perhaps Mr. Houle was watching the happenings south of the boarder. The actions of the tea party there are truly scary. They make death threats to their president and everyone else who doesn't agree with them and conduct really frightening violent protests that make the one in Ottawa look truly tame and polite. And Ann Coulter is one of their supporters. One of those people who egg them on. Perhaps he was trying to head off what he thought could be something very , very unpleasant.

I would be very much more embarrassed to be a member of a society which produced someone like her and sent them abroad carrying the messages she carries than to be one whose young people protest her message. Everyone behaves as though she is a rational sane person with a sensibe message. Well, she's not. and the students were trying to point out that she is like that emperor who has no clothes. Good on them.

And the liberals goofed but the week before the conservatives flip flopped like a cod on the docks. I don't vote for either of them but fair's fair.

Ti-Guy said...

Why don't members of the media get the story right.

Or better yet, why don't they have the good sense to move on to discussing this in some way that might be new and interesting?

To give La Wente and the Globe some credit, they did host a "debate' between U. of 0. prof. Paul Saurette and Wente. Predictably, Wente says nothing accurate or interesting, but Saurette did venture a point that hasn't been given much attention in the last while:

I, for one, would never say that we should ‘ban’ polemics or polemicists or suggest that we shouldn’t listen to polemics. I will actually happily acknowledge that polemics can play a role in public and private life. It can help challenge orthodoxies. It can sometimes clarify an issue by simplifying it. It can get people engaged and motivated. It can make us laugh. It certainly also sells a lot of books.

That said, I think we also have to recognize that polemics also have some very significant disadvantages and costs as a model of public debate. It often intensifies divisions in society without good reason; it ramps up (usually negative) emotions and short circuits – both in terms of time and in terms of willingness – more thoughtful reflection; and it makes it really difficult to really listen to other ideas and try to understand why people might believe them.

Not that I'd call any of the vilification, defamation, outright lying, bigotry, racism and the promotion of genocide that constitutes too much of the public discourse on the Right to be polemics necessarily, since it's all too personal and juvenile.

Marky Mark said...

This part of her column is rather interesting:

"here is an internal e-mail from another senior administrator, obtained by CTV: “I guess we now know what upsets the ‘far right': It's when we demand that they be civil in their discourse. It's when we invite them to weigh their words and be responsible in expressing views.” The student union banned the posters for her speech from the student centre because she was considered too inflammatory."

Coulter and Levant orchestrated somethimg but that doesn't mean that what they revealed isn't real. The same people that want to pin posters of Israelis being baby killers (and who receive no hate speech or incitement warnings) can't tolerate Coulter on campus or her posters. This is a classic example of a "gaffe" where what is spoken is problematic not because it's false but because it's true. Houle and other administrators fell into the trap and proved the Coulter/Leavnt point to be true.

bigcitylib said...

"Orchestrated" it in the sense that stepping on a rake is orchestrated.

Incidentally, its a different university, but Salman Hossein was given the boot wasn't he? Nobody really defended him on free speech grounds.

Ti-Guy said...

what they revealed isn't real.

The only thing that was revealed is that righties like Coulter and Levant get unusual satisfaction from transgressing relatively widely-accepted norms of civility and public behaviour, but only for those issues that are self-serving.

It's not even much of a revelation; it's behaviour most of us outgrow by the time we leave university.

I love transgressing norms, but if I'm informed that a particular posture isn't acceptable, especially in a venue were it's legitimately up to others to decide what is acceptable (such as when visiting other people's houses or institutions or other countries) my first reaction isn't to transgress even more. That's just juvenile.

But, you can't take the ugly out of Americans like Coulter and thoroughly Americanised and insufferable Canadians like Ezra Levant.

RuralSandi said...

Meanwhile, the so-called freedom of speechers, the right wing think tank fire David Frum for speaking and using his freedom of speech.

Why are we still talking about Coulter?

Ti-Guy said...

Why are we still talking about Coulter?

Because people like Margaret Wente are still writing about her.

If the Globe forced Wente to report instead of opine and the National Post had gone tits up like it should have years ago, we'd probably not have had any of these discussions.

Yariv said...

"Incidentally, its a different university, but Salman Hossein was given the boot wasn't he? Nobody really defended him on free speech grounds."

Well it is alleged that Salman Hossein advocated for the murder of all Jews in North America. Not even Anne Coulter did that! Surely given the number of Jewish students attending York this was a wise decision.

Mitka said...
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Mitka said...

Yariv makes a good point. However on Coulter, I hold that she has the right to speak as do demonstrators have the same right. How then does one balance one with the other?

sharonapple88 said...

However on Coulter, I hold that she has the right to speak as do demonstrators have the same right. How then does one balance one with the other?

Seems like a matter of respect. No one would have to manage an event if both sides could agree to respect one another. Of course something like this is impossible to enforce. Some people are more sensitive than others.

But then Coulter's shtick is to say the most inflammatory things. She wants people to react to what she says. Her career is built on whipping people up. So far it appears as thought the protesters had little to do with Coulter's event being canceled in ottawa. This all fits various memes ("Canada doesn't believe in free speech" and "Left-wingers are unhinged"), but Coulter has faced rabid protesters in the States.

Poor planning appears to be more to blame for what happened. If the planning had been better the protesters would have chanted outside, Coulter would have spewed her bile, and everyone would have gone home happy.