NJ legislators call on bookstores to "ban" the sale of Ann Coulter's Godless

I can't stand Ann Coulter, but this response to her vileness is just plain stupid and plays right into her hands as "evidence" supporting the attacks Democrats that she makes in her book:


Hate-filled Attacks on NJ 9-11 Widows Has No Place on NJ Bookshelves

(TRENTON) - Assemblywomen Joan M. Quigley and Linda Stender today castigated political commentator Ann Coulter for vicious remarks made against four New Jersey September 11th widows in her new book "Godless: The Church of Liberalism."... In response to these incendiary, hate-filled attacks on women who suffered a terrible personal tragedy four-and-a-half years ago and have selflessly advocated to improve national security in the intervening years, the Assemblywomen issued the following statement, denouncing Coulter's attacks and asking New Jersey retailers to ban the sale of her book throughout the state:

"Ann Coulter's criticism of 9-11 widows, whose only desire since the attacks have been to repair their shattered lives and protect other families from the horrors they have experienced, is motivated purely by
petty greed and hate.

"Her assertion that these women enjoyed watching their husbands die on national television is hateful, hurtful, and runs counter to every sentiment expressed since the September 11th tragedy.

"Coulter's vicious characterizations and remarks are motivated by greed and her desire to sell books. By making these claims, she proves herself worse than those she is attempting to vilify - she is a leech trying to turn a profit off perverting the suffering of others.

"No one in New Jersey should buy this book and allow Ann Coulter to profit from her hate-mongering. We are asking New Jersey retailers statewide to stand with us and express their outrage by refusing to carry or sell copies of Coulter's book. Her hate-filled attacks on our 9-11 widows has no place on New Jersey bookshelves."

I note that these legislators, as far as I can tell, aren't trying to pass an actual law to ban Coulter's book. That, of course, would be clearly unconstitutional, and even these legislators must know this. However, they are using their position as legislators to put the apparent imprimature of the State of New Jersey on their desire to suppress speech that they find offensive, even though they know that the state cannot ban the book. Clearly, they're making this empty gesture as a very transparent political ploy to pander to those in the state offended by Ann Coulter's nonsense. Worse, they're playing right into Coulter's hands, as her allies represent this as though they are actually trying to ban her book.

If these legislators had merely expressed their outrage at Coulter and asked their constituents not to buy her book, I would have had no problem with them. But they are doing more than that. They are "asking" stores all over the state not to carry the book, a request that, if honored, would deny the book to people who might want to read it, for whatever reason, or, at the very least, make it more difficult to get. Even worse, they used the word "ban" in the title of their press release! As much as I detest Ann Coulter, she has a First Amendment right to spew her bile, and people have every right to read her blather, if that's what gets them off. By all means, encourage people not to buy Coulter's book, but don't try to deny others the opportunity to buy it if they so desire. True, legislators have a First Amendment right to release such press releases. However, the way they exercised that right must have Coulter chuckling as she anticipates even higher sales of her book in New Jersey and using the example of these clueless legislators as one more "example" of liberals wanting to suppress speech that they don't agree with.

Oh, I also wish that Joan M. Quigley and Linda Stender used better grammar. "Hate-filled Attacks on NJ 9-11 Widows Has No Place on NJ Bookshelves"? "...whose only desire since the attacks have been"? Doesn't anybody proofread their press releases? I can imagine the fun Coulter will have with their little grammar slipups in their press release as well. There's nothing like making your point with bad grammar.


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In the months that I have been reading you I have rarely disagreed more strongly than I do here. While I agree that the phrasing of the statement by the legistlators can be questioned, and I believe they must make it plain that they are acting a private citizens, I see nothing in what they are doing that deserves censure. (In fact, I am currently attempting to convince a local bookseller to refuse to handle her books.)

No penalty is being suggested for any seller that refuses to go along with this VOLUNTARY action. No boycott of them is being suggested -- nor would I object if one was. The book will be available online, through bookclubs, and at those booksellers who do not chose to go along with the action -- and as a Jersey boy myself, although it has been years since I've crossed the river I know there are many 'cpnservative book stores' that will, obviously, ignore the ban, as will many 'mainstream' stores.

No bookstore can stock every book that is published, obviously. They have to make choices, based on space, the likelihood of selling the books they order, etc. Here they are being asked to make this choice based on principle rather than profit -- in fact, any bookseller that DOES go along knows they will sacrifice sales to a store that does not.

I find the easy analogy is to a drugstore that refuses to sell homeopathic 'medicine' even if its customers ask that they stock it, or to the British Health Service refusing to pay for their clients' choice of 'alternative cures.'

No one is suggesting that anyone be kept from buying the Coultertrash, or penalized for doing so, or any store be penalized for selling it. Nor is anyone suggesting that other writers with similar 'ideas' not be carried. Coulter has in fact attacked, viciously, several important New Jersey residents. She has made other statements that skirt the line of 'felonious incitement' -- though, since she is a lawyer, I assume she has just barely kept within the legal boundaries. She has suggested that professors and Supreme Court Justices be killed, that Timothy McVeigh should have driven his truck outside the New York TIMES building, etc. ad extreme nauseam.

Suggesting to a business owner that he or she should not profit from purveying this poison strikes me as an altogether admirable action.

Would you protest if someone suggested to a bookstore that they not carry wotrks by holocaust deniers? Have you not protested the poor judgment of newspapers that chose to carry ads from the IHR? Would you be horrified if someone suggested that a store not carry the TURNER DIARIES?

Coulter is not just a hate monger (and a felon, if the voting fraud charges are true, as they seem to be), she is seriously poisoning the stream of political discussion.

While supporting a voluntary boycott is okay, calling for a ban is inappropriate. Legislators have to be aware that they are not just private citizens, and any call to limit speech is wrong.

That being said, I think the bigger issue we must consider is what has happened to our society to make this book a bestseller. I don't want bookstores to ban the Turner Diaries, Mein Kampf, or anything else, but if they suddenly jumped to #1 in sales, that would be disconcerting. Ann Coulter is not making political arguments in favor of a conservative viewpoint. She is ranting without evidence, using ad hominem attacks, and generally lowering the level of discourse.

The only reason that a book like this becomes something that people think is worth reading and debating is because our level of discourse has already been lowered by those who are supposed to raise it. We see the same poor style of argument on a daily basis from the White House press secretary, Members of Congress, and many others who should know better.

As a recent convert to the blogosphere, I am amazed at how much more often I see reasonable, evidence-supported debate here than in the mainstream media. Maybe that is just because I can filter out the flaming more easily here. But really, if you had a blog that read like a Fox News or Crossfire transcript, would anyone read it? Apparently if Ann Coulter wrote it, people would.

I agree with Prup. The legislators did not even call for a ban--that was the newspaper's language. They called for a boycott on the part of the retailers. This is a perfectly fine usage of the market to punish unpopular speech, and happens every day in response to unpopular speech such as pornography (seen Playboy at your local Wal-Mart?). The legislators did not attempt to legislate their boycott, they merely expressed their desire for such a boycott.

As far as this being exactly what Coulter wanted, I have to say that the harpy would screech censorship even if every American were required to own her book. I really don't care what she or her supporters think. If NJ stores boycott Coulter's book, then her followers can boycott those stores.

The legislators did not even call for a ban--that was the newspaper's language.


Look again at the link (and this one). "Ban" was the word used in the headline of the press release written by Quigley and Stender, not the language of the newspaper. The press release appeared to have been published unedited. However, on the Assembly Democrats website, it does appear that they have retracted that language and turned the word "ban" to "boycott" as seen here (and here). Maybe someone pointed out to them the unconstitutionality of calling for a "ban." Either that, or it's possible that the New Jersey Reporter website changed the language of the press release, although I doubt it, noting that it is being asserted that the press release was edited to remove the word "ban" on either Monday or Tuesday:

Quigley and Stender's original press release used the word "ban", not "boycott", in both the title and the body of the text. The word "boycott" was edited into the release (both here and on the Assembly Democratic website) either on Monday the 12th or Tuesday the 13th.

It all fits with the versions of the press release that showed up before Monday containing the word "ban" and now the "official" version containing the word "boycott." Also, the comments on the site above dated before the 12th mention the word "ban." If anyone can show me compelling evidence that this is not the case and that the original version using the word "ban" was an alteration and the present "official" version the original, I'll certainly consider it.

Whatever the case, do note with amusement that they apparently didn't bother to fix the grammar errors in the press release. ;-)

Finally, here's a more appropriate reply from a different NJ legislator.

I'll have a more substantive reply to Prup later. No time now.

In my view, Orac's right and Prup's wrong.
Taking Coulter seriously, cloaking her in the robe of the free-speech martyr, and giving her book's publicity a huge boost in the process, seems like the dumbest move by a NJ politician in, oh, weeks.
Here, in case you were wondering, are appropriate responses to Ann Coulter:

1) Ridicule
2) Savage Mockery
3) Studied Indifference

I live in New Jersey, and I believe that the two legislators have made an error of judgment in calling for bookstores here to ban Coulter's book, no matter how well-meaning their efforts may be. Their statement smacks of censorship, in that it would deny people the choice of buying or not buying the book. They should be aware that their positions as public officials gives the imprimatur of government censorship, no less. They used their titles in their press release, making it clear that they are not stating their position as simple private citizens.

The book's content is offensive. I believe Coulter's goal is to be offensive. She wants the attention, and now she's getting even more of it with calls of a boycott. This will be all over the local news.

I say let people buy this filth if they want to, it's a free country. Let others choose to not buy the filth. But give them a choice. In fact, I say keep the book on bookstore shelves. It will let people go to bookstores, leaf through the book, see firsthand how deranged Coulter is, then put the book down and not buy it.

The vast majority of bookstores here in NJ are either Borders, or Barnes & Noble. It's doubtful that store managers here can make the individual decision to boycott selling the book.

"Boycott" or 'ban" in this case is a distinction without a difference. (Nor do I see a difference between requesting Jersey citizens not to buy the book or requesting New Jersey booksellers not to sell it.) I point out that it was merely the statement of two legislators, not a bill in the legislature -- and if it had been a 'sense of the Legislature' resolution, it STILL would have been acceptable -- and if I'd stayed in Skyline Lakes and been elected from there, I would have voted for it.

In any of these cases it is nothing more than a REQUEST for VOLUNTARY action, a request that would have been ignored, of course, by many of the stores -- particularly the sort of stores where this belongs, the "American Opinion" and other Conservative book stores. Again there was no punishment, no enforcement, and the book would have been readily available to anyone who wanted to buy it -- in NYC or Philly and on-line (have you seen how many ads are on Conservative websites for it) even if every bookstore in New Jersey had gone along.

I'll give a list of books that can't be bought except in specialty stores if you'd like. Sometimes because of the opinions expressed, sometimes simply because they are only likely to selll there.

I look forward to Orac's response, but I will, I'm sure have my own. (Orac, "I luv ya, guy" but this time you are simply wrong.)

I stand corrected on the usage of the term "ban" at least by their press secretary (although their quoted statements neither mentioned a ban nor a boycott by name), as attested to by the Google cache. My point stands, however; the legislators did not call on a legislative ban, they called on stores to voluntarily refuse to stock the book. They are community leaders; that is the kind of thing that is expected of them. It is not unconstitutional for them to call for a ban voluntarily entered into by retailers. It is unconstitutional for them to try to impose a ban using the tools of government.

And the reply by the legislator is wrong--even if we ignore Coulter, enough people pay attention to her that she does real harm. She must be openly denounced and debated, and the people who follow her should be publically shamed, not by the government, but by civil people.

I see this as a fairly simple situation. Quigley and Stender are not attempting to ban Coulter's book: they are asking booksellers not to carry it.

Ann Coulter is free to write her book, but not publishing house is obliged to publish it for her. Since it has been published, she is free to promote it, but no media outlet is obliged to run and advertisement for it. She has found media outlets willing to do so (just as she has found outlets willing to run her usual idiotic columns).

And, finally, she is free to sell her product, but no bookseller is obliged to put it on their shelves.

Quigley and Stender aren't putting the "imprimature of the State" on anything, although they are using their positions to get their opinions publicized in the media (if I stood on a soap box with their request, who'd notice?). As you said, they aren't trying to enact any sort of legislation or regulation to "ban" the book.

As far as I can tell, they have "merely expressed their outrage", so you seem to be having a knee-jerk reaction to a vague notion of censorship that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

On a related note, did Quigley and Stender actually use the word ban, or did the news editor insert it into the headline. Make sure you lay the blame at the right doorstep.

All that said, Coulter probably will be able to spin this statement in her favor, as you suggest.

On a related note, did Quigley and Stender actually use the word ban, or did the news editor insert it into the headline. Make sure you lay the blame at the right doorstep.

The word "ban" was used in two places in the original press release as explained a couple of comments up. It was in the headline and in the first paragraph. Sometime in the last couple of days they changed the word "ban" to "boycott," probably because of the flack they're getting.

As far as I can tell, they have "merely expressed their outrage", so you seem to be having a knee-jerk reaction to a vague notion of censorship that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Any time a legislator "merely expresses her outrage" by calling for a "ban" (or a "boycott," if you will), she is using her position as part of the State government to give her call more authority. Quigley and Stender are using official state media channels and their official state press secretary to put out their message. That they backpedaled so fast makes me think that someone had to talk some sense into them--hopefully their constituents.

Finally, I never said that any bookseller is obliged to carry her book or that Quigley and Stender are not free to publish their press release calling for a "ban" or a "boycott" or whatever. I was merely pointing out that it was a very bad idea for them to do so in the way that they did.

One more point. Isn't it ridiculous to complain about giving Coulter publicity when there were 500 references in Google news to her a day after her exhibitionist TODAY performance. She'll get the publicity anyway. Ignoring her merely means she'll be able to control the publicity she gets. But statements as strong as booksellers giving up substantial profits because of their hatred of the book is the type of publicity she doesn't need.

Again, an analogy. When her hero, Sen. McCarthy was running around, most newspapers felt it was their duty to objectively report the charges he was making, since they WERE news, and it would have been editiorializing to call them the lies they were. Ed Murrow felt it was his duty to expose him -- in his own words. That was 'giving him publicity' yes, but it also started his demise.

But the real publicity that will kill her celebrity is the court case, her arrogant and felonious (if proven) voting law violations.

Living in the UK, I'm not as aware of Ann Coulter as is the case in the US (nor is the creationist/intelligent design issue as big over here), but from what I've read today alone I suggest rather than banning/boycotting it why don't booksellers simply put it in the 'humour' section where it clearly belongs.

Orac, thanks for a lot of terrific posts. Now for the clinker. There is a difference between flack and flak. Tony Snow is a flack. The current usage of flak, intense criticism, derives from the WW2 term for anti-aircraft fire.

Dude, that's picky. Such things sometimes happen when I type fast.

BTW, Prup, I haven't forgotten; I just got sidetracked.

The word "ban" was used in two places in the original press release as explained a couple of comments up. It was in the headline and in the first paragraph. Sometime in the last couple of days they changed the word "ban" to "boycott," probably because of the flack they're getting.

Well, they obviously erred, then. I just wanted to clear that up, because it's not obvious from quoted content in the main post.

My opinion is that any individual should be able to form their own opinion about the book. And that individual can't do that if they don't have reasonable access to the book, because it isn't stocked at local bookstores.

I would have been more supportive of the NJ legislators if they had expressed their indignation of the book's content, and then urged their constituents to let their opinions of it be known, by writing to local newspapers, or to TV shows where Coulter has appeared, and especially by writing to her publisher.

This past weekend, the editors of the Phila. Inquirer wrote an editorial lambasting Coulter's views. However, they didn't call for a boycott of the book. They didn't tell people not to read the book. They didn't tell people to boycott bookstores that sell the book. They didn't call for public libraries to take the book off their shelves, or to never put the book on their shelves to begin with.

What a lovely procession of strawmen you have arranged for us. No one has called on libraries to refuse to stock the book, or remove it from their shelves. No one has called for a boycott of stores that sell it -- I did say that I would have found this acceptable, however no one called for it. (On second thought, I would simply argue that if you wanted a book that was available at two stores, one of which had made the principled decision not to be an accomplice of Coulter's poison-spreading, and the other hadn't, it might be a good thing to reward the honorable store by giving them your patronage.) As for boycotting the book itself, it's a little too late for that, wouldn't you say? It is the #1 bestseller on the TIMES list.

And when you suggest "that individual can't do that if they don't have reasonable access to the book, because it isn't stocked at local bookstores" I can only presume you are being deliberately silly. In the first place, there are conservative book store who would never follow such a sugestion. Nor, sadly, would the 'big chains' put principle over profit. And there are conservative and regular book clubs, not to mention dozens of on-line retailers who are offering the book.

As for telling people 'don't buy the book,' many bloggers and commentators have said just this, including Orac by implication at least. Some people have said 'don't buy it, don't discuss it, don't give her any more publicity.' That is a tactic I can't agree with. Even now, with all the news stories about the book, and all the commentators discussing it, it is only here and on similar skeptical blogs that I have seen even a mention that she is a Creationist. (I believe, but can't prove, this was deliberate, that she knew everybody would get so hung up on her 'Jersey Girl' quotes that they'd ignore the more important 'points' she is making and she wouldn't have to defend THEM.)

As for writing her publishers, one blogger -- sorry, don't remember who -- pointed out that she is published by a branch of Random House, the same publisher that was responsible for James Frey. They apologized for him, and he only lied about himself, but have yet to apologize for someone who is lying about other people.

One final note on publishers. When Macmillan published Immanuel Velikovsky's WORLDS IN COLLISON in 1950, a number of scientists and science writers who were also published by Macmillan asked for their books to be withdrawn because they did not want to be associated with a publisher who could publish the magnificent nonsense of Velikovsky's cosmic billiard balls. Sadly, with the ccentration of publishing over the recent decades, this is no longer an option.

I really wasn't going to post more on this until I got some more response, but then I went to Andrew Sullivan's blog. The following comment says, better than I, or most other writers I have seen, why Coulter's book is so much more offensive than the rantings of the Limbaughs and O'Reillys -- and why I think her 'Jersey Girl comments' are deliberate 'loss leaders' meant to distract commenters from the real point of her books. It's from today's post "Baptists and Booze."

"It's astonishing that liberalism now has a built-in theological meaning, i.e. "Godless." That's the point of Coulter's latest best-seller, as it was Hannity's in his repulsively titled book, "Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism and Liberalism." The point is to portray your political opponents as part of a Manichean struggle against existential evil. And so "liberalism" is literally demonized. In this way, politics collapses into religion, and the political debate becomes the hunt to expose and punish heresy."

If I owned a bookstore, I wouldn't want to sell the damned thing. I probably would. Maybe not, but probably.

It's not like Bookstores are Pharmacies though. You can get "speech" just about anywhere and there's unlikely to ever be any medical urgency for it, but prescriptions? {shakin'head} If they don't want to sell something with which they've a serious issue, there's no public health compulsion involved.

You're absolutely right about the idiocy of the NJ Pols on this one, though. They've done little but feed the freaks ammo.

I mentioned I was attempting to convince a local bookstore owner not to carry the book. I ran into her while shopping yesterday, and she told me that 'I've returned the copy of that book. I just can't stand having it in the store.' No pressure from me -- I rarely buy books except from her discount bin -- just giving her the facts. I am proud of myself, and of her.