Of Many Things

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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
John Walton
5 years 11 months ago
Maybe we should wait to see what happens when the Fordham College Democrats invite Maureen Dowd.  Now there's a woman who hasn't spilled any vitriol.
Eileen Ford
5 years 11 months ago
Thank you for this article.  I never watch MSNBC or FOX because they seek to incite rather than inform viewers.
For political information and news, C-SPAN's Washington Journal from 7am to 10am 7 days a week is best, presenting viewpoints by Democrats and Republicans capable of civil debates and opinions, also PBS Newshour and Public Radio..
We need conservative and liberal ideas in order to move our country forward and urge everyone to pray that President Obama and Speaker Boehner will be able to do whatever is necessary for the common good of our country.
We've been divided for too long - now is the time to stop listening to those on the far right or left.  We need to count our blessings and work together.
John Feehily
5 years 11 months ago
I'm not entirely comfortable with Fr. Malone's enlightened point of view. Somehow I can't imagine Al Sharpton or Lawrence O'Donnell or Ed Schultz not being welcomed with open arms at Fordham though each of them is as vitriolic an "entertainer" as Ms. Coulter. For the record, I am no longer disturbed by nearly anything she says or writes, because I long ago learned that she is a satirist who hasn't quite mastered the difference between biting irony and destructive sarcasm. I would also add that I know of a number of people who are ever ready to disparage Fox News but who never actually watch it, save to tune in from time to time just to make sure that they are not really fair or balanced. As someone comfortable with describing myself as center right, I can assure you that as a more regular viewer of Fox I am often annoyed by its bend over backwards attitude in including liberal points of view. I haven't noticed any such effort on CNN or any other news outlet for that matter. I believe I know why this is the case. Many people on the left seldom regard their point of view as just one among many, but think of it as the more obviously enlightened or correct position.
Lisa Weber
5 years 11 months ago
Father McShane deserves the highest praise for a calm and measured, honest response to the possibility of Ann Coulter speaking at Fordham University.  I don't watch TV at all, but did see about 30 seconds of her nastiness one time.  She had a column in the newspaper I received, and I decided that the only effective response to the hate and stupidity she expressed was to ignore her column entirely.  I have a hard time understanding why she can get anyone's attention at all.
5 years 11 months ago

I think Father Malone has come down too hard on FOX News. Also on Coulter who can be nasty, theatrics I think, but still nasty, which no matter how it’s packaged, I cannot support. but after all her bombast, there is truth. I watch that outlet regularly and believe FOX News  to be truly  “fair and balanced”. Medially and morally I think it’s  motivated by the words of Jesus, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” and by the axiom “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth,” two motivators framed in the following directive of Blessed John Paul II, “Truth is not truth because we believe it. Truth is truth whether we believe it or not!”

Politically, or maybe I should say, “ideologically” most media other than FOX News seem to lack a kind of “middle knowledge” driven by an agenda particularly destructive of traditional family values, rooted in the soil of Sinai, where we first learned not to bow down in adoration before “strange gods.” Within its very inners, that exactly what most media do! I wish the other media would show at least a little objective truth involvement!

God bless Father John Kavanaugh, now resting in peace. I liked to read his AMERICA contribution, which I found ideologically unbiased. His insights were attractive, his conclusions always respected, even when I could not agree one hundred percent with some. I’ll miss him!  

Vincent Gaitley
5 years 11 months ago
Well said, Mr. Walton.  But please, someone wake up at Fordham and warn the innocent students that the world does have "mean" people in it.  Some are provocative conservatives, some, like Maureen Dowd, are liberals.  I'd hate to think that all those bright young students need to be sheltered from meaness.  Maybe we should "means test" meaness.  Some may need more, some less.  Exactly how was mean measured?  Funny thing is, the meannest man I ever met was a Jesuit priest at my alma mater.  He became a college president.  Sigh.
ed gleason
5 years 10 months ago
Fordham GOP caved.. not banned.. so much for the Seven Blocks of Granite of the good ole days.. .


The latest from america

Are the Dodgers now baseball’s cursed squad?
James T. KeaneOctober 23, 2018
 Capuchin Franciscan Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, gives the homily during the Good Friday service led by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher of the papal household, will direct the Ignatian style retreat, the U.S.C.C.B. announced Oct. 23.
Catholic News ServiceOctober 23, 2018
A Catholic literary culture that works in continuity with its rich heritage will give us a contemporary literature that both gazes unflinchingly at the messiness of our present moment and artfully works out its characters’ salvation or damnation.
Joshua HrenOctober 23, 2018
Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018