FOR RELEASE: March 10, 2010
Contact: Richard T. Kaplar
The Media Institute
Arlington, Va., March 10, 2010 – A group of distinguished First Amendment attorneys and scholars is calling on MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann to publicly apologize to preeminent First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams, over Olbermann’s Jan. 21 attack likening Abrams to a Nazi collaborator.
Olbermann took issue with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Citizens United, which would allow corporations to pay for political campaign ads. Speaking of Abrams (who had represented a U.S. senator in the proceedings), Olbermann said among other things that “when it really counted,” Abrams “help[ed] the corporations destroy free speech.”
Olbermann predicted that Abrams “will go down in the history books as the Quisling of freedom of speech in this country.”
The First Amendment leaders decried this “unwarranted personal attack” on Abrams:
“Floyd Abrams is the foremost First Amendment advocate of our time. He also is Jewish. For any Jew to be compared to a Nazi collaborator is vile, but in the case of Floyd is simply beyond comprehension. But your offhanded inclusion of this ugly epithet points to a deeper problem that has degraded public discourse – the breakdown of civility….
“Of course, you have the right to say what you did in your ‘special comment.’ None of us questions that, and each of us would be willing to defend against any attempt to suppress your speech. We do not doubt your rights – just your judgment. It does not endanger free expression to counsel self-control and civility.”
Signers of the open letter* are members of The Media Institute’s First Amendment Advisory Council. Floyd Abrams is also a member of that council. The complete letter can be viewed on the Institute’s website at www.mediainstitute.org.