Transcript for Berkeley Professor Robert Reich: First Amendment is 'absolutely critical'
The university of California Berkeley 1964. The birth of the free speech movement. Left wing student activists asserting their right to free expression, leading to mass arrests. And a full year of protests. This year, Berkeley once again is at the center of a national controversy of free expression. This time over the right of conservatives to express their views. It's the left now being accused of trying to suppress free speech. In month, Berkeley cancelled a speech by conservative fire brand Ann Coulter citing fears her appearance could lead to a violent backlash. Joining me now, Ann Coulter and Berkeley professor and former Clinton labor secretary Robert Reich. You and Ann coulderter agree on basingly nothing. But you said Berkeley made a grave mistake for canceling her speech. As you said. I don't ever remember agreeing with Ann Coulter on anything. I do believe in the first amendment. I'll fight for her right to say what she wants to say. The first amendment is and freedom of speech is the corner stone of our democracy. And, whether it's college campuses or somebody burning a flag or it's the -- newspapers having a right to say whatever they want, we cannot toy around with the first amendment. It's absolutely critical. Ann? Well, thank you, professor. For allowing me my constitutional rights. But, I mean, I must say, I think this debate has, first of all, has divided leftists in the country from those who believe in the constitution and those who don't. I think we have seen this thuggish violence at university after university after university, Mario Savio, who stood up in the '60s and yelled free speech at Berkeley. That was free speech for lefties. Like they say about democracy in the third world. One man, one vote, one time. As soon as lefties took over the the university, that's it. Free speech is shut down. But any way, I think that hill, when we have owe what, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and bill Maher, among others, all saying of course you should let Ann Coulter speak. We're done with that hill. Let's move on to the hill where it's considered, I mean, some of these people, not you, professor, keep saying, well, of course, it's hateful. But hateful speech is allowed the exist. I'm sorry, I'm engaging in a ploik policy debate. That is not hateful speech. I think those are the lefties we need to discuss with next. These are important issues of public policy. But, Ann -- the reaction of students at a place like Berkeley can't surprise you given some of the things you have said. Oh, please. Let's take a look. You have said that getting rid of women's right to vote is a personal fantasy. You said of one group of 9/11 widows and I quote, I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much. And then there was the tweet that you put out just the day before the election saying, if only people with at least four grandparents born in America were voting, trump would win in a 50-state landslide. I mean, on that one, by the way, neither Donald Trump nor Mike pence would be able to vote. Um -- I -- okay. Let's just take that one. We can go through all the greatest hits of much of my commentary. I watch roughly 24 hours a day, the hispanic vote. The hispanic vote. How the browning of America. And how are African-Americans voting. How are women voting. I describe one demographic and say how it would come out. And that's hate speech? Why isn't it hate speech to keep telling me how hispanics are going to vote. You're talking about rhetorical flourishes. Maybe you think you're smarter than the founding fathers. They did not put an asterisk on the first amendment. No rhetorical flourishes. No jokes. Well, we finally found something, after all these years, where I agree with Ann Coulter. That is there is no hate speech exception for the first amendment. So, I want to ask you about the similar controversy that we saw at middle bury over Charles Murray's attempted speech, which, caused violent protests. He ultimately was unable to speak. A student at middlebury explained the situation to "The New York Times" this way. For too long, flauded notion of free speech has allowed individuals in positions of power to spread racist pseudoscience in academic institutions dehumanizing and subjugating people of minorities. Are you concerned that there is a growing view among young activists that freedom of speech simply does not apply to offensive speech? There is that asterisk? Jonathan, to the extent that there is that view at Berkeley or any place else, I am concern period one of the purposes of a university education is to be provoked. To examine what the evidence is. If something says something offensive, that is not per se, you know, a violation of any kind of university norm. In fact, quite the opposite. I tell my students all the time, the best way to learn something is to talk to people who disagree with you. It forces -- that forces you to sharpen your views and test your views. You might even, might even come out in a different place. A university of all places is the -- is the -- locusts where we want to have provocative views. We want to have views that some people find to be offensive the. Ann, can we find another place where the two of you might agree? I want to ask you. I talked to reince Priebus about what the president has said about opening up the libel laws. He said they're still looking into this. In other words, giving the president the ability to sue "The New York Times" or other news organizations for coverage he doesn't like. Can we agree? I have always thought there should be a pure truth falsity standard and a limit on damages. Universities ought to be places where I'm not the only conservative most institutes will hear in four years of claej. It shows this radical insulated left on the college campus. S. And the entire left wing, including president Obama and Bill Maher on the other side and what useless institutions our universities are. The prices are up 3,000% since the '70s. Is the education better? No. It's worse. The lefties are on the side of the thugs. I don't think anyone learns anything about college anymore. It's a four-year vacation. People ought to be looking at that. The taxpayers are supporting the universities. Not just T university of California but with federal grants. Every university in America. If I can just get to your question, Jonathan, the libel laws should not be widened. We really do need a free press. One thing that concerns me about the present administration is the willingness to not only talk about widening the libel laws and also criminalize flag-burning, but, even the president of the United States last night, using an opportunity in Harrisburg to summon his supporters and to criticize the press once again. This is dangerous. If we believe in the first amendment, we believe in a free and independent press. All right, professor Robert Reich and Ann Coulter, in a debate you couldn't have seen at Berkeley. Thank you for joining us. Thank you. Thank you.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.