CNN host Brooke Baldwin and contributor Ben Ferguson took a patronizing tone towards a Rutgers University activist on Thursday over students’ objections to the school inviting National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to speak at its commencement ceremony.
“You were essentially successful, because she basically bowed out from speaking,” Baldwin told Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. “What was it, exactly, about Condoleezza Rice that so bothered you?”
“It really is not about freedom of speech, and it’s not about a successful career,” Al-Khatahtbeh replied. “What is success if it’s used to violate basic human rights, basic civil rights, like the students are claiming?”
“Condoleezza Rice,” Baldwin interjected. “Tell me about her.”
“Our protest against Condoleezza Rice were made for exactly the same reason,” Al-Khatahtbeh explained. “We felt that Condoleezza Rice was violating international law. She was one of the first officials to sanction torture tactics like waterboarding that violated international law, yet she was being honored by being invited to speak at our university, and also honored with an honorary degree of law, and that was completely unheard of. Again, we are not trying to get perfect personalities to speak at our commencement. We’re trying to get moral ones.”
Ferguson, who chuckled when Al-Khatahtbeh mentioned waterboarding, cut in, saying, “Sounds like you are.”
“The push-back would be, when you’re in college, that is the place for diversity of thought,” Baldwin said, not acknowledging that Al-Khatahtbeh’s statement regarding Rice and waterboarding has been proven to be true. “You’re required to take myriad courses in different fields of study just to figure out what, ultimately, you want to focus on. You’re friends with folks from all different walks of life. Why shouldn’t a commencement speaker — whether you agree with their politics or not — why should that be any different?”
“It doesn’t come down to political opinions,” Al-Khatahtbeh answered. “In the case of Condoleezza Rice, her actions destroyed an entire nation that is still recovering from a war that was ultimately a failure. This is not about landing on the American political spectrum of ideologies, and it’s certainly not about free speech. This is about what those actions represent — the effects of those actions.”
Al-Khatahtbeh also criticized former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for supporting policies he criticized during a speech at Harvard University’s commencement, during which he accused liberals of trying to “repress” conservative viewpoints.
At this point, Ferguson, who chuckled again when Al-Khatahtbeh mentioned the effects of the Iraq war, again cut in, insisting that Al-Khatahtbeh provide her own choice for a commencement speaker.
“Honestly, it does not come down to a single name, and it’s certainly not up to me,” Al-Khatahtbeh said.
“Give me an example,” Ferguson demanded.
“It’s up to the students,” Al-Khatahtbeh said.
“This is the problem I have with this campus activism that we’re watching unravel right now around the country at these campuses,” Ferguson said. “I asked you for an example of someone that would be acceptable. You don’t have one. It’s like you just want to go out there, get the moment in the sun, act like you have this intense power to stop someone. Condoleezza Rice obviously didn’t want to take away from the day of the graduates, so she bowed out. Others have, as well. But you can’t give me one example of a person that you would find acceptable, and this is campus activism that I don’t understand.”
Baldwin closed the segment by seemingly offering backhanded praise toward Al-Khatahtbeh.
“We talk so much about millenials,” Baldwin said of Amani Al-Khatahtbeh. “And at least give Amani and some of these students credit, because a lot of millenials are seen as lazy and [lacking] real thought and passion. And she’s got it. Maybe she can’t name someone. Maybe she can tomorrow. But I appreciate the discussion.”
“It’s really not up to me to name someone,” Al-Khatahtbeh responded. “It doesn’t come down to a name.”
“It was just a question,” Baldwin said.
Watch the discussion, as aired on CNN on Thursday, below.