clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘The Opposite of Hate’ author Sally Kohn talks about being under fire for quote controversy — and forgiving others

“Nobody likes learning lessons, and it sucks to learn them in public.”

If you buy something from a Vox link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

“The Opposite of Hate” author Sally Kohn Paul Takeuchi

CNN political commentator Sally Kohn’s new book, “The Opposite of Hate,” prescribes that to fight against bigotry and hatred, we must first understand it. Ironically, Kohn’s publicity tour for the book has been tangled up in a bitter misunderstanding about race, privilege and reporting.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, Kohn responded to accusations that she misquoted Call Your Girlfriend co-host Aminatou Sow and misrepresented writer Ijeoma Oluo by pitting the alleged misquote and some of Oluo’s past tweets against one another. Kohn is white; Sow and Oluo are black, and the quote in question paints Sow as violent and threatening.

(Disclosure: As she says in the interview, Swisher is personal friends with Sow.)

Kohn says she stands by her original reporting and the fact that the conversation was on the record (which Sow has disputed), but apologized for “print[ing] words that hurt someone”; she says the quote has been removed from digital and future printings of “The Opposite of Hate.”

“I had consent to quote Amina, she said the quote. I took notes visibly and contemporaneously while she was talking,” Kohn said. “I’ve since produced those notes. People are going to believe what they want to believe. Those are the facts.”

“What is also true is that as a white woman, I did not look at that quote in the context in which I was using it, or in general, and see the ways it perpetuated stereotypes and could expose her to vulnerability,” she added. “That is also true. For that reason, not just because of the circumstances, I wish I had gone back and reconfirmed that she was okay with me using that quote.”

Although the controversy has drawn attention away from the rest of Kohn’s book, she said it has also reaffirmed her beliefs about engaging with others.

“Listen, it sucks,” she said. “Nobody likes learning lessons, and it sucks to learn them in public. Part of what I want to stand for is that we have to be able to have these conversations because this is only way we get better and learn. We have to be able to challenge each other and we have to be able to listen and engage, even when it’s hard, even when we don’t want to.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

On the new podcast, Kohn also talked about how she applies her faith that people can change to others who may find themselves in bitter, social media-fueled controversies. She said that even when there are social costs, she’d rather stand up for her friends like MSNBC anchor Joy Reid, who was accused of authoring homophobic blog posts and initially blamed them on an elaborate hack.

“I believe in Joy,” Kohn said. “I thought, this is someone I care about, going through this. Apart from the fact that I believe all people to be inherently good people, I know she’s a good person. I also believe in forgiveness and change. I thought, I want to support her. I want to be the kind of person who is supportive in those moments.”

She also cited the example of radio host and Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, who came under fire for belittling one of the survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., David Hogg. After more than a dozen advertisers pulled out of her show on Fox, Ingraham apologized.

“When I saw she apologized — I’m not saying he has to forgive — I thought, ‘Good!’” Kohn said. “What’s the choice: Would we rather her dig in and not apologize, or apologize? Now, was it a perfect apology? Was it motivated by losing ads? I’d still rather her apologize than not apologize!”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • On Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, we answer the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Kara.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.