Even after Time 's cover story, you still don't know "the real Ann Coulter"
Research ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER
"[Y]ou don't know the real Ann Coulter," Time magazine declares in teasing its cover story on the right-wing pundit.
But after reading the magazine's nearly 6,000-word profile of Coulter, readers still don't know the real Ann Coulter. They don't know the real Ann Coulter because Time carefully hid her from view, glorifying her legal work, whitewashing her habitual lies, and downplaying her -- at best -- grossly inappropriate rhetoric.
Early in the Time article, author John Cloud writes that Coulter "doesn't think of herself as an entertainer but as a public intellectual. Many would say she's more of a shrieking ideologue, but regardless, her paychecks come solely from writing and giving speeches. She earns nothing from TV." But Coulter's lack of a television paycheck may not be, as Cloud suggests, evidence of Coulter's high-minded preference for writing and speech-making. Perhaps she just can't get a TV paycheck; she was, after all -- as Cloud noted much, much later in the article -- fired from her job as an MSNBC commentator.
In establishing Coulter's bona fides as a serious person, Cloud notes that Coulter was a lawyer before becoming a commentator, explaining her "biggest case":
"And of course the biggest case Coulter ever helped handle as an attorney (she got her law degree from the University of Michigan in 1988) was a sexual-harassment claim of an unsophisticated woman against her powerful former boss. Coulter was one of a handful of informal legal advisers quietly helping Paula Jones, who had alleged in a 1994 lawsuit that she suffered distress and retaliation at her state job after refusing Arkansas Governor Clinton's request for oral sex in 1991. Coulter interviewed Jones and helped write her legal briefs."
Left out is one seemingly important detail: the case was dismissed for complete and total lack of merit. It was a glorified nuisance suit:
In a ruling that shocked both sides, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected all of Jones's claims stemming from her 1991 encounter with Clinton in a hotel suite. Even if Clinton did make a crude proposition, the judge concluded that it would not constitute sexual assault and that there was no proof Jones was emotionally afflicted or punished in the workplace for rebuffing him. "There are no genuine issues for trial in this case," she wrote.
Also left out is Coulter's admission that to her, the purpose of the case wasn't to serve Jones's interests, but rather "bringing down the President."
While embellishing Coulter's legal work, pretending it was something more than partisan hackery, Cloud downplays Coulter's history of outrageous comments, unquestioningly quoting Coulter friend Miguel Estrada downplaying her vicious attacks as "a little bit of a polemicist" (Coulter herself sees no need for the qualifier; she told the Sunday Times of London that "I am a polemicist. I am perfectly frank about that") and writing that "Coulter can occasionally be coarse."
"Occasionally" coarse? A "little bit" of a polemicist? This about a "commentator" who claimed that the Democratic Party "supports killing, lying, adultery, thievery, envy"; who said of the idea that the American military were targeting journalists, "Would that it were so!"; who said President Clinton "was a very good rapist"; who insisted that "[l]iberals love America like O.J. loved Nicole"; who said that "I think a baseball bat is the most effective way these days" to talk to liberals; who said it was lucky for former senator Max Cleland's political career that he lost an arm and two legs in Vietnam; who has said her "only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times Building"; and who wrote that the only real question about Bill Clinton was "whether to impeach or assassinate."
What, exactly, would it take for Time to declare that someone is "frequently" coarse?
Perhaps taking note of her threats against liberals would do it:
When contemplating college liberals, you really regret once again that [American Taliban supporter] John Walker [Lindh] is not getting the death penalty. We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.
Perhaps it would ... if Time had seen fit to include the full quote instead of cutting it off after "intimidate liberals," thus excluding the portion of the quote in which she intimates that liberals should fear for their lives -- just as she suggested assassinating a sitting president, bemoaned Timothy McVeigh's decision not to murder employees of The New York Times, and wished aloud that reporters in Iraq would get shot.
Along with downplaying Coulter's divisive rhetoric, Time unquestioningly repeats many of her comments.
Cloud writes that Coulter "has never wobbled on Bush's signature deed, the war in Iraq. 'The invasion of Iraq has gone fabulously well,' she wrote last June," comparing her consistency on the topic with Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's comments suggesting the U.S. might have to pull out of Iraq. But Coulter's lack of wobble aside, what about the substance of her comments? Cloud doesn't say; Time readers are left to guess. The Coulter column declaring that the Iraq war was going "fabulously well" appeared in June 2004; April and May 2004 were, at the time, the two deadliest months for U.S. troops in Iraq -- 136 Americans died in Iraq in April, and 84 died in May. Was Coulter right, or was she wrong? Arguments can be made either way, but Time simply acts as though it doesn't matter.
Cloud writes of Coulter's thoughts on terrorism:
Coulter says profiling makes sense when Muslims have committed virtually all the terrorist attacks against Americans for the past 25 years--she begins a terrorism timeline in her latest book with Iranian militants taking Americans hostage in Tehran in 1979. She says of Timothy McVeigh's bombing in Oklahoma City, Okla., "One does not a pattern make."
One need only turn to page 15 of the very same issue of Time for a reminder that Timothy McVeigh isn't the only non-Muslim, American-born terrorist who has attacked the U.S. in recent years. Eric Rudolph, Time's "Milestones" column notes, pleaded guilty last week to "to the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics and attacks on abortion clinics in Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., and an Atlanta gay club, leaving a total of two dead and more than 150 injured." Given the timing of the plea, it seems it would be worth noting in response to Coulter's contention about Muslims. Perhaps Time simply lacked space in its 5,800-word profile.
But it gets worse. Time's Cloud quoted Coulter's claim that "liberals" have "produced" only one error of fact in her writing; this obvious lie is presented without rebuttal:
Slander was followed in 2003 by Treason, and by then Coulter had inspired an industry of debunkers, people who scour her every utterance for mistakes large and small. Entire websites were devoted to this purpose.
When I asked Coulter about her mistakes, she responded by e-mail: "I think I can save you some time ... The one error liberals have produced is that I was wrong when I said the NYT didn't mention Dale Earnhardt's death on the front page the day after his death. There have been novels and Broadway plays written about Ann Coulter's one mistake, which was pretty minor IMHO [in my humble opinion] -- the Times article DID begin: 'His death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart.' "
Actually, it didn't. The article began, "Stock car racing's greatest current star and one of its most popular and celebrated figures, Dale Earnhardt, crashed and was killed today ..." The article doesn't mention Wal-Mart, although a subsequent piece did.
Though Cloud noted that Coulter's defense of her Earnhardt mistake was, itself, also untrue, he didn't take issue with her contention that "liberals" have identified only one mistake in her writing. This is an obvious falsehood; liberals and others have identified many, many errors of fact in Coulter's writing, as a search of Media Matters for America, Spinsanity.org, or countless other resources would reveal.
But Cloud deems Coulter mostly accurate: "Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors."
One would have hoped that the author of a 5,800-word Time magazine cover story would go beyond performing a simple Google search; Nexis would be a good start. But even Cloud's simple Google search should have been enough to dispel the notion that it's difficult to find "outright Coulter errors." The fourth "hit" that Cloud's Google search yields is a review of Coulter's Slander on the nonpartisan Spinsanity.org website, which revealed Coulter to have erred about:
- The number of articles the New York Times printed about "Selma" over a six-year period;
- The frequency of the Times' use of the phrase "moderate Republican" vs. that of "liberal Republican"; and
- Former Vice President Al Gore's claim to have been the inspiration for the book Love Story.
Likewise, a quick look at just the first three of 11 pages of search results for "Coulter" at Media Matters finds examples of Coulter lying or being wrong about:
- The New York Times "outing" gays (the people mentioned in the article in question were already "out") and ignoring former atheist William Murray's conversion to Christianity (the paper didn't ignore it; it covered it.)
- Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, and John Kerry supposedly running for president "under invented names" (they didn't);
- The Bush administration's refusal to reimburse the District of Columbia for costs incurred during Bush's inauguration;
- Long-discredited allegations that President Clinton "sold burial plots in Arlington National Cemetery."
In short: Coulter is wrong very, very often, and Cloud's suggestion to the contrary is simply bizarre.
Equally bizarre is Cloud's assessment of Coulter's writing on gender issues:
Coulter -- who likes to shock reporters by wondering aloud whether America might be better off if women lost the right to vote -- howls at the idea that she was a college feminist. But even today, she can write about gender issues with particular sensitivity.
Here are some quotes Cloud probably didn't have in mind when he wrote of Coulter's alleged "sensitivity":
- September 23, 2004: "I'm so pleased with my gender. We're not that bright."
- Same day: "Women, though they're not as bright, don't want to die any more than men."
- From How to Talk To a Liberal (If You Must): "The real reason I loathe and detest feminists is that real feminists, the core group, the Great Thinkers of the movement, which I had until now dismissed as the invention of a frat boy on a dare, have been at the forefront in tearing down the very institutions that protect women: monogamy, marriage, chastity, and chivalry. And surveying the wreckage, the best they have to offer is: 'Call me Ms.'"
- May 5, 2004: "I think the other point that no one is making about the [Abu Ghraib] abuse photos is just the disproportionate number of women involved, including a girl general running the entire operation. I mean, this is lesson, you know, one million and 47 on why women shouldn't be in the military. In addition to not being able to carry even a medium-sized backpack, women are too vicious."
- Propaganda/Noise Machine