I wonder what the folks over at Time make of Ann Coulter’s latest demented outburst. You’ll recall it was Time that celebrated her on its cover last year and tried to dress her up as a “public intellectual,” cooing that readers could “trust [she] will speak from her heart.” It’s helpful this week to keep in context Coulter’s relationship with the mainstream media and not only the press’ complete inability, for years, to call her right-wing rhetoric out for what it is (hate speech), but the media’s insatiable need to promote Coulter as some sort of cultural icon.
Here’s an excerpt from my new book, "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush," detailing Time’s disastrous editorial decision last year to make nice with Coulter.
The Time love-fest began in the April 18, 2005 issue when the weekly, compiling its list of the world's most influential people, found room alongside past and present international leaders Ariel Sharon, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama to include Coulter, a cable TV pundit. Time's James Carney, who five months later was promoted to the magazine's Washington Bureau Chief, did the honors, typing up the Coulter valentine, headlined "Gleefully Making the Left Squirm":
"In her books, Coulter can be erudite and persuasive, as when she exposes the left's chronic softness on communism. But her signature is her gleeful willingness to taunt liberals and Democrats, to say out loud what some other conservatives dare only think–that Bill Clinton is a "horny hick," for example, and his wife "pond scum." It's what makes Coulter irresistible and influential, whether you like it or not."
Did you follow that? When Coulter labeled the freshman senator from New York "pond scum" the pundit was being "irresistible," and when she called the 42nd president of the United States a "horny hick," Coulter was being "erudite." (The odds Time would ever toast a left-wing flame thrower who, for instance, slurred Bush as a "recovering drunk" and fantasized about al Qaida bombing Fox News? Zero.)
The very next week Time's adoring Coulter cover story arrived on newsstands. Instead of at least pretending to address how Coulter had helped drive political discourse in this country into the ground (Coulter: "American journalists commit mass murder without facing the ultimate penalty, I think they are retarded"), the magazine propped up the polemicist as a "misunderstood" "public intellectual" who "you can trust will speak from her heart." Coulter was in caring hands at Time. "The officialdom of punditry, so full of phonies and dullards, would suffer without her humor and fire," wrote Time, which insisted on taking Coulter very seriously. ("Ann Hart Coulter was born in New York City on Dec. 8, 1961...") When Time quickly came under attack from progressives for its one-sided Coulter profile, the author, Time's John Cloud, fired back noting that nine months earlier Time had featured lefty Michael Moore on the cover, suggesting the magazine was simply balancing things out with Coulter.
True, both were given the cover treatment as partisan Pied Piper's for their side; Moore for the July 14, 2004 edition, Coulter for the April 25, 2005 issue. At the time of his Time spotlight, the pioneering filmmaker had just released the most successful documentary in history, Fahrenheit 9/11. At the time of her Time spotlight, Coulter's five-month-old book, which recycled her previous columns, had already fallen off the best-sellers list. More importantly, the Moore and Coulter stories themselves were not alike. Moore's profile in Time ran approximately 3,000 words; Coulter's was double that, at 6,000 words. On the July 14 cover, Time fretted over whether Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 was "Good for America?" On the April 14 cover, Time noted how Coulter "delights the right" and asked, "Is she serious of just having fun?" The Moore piece came complete with a sidebar that addressed alleged inaccuracies in Fahrenheit 9/11, while the Coulter piece professed to be unable to uncover any errors in her work. Time wondered whether Moore's charges against Bush were leveled "recklessly." The magazine never used that word to question Coulter's diatribes.
Time's Coulter profile—a whitewash, plain and simple--was an embarrassment for the weekly and illustrated just how off-kilter and unsure of itself the mainstream media had become in the wake of Bush's re-election, and how too many journalists were willing to play dumb regarding the likes of Coulter in an effort to make nice with the Red state news consumers. Despite Time's loving treatment, what really elevated the feature to legendary puff status was when Cloud typed up these two sentences, which his editors, and presumably Time fact checkers, then signed off on:
"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."
In order to print that, Time had to ignore not only the corrections Coulter's own publisher had to make in subsequent editions of her books, but also the tens of thousands of words posted at blogs such as the Daily Howler, Spinsanity, Mediawhoresonline, American Prospect's Tapped, and Scoobie Davis Online, just to name a few, that carefully chronicled the blatant misstatements by Coulter. Here are just two:
*According to Coulter, Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., "supported Clinton's tax hike, and opposed the younger Bush's tax cut." Wrong and wrong. Jeffords voted against Clinton's tax hike (as did all Republicans), and he voted for Bush's tax cut.
*In a 2004 column posted online, Coulter scolded former Vice President Al Gore for comments he made criticizing Bush for "deploying 'digital Brown Shirts' to intimidate journalists." Coulter, lambasting the liberal media, insisted, "Only one major newspaper -- the Boston Herald -- reported Gore's 'Brown Shirt' comment." Not true. News of Gore's 'Brown Shirt' quip was reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post, Kansas City Star, Monterey County Herald, Chattanooga Times Free Press, Charlotte Observer, Tulsa World, Tampa Tribune and Augusta Chronicle, as well as on Fox News, CNN.com, and in Reuters, the Scripps Howard News Service, and the Cox News Service.
-guest posted by Eric Boehlert