Anybody who watched Ann Coulter's June 14th appearance on the Tonight Show had to realize that it was a watershed moment in the war between the establishment media and the progressive netroots, a community fresh off the successful YearlyKos convention. It was also a signal to Democrats that liberal ideology can be denigrated with impunity. Had the words "Jew" or "Christian" or "Conservative" been substituted for "Liberal" we'd be waking up to a national scandal.
Never mind that Jay Leno and George Carlin sat like trembling lambs while Coulter spewed gutter-level invective at millions of Americans - we've already seen the same obsequiousness from Larry King, Matt Lauer (who ended his faux-debate with Coulter by saying "always fun to have you") and others. The larger issue here is that despite an uproar from the progressive netroots, NBC saw fit to give Coulter a platform to continue her liberal-scapegoating and to slander women who lost their husbands on 9/11. (For the record, many rightwing bloggers denounced Coulter and several Democrats attacked her, but their focus was the substance of Coulter's words, not a criticism of the media outlets who continue to provide her a national forum.)
It's hard to deny that Coulter's words border on incitement. What she says is neither amusing nor smart nor humorous nor factual nor worthy of airing on a major media outlet. It treats a substantial segment of the population as sub-human, as creatures deserving of public scorn and worse (She said Jesus would say that "we are called upon to do battle" on liberalism). Careful not to violate Godwin's Law, I'll refrain from the obvious comparisons, but what we're dealing with here is a dangerous inflection point in American politics. When this kind of opprobrium is peddled by major media outlets, it's high time that the Democratic establishment and the larger progressive community understand that this is a make-or-break showdown with the media.
Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and their ilk have made an industry out of liberal-bashing. Coulter fits in perfectly with those hate-traffickers. And contrary to the false Michael Moore comparisons made by Leno and others, there is no progressive counterpart to these people on the national stage. The basic thrust of the left's critique is that George W. Bush and his administration are bad for America. It is in our tradition for citizens to defend the Constitution and to question the actions of their elected leaders. Rightwingers may characterize it as Bush Derangement Syndrome, but the progressive community, by and large, is going after government corruption and lies, not vilifying an entire group of Americans as Bin Laden-loving traitors.
The issue here is not the damage done to America's public discourse - we already know that liberals have become the equivalent of terrorists in the minds of millions of Americans. Nor is the issue the media's hunger for ratings ( what's next, snuff films?) The issue is the establishment media's symbiotic relationship with these rightwing blatherers:
"I've argued that the propagation of anti-left and pro-right narratives by the establishment media is more insidious - and thus more dangerous - than the cowardly bleating of people like Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Bill Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh. When Coulter is invited to spout her putrescence on Larry King Live, the legitimacy granted to her is CNN's fault, not Coulter's. After all, there's no shortage of desperate attention seekers willing to say and do outlandish things to get noticed. The question is, why does CNN grant an open forum to this particular whack-job and not others?
The symbiotic relationship between far right screamers and the establishment media dresses up extremist rhetoric in a veneer of decorum. When Tim Russert, David Broder, Chris Matthews, and the New York Times peek into the Clinton bedroom, they are using their supposed 'neutrality' to disseminate rightwing talking points, thereby magnifying the rightwing echo chamber."
I respect those who think ignoring Ann Coulter's hideous rantings is the best way to deal with her. In normal circumstances, she'd be relegated to fringe websites and would be seen as nothing more than a sleazy political circus act. These are not normal circumstances. Attacking someone as disturbed as Coulter is a meaningless endeavor, but as I've written previously:
"This race to the bottom by the establishment media leaves the progressive netroots in a quandary: if the only thing these so-called 'journalists' want is to create an uproar, how do we respond? Some bloggers advocate ignoring slime-traffickers like Coulter and Glenn Beck, others attack them for the scum they peddle. My preferred tactic is to excoriate the media outlet that gives them a forum - it may play into their need for attention, but I think it's imperative for us to create a public record of these media transgressions...
One thing is for sure: responding to Coulter's assertions is pointless. When she speaks the unspeakable about the 9/11 widows ("I have never seen people enjoying their husbands’ death so much") and when Glenn Beck does the same (calling hurricane survivors in New Orleans "scumbags" and saying he "hates" 9-11 families), reasoned discussion is not on the table."
There have been dozens of battles in the war between the blogs and the establishment media, from the Deborah Howell fiasco to Chris Matthews to Joe Klein to Tim Russert and more. Sites and blogs like Media Matters, dKos, Atrios, Crooks and Liars, FDL, Digby, Think Progress, TPM, and others are the netroots' front line in this increasingly bitter fight. This latest Coulter incident should be a wake-up call to the larger progressive community and to the Democratic leadership. Parading Coulter on national television is a statement from the establishment media that we don't matter, that our 'pressure' is meaningless, that our voices are worthless.
What's the proper course of action in response to this challenge? For the netroots, it's to keep growing and organizing, to hammer away at those in the media who enable the sliming of 9/11 widows, to respond to such media transgressions with ferocity of wit and will, and to badger elected Democrats and progressive leaders about the media problem.
For those on the left who still have blinders on, the response is to get a clue about what's happening. A good start is to read this series of essays from Jamison Foser, who explains the problem eloquently:
"The defining issue of our time is not the Iraq war. It is not the "global war on terror." It is not our inability (or unwillingness) to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable health care. Nor is it immigration, outsourcing, or growing income inequity. It is not education, it is not global warming, and it is not Social Security.
The defining issue of our time is the media.
The dominant political force of our time is not Karl Rove or the Christian Right or Bill Clinton. It is not the ruthlessness or the tactical and strategic superiority of the Republicans, and it is not your favorite theory about what is wrong with the Democrats.
The dominant political force of our time is the media.
Time after time, the news media have covered progressives and conservatives in wildly different ways -- and, time after time, they do so to the benefit of conservatives."
--guest blogged by Peter Daou