Tuesday, April 26, 2005

AFTER ANN COULTER appeared on the cover of Time magazine, there was a brief flurry of outrage from the left side of the blogosphere. The main focus of the criticism was that Time's John Cloud, in his article on Coulter in that issue, had portrayed Coulter as an enfant terrible -- the political pundit that liberals love to hate, rather than as the liar that she is. Cloud's basic shtick was that Ann Coulter sparks hatred on the left because she says such provocative things and constantly engages in personal attacks; and that her fans on the right love her for pretty much the same reason: because she puts down liberals in no-holds-barred language.

Now Mary at Pacific Views has written a piece on Coulter and the Time article that references, among other sources, a post at The Daily Howler. The post, written by Bob Somerby, says that left political bloggers -- even extending to the A-listers in that category -- have missed the boat on the central issue: that Cloud effectively accepts Ann Coulter's status as an establishment icon of the political right and does not challenge that status. He describes it; he comments on it; to some extent he writes about why Coulter is the darling of neoconservative Washington insiders -- but he does not question why she is lionized by the politically powerful right, and given mainstream status.

And this is alarming, because the problem with Ann Coulter is not merely that she lies in her books and other writings, or that she says vicious things about people whose politics she disagrees with, or that she habitually engages in ad hominem attacks rather than engaging the substance of an issue. Obviously, all of these criticisms are true and valid, but the problem is much bigger than this.

When Ann Coulter lies, it's not just her statement or claim that is a lie. The sources she relies on to support her lies are also lies. And that second layer of lies is atop a third layer of lies. In other words, Ann Coulter does not simply play fast and loose with the truth. She is a pathological liar. Her original statements are lies and the footnotes critics use to expose her lies are ALSO lies.

Given all this, it's disturbing that Cloud defends his claim that he "didn't find many outright errors" in Coulter's work by calling the errors "mistakes" and saying they were corrected by her publisher:

My piece does not say that there are no Ann Coulter errors. In fact, I offer some Ann Coulter errors that we haven't seen before, and I quote people like Ronald Radosh at some length on the problems with the more recent book of hers, which is Treason. David Brock, who knew Ann Coulter from years ago, goes to a book that's years old, and prints some mistakes from that book, and of course [there are] mistakes. And a lot of them are corrected. If you go out and you buy a copy of Slander now, you won't find those mistakes in it, because the publisher has corrected them.

Now, I had a choice of, do I want to, in my article, list every single Ann Coulter mistake ever made, even ones that have been corrected by the publisher -- which is, by the way, what almost every other journalist who has written about her has done -- or do I want to say something fresh and interesting about her? Do I want to engage her on issues and try to figure out what makes her tick and whether this is all an act? That was what my story was about. My story was not primarily about picking apart ... all 1,000 of Ann Coulter's columns or the hundreds and hundreds of pages that she's written in her books. My job in this story was not to be a fact-checker. I don't say in this story that she's never made a mistake. In fact, I point out some mistakes. This is a story that calls some of her writing highly amateurish. I say I want to shut her up occasionally. I quote a friend of hers calling her a fascist [and] another friend of hers calling her a polemicist. I quote Eric Alterman, Salon, James Wolcott, Andrew Sullivan, and Jerry Falwell all criticizing her. The idea that this is a puff piece is just absurd. And it's part of this left-wing attack machine that David Brock has invented for himself in his shame.

This is so not the point, and it's really upsetting that more influential bloggers on the left have not pointed this out. Ann Coulter does not "make mistakes." The word "mistake" implies an unintentional act that happens, at the worst, as a result of not being sufficiently thorough or careful. Mistakes by definition are not deliberate. They may be inexcusable, if they happen over and over and it's clear the person making the mistakes is sloppy, but they are not planned or intentional.

Ann Coulter does not make mistakes. She lies. Deliberately, consciously, purposely, repeatedly, and elaborately. Cloud's idea that he is not obligated to point out the fact that Coulter engages in layers of lying because he is "not a fact-checker" is appalling. Is this what journalism has become? Focusing on what makes someone "tick" rather than the fact that everything they say is a lie?

Somerby's piece in Daily Howler is quite long, but that's because it goes into so much detail and takes such pains to substantiate every point. It's well, well, worth reading. In fact, in my opinion it's required reading for everyone who cares about fairness, truth, and ethical journalism.

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