Nov 1 2002

Ann Slanders

Is Coulter's book about "lies" a self-indictment?

On the first page of her best-selling book about “the left’s hegemonic control of the news media,” pundit Ann Coulter declares that there’s too much nastiness in American politics, and “it’s all liberals’ fault.”

Then, throughout the aptly named Slander, Coulter spits out one personal attack after another, calling her political foes “half-wits,” “bird brains,” “termagants” and so on; she compares NBC anchor Katie Couric to Hitler’s wife, calling the Today show host “the affable Eva Braun of morning television.” Elsewhere Coulter has called Tipper Gore “gaudy white trash” (Washington Times, 8/7/00), and in an earlier book (High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton) she suggested that discussion of Clinton’s scandals be limited to “whether to impeach or assassinate.”

Leaving questions of psychological projection to the psychologists, it’s still worth asking whether the hypocrisy of Coulter’s fervent denunciation of the exact kind of name-calling that is her specialty applies to other charges she makes as well. Could Coulter’s charge that liberals lie remorselessly about conservatives–the full title of her book is Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right–be a sort of furtive red flag, sending a message about her own dishonesty?

While several observers have questioned the veracity of various claims made in Slander–two of the most thorough are the online Daily Howler and the American Prospect‘s weblog Tapped–recent statements made by Coulter raise the question of whether the author is not merely careless with facts but deliberatively deceptive.

“Absolutely out of character”

During an interview with FAIR’s radio show CounterSpin (8/9/02), Coulter challenged a story about her reported by Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz:

Howard Kurtz made up a quote about a Vietnam vet, which he knows he made up, which has now run twice in the Washington Post, once in Talk magazine, once in People magazine, once in the Washingtonian. It’s something I allegedly said on TV. Why doesn’t somebody produce a tape of that?

Coulter was referring to Kurtz’s account of a 1997 debate on MSNBC‘s NewsChat show (10/11/97), when Coulter was a paid MSNBC contributor. According to Kurtz (Washington Post, 10/16/98), “Coulter was debating a disabled Vietnam vet when she snapped: ‘People like you caused us to lose that war.’ (She says she didn’t know the guest, appearing by satellite, was disabled.) That ended her MSNBC career.”

That Post report, Coulter told CounterSpin, was “absolute lies…. It’s absolutely out of character for me.”

Extra! asked Kurtz about the charge that he’d fabricated the quote for his report. In an email, Kurtz responded: “The account of Ann Coulter’s remarks to the veteran on MSNBC was provided to me by Coulter herself, who told me she liked the piece and never complained about the passage until she was trying to sell books.”

Kurtz also told Extra! that MSNBC had confirmed that Coulter was let go after making such a comment to a disabled Vietnam veteran.

In the MSNBC NewsChat segment, in which Coulter debated Bobby Muller, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, her exact words to the paralyzed veteran were: “No wonder you guys lost.” She was interrupting Muller’s point about the role that landmines played in the Vietnam War: “In 90 percent of cases that U.S. soldiers got blown up–Ann, are you listening?–they were our own mines.”

Muller responded to Coulter’s remark with an incredulous “Say that again,” while moderator Felicia Taylor sharply rebuked the in-house pundit: “OK, we’re not going to get into that conversation. Ann, that was unnecessary! Mr. Muller, please continue….”

Coulter could say that Kurtz did not quote her exact words–though considering that she was the apparent source of his report, that would take some chutzpah. “People like you caused us to lose that war” is a fairly accurate paraphrase of “no wonder you guys lost,” so there’s no sense in which Kurtz’s article is an “absolute lie” that depicts her saying something “absolutely out of character for me.”

“I never said they didn’t”

Later in her CounterSpin interview, Coulter was asked about her book’s allegation that an establishment newspaper neglected a story important to many working-class Americans. “You charge that the New York Times failed to do a front-page story on the death of popular NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt,” CounterSpin noted, but “the Times did publish a page-one story immediately.”

Coulter vehemently rejected this characterization. “No, you have that wrong…. You have wrong what I said and what the facts are.”

Here’s what Coulter wrote in Slander: “The day after seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died in a race at the Daytona 500, almost every newspaper in America carried the story on the front-page…. It took the New York Times two days to deem Earnhardt’s death sufficiently important to mention it on its front-page.”

In fact, like “almost every newspaper in America,” the New York Times published a front-page obituary for Earnhardt the day after his February 18, 2001 death. The lead described him as “stock car racing’s greatest current star and one of its most popular and celebrated figures.”

On CounterSpin, Coulter dealt with this inaccuracy by denying what she had written. When asked, “Did the Times do a page one Dale Earnhardt story the next day or not?” she replied: “I never said they didn’t. To the contrary, what I said was it took three days for the major feature article.”

Presumably Coulter knows what she wrote–particularly in a passage that had already become the focus of controversy (Daily Howler, 7/23/02). In fact, at the time she was denying her published statement, her editor at Crown Publishers had already announced that he was consulting with her about retracting that very passage in the book’s next edition. Columnist Joe Conason wrote in Salon on August 6–two days before her CounterSpin interview was taped: “Doug Pepper of Crown told me that they are examining the accuracy of her charge that those liberal elitists at the New York Times didn’t give NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt’s death front-page coverage until two days after the crash that killed him. ‘I’m talking to Ann about this,’ he said, adding that ‘I don’t know if it’s an actual error.'”

In late October, Pepper confirmed to Extra! that Crown had corrected this misinformation in the latest edition of Coulter’s book. Perhaps Crown will also issue a retraction of the lies Coulter has since told about her error.