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Daily Howler: Cloud has mastered a standard script--with Coulter, it's just good solid fun
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THINGS FALL APART (PART 3)! Cloud has mastered a standard script—with Coulter, it’s just good solid fun: // link // print // previous // next //

DON’T MISS ONE EXCITING INSTALLMENT: On Tuesday, some readers had trouble accessing Part 1 of our series. Why not visit our incomparable archives? We finish our series tomorrow:
PART 1: Time’s latest store-bought pimps Ann Coulter. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/05.

PART 2: Coulter makes “errors” like other scribes breathe. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/20/05.

And now, for Part 3 of our series:

THINGS FALL APART (PART 3): No, we don’t know what Yeats had in mind when he wrote his famous “The Second Coming.” But it’s hard not to think of Carl Bernstein’s “culture of idiots” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/20/05) when the bard gazes into the future:

YEATS: Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity...
The ceremony of innocence is drowned! It’s hard not to think of our current “news” culture, where “the worst are full of passionate intensity” every single evening on cable—and where writers like Time’s John Cloud “lack all intensity” when it comes to the weirdly difficult task of finding mistakes by Ann Coulter. For the record, it’s not that Cloud can’t find errors at all. For example, when he describes an exchange between Coulter and Bobby Muller, he teases out mistakes with skill—with what you might even describe as “intensity.” Of course, those alleged “mistakes” aren’t made by Coulter, so Cloud’s skill level rises:
CLOUD (4/25/05): Coulter's relationship with MSNBC ended permanently after she tangled with a disabled Vietnam veteran on the air. Robert Muller, co-founder of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, asserted that "in 90% of the cases that U.S. soldiers got blown up [in Vietnam]—Ann, are you listening?—they were our own mines." (Muller was misquoting a 1969 Pentagon report that found that 90% of the components used in enemy mines came from U.S. duds and refuse.) Coulter, who found Muller's statement laughable, averted her eyes and responded sarcastically: "No wonder you guys lost." It became an infamous--and oft-misreported—Coulter moment. The Washington Post and others turned the line into a more personal attack: "People like you caused us to lose that war."
Wow! Suddenly, Cloud becomes Top Cop when it comes to spotting mistakes! He claims an error in what Muller said, and he also finds the careless Post misquoting poor abused Coulter. (On Monday, Howard Kurtz explained the source of this quote, and he said the quote was accurate.) But then, Cloud seems persistently skillful at finding mistakes—as long as they aren’t made by Coulter:
CLOUD: 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 of the most popular alleged mistakes pinging around the Web is from her appearance on Canadian TV news in January, when Coulter asserted that "Canada sent troops to Vietnam." Interviewer Bob McKeown said she was wrong... What he didn't mention was that Canada did send noncombat troops to Indochina in the 1950s and again to Vietnam in 1972.
Again! In fact, when confronted with Vietnam veterans, the Post or Canadians, Cloud is skillful at fleshing out error. But as we saw in yesterday’s post, the Timesman’s skills quite suddenly fail when he hunts for mistakes by Coulter. As we’ve seen, Coulter makes “mistakes” like other scribes breathe; no one else in public life is so pathologically “mistaken.” But Cloud has trouble finding these “errors.” A suspicious soul could almost imagine that he has been paid not to spot them.

But then, Cloud seems to be on a larger mission; he seems determined to peddle the scripts that are now being built around Coulter. One of those scripts we’ve already seen: Coulter’s mistakes are exaggerated. This script, as we’ve said, is amazingly bogus, but Cloud seems eager to type it. But this is hardly the only script currently being built around Coulter—and it’s hardly the only script on active display in Cloud’s profile. After all, Coulter has a second large problem—her amazingly large and nasty mouth. Aside from her endless “error”-mongering, Coulter is pathologically nasty. And a second script is being crafted to smooth that problem—a script John Cloud adopts well.

Just how nasty is Coulter’s big mouth? Let’s return to the end of Slander—to that “one mistake” she strangely makes, the one about Dale Earnhardt. Yesterday, we saw the next-to-last paragraph in her book, the graf in which she falsely claimed that the New York Times ignored Earnhardt’s death. And yes, that was a blatant “mistake” about the Times’ actual coverage. But with Coulter, “error” typically paves the way to explosions of nasty venting. And so it was after her “error” on Earnhardt. Believe it or not, this is the way she closes her crackpot book:

COULTER (Slander; page 205): Except for occasional exotic safaris to Wal-Mart or forays into enemy territory at a Christian Coalition dinner, liberals do not know any conservatives. It makes it easier to demonize them that way. It’s well and good for Andrew Sullivan to talk about a “truce.” But conservatives aren’t the ones who need to be jolted into the discovery that the “bogeyman” of their imagination are “not quite as terrifying as they thought.” Conservatives already know that people they disagree with politically can be “charming.” Also savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport.
Amazing, isn’t it? Because the New York Times failed to honor Earnhardt’s death, Coulter says that “liberals” are “savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport.” Except that the Times did honor Earnhardt’s death in the very way Coulter prescribed—and except that it was Coulter herself who had just misstated this fact. But this is classic clowning by Coulter—the kind Cloud couldn’t seem to locate. For the record, this crackpot passage refers back to a rumination on page 204, in which Coulter says, without qualification, that “liberals impute inhumanity to their political opponents and are unfathomably hateful and vicious.” In her next book, Treason, Coulter moved on, bizarrely typing this:
COULTER (Treason; page 1): Liberals have a preternatural gift for striking a position on the side of treason. You could be talking about Scrabble and they would instantly leap to the anti-American position. Everyone says liberals love American, too. No they don't. Whenever the nation is under attack, from within or without, liberals side with the enemy. This is their essence.
So liberals “side with the enemy,” are “savagely cruel bigots,” “lie for sport” and are “unfathomably vicious.” Obviously, no functioning person could actually believe such idiotic generalizations. But these are the sorts of things Coulter types, joining them to the string of small insults that define her dim-witted public persona. Hillary Clinton? She’s “pond scum,” says Coulter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/15/05). And of course, Clinton is also “unfathomably vicious,” as we learn from Coulter’s broader remarks.

Remarks like this create a problem for those who want to mainstream Coulter. Though America’s talk-show pseudo-conservatives find these bizarre remarks appealing, most people will see them for what they are, unless they’re handed some sort of way to air-brush the lunacy away. For those who want to mainstream Coulter, two such strategies have now emerged—and both are embraced in Cloud’s profile.

How do we airbrush Coulter’s comments? First, we simply don’t mention her nastiest comments—we simply don’t tell the mainstream audience what Coulter is peddling to the rubes. And Cloud is skillful at this strategy. Good boy! Given 5800 words to study Coulter, he forgets to report that Coulter said, one page one of a best-selling book, that twenty percent of the public are traitors, a remark she has made “over and over and over,” as Jonathan Alter somehow managed to mention on Imus last week (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/05). He forgets to quote those statements from Slander—the ridiculous statements that she used to finish that best-selling book. No, Cloud can’t seem to find Coulter’s “mistakes”—but then, he can’t find her invective either. Instead, he finds instances where he says that Coulter was misquoted (by the Post), and he tones down her trademark coarseness. For example, here’s one passage in which he catches Coulter being publicly “rude:”

CLOUD: MSNBC found Coulter "blunt, rude and just completely over the top," says Stephen Lewis, a former MSNBC producer involved in Coulter's hiring—and firing. The network dismissed her at least twice: first in February 1997, after she insulted the late Pamela Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to France, even as the network was covering her somber memorial service. Coulter said Harriman was one of those women who "used men to work their way up" and suggested "Sharon Stone or Madonna" as her replacement. Even so, the network missed Coulter's jousting and quickly rehired her.
Wow! Did Coulter really say that Harriman “used men to work her way up?” Actually, Coulter said something a good deal better; in Salon, she said this: “Women like Pamela Harriman and Patricia Duff are basically Anna Nicole Smith from the waist down. Let's just call it for what it is. They're whores.” No, Cloud can’t be asked to record every “rude” comment Coulter has made; there wouldn’t be room enough for that, even given 5800 words. But just as he couldn’t find Coulter’s mistakes, he couldn’t find Coulter’s trademark invective, even though it appears on the first and last pages of her best-selling books. Reading Cloud, you don’t have to learn that Coulter called Clinton “pond scum,” and you don’t have to read the nasty comments that define her major best-sellers. Hey rubes! “Coulter can occasionally be coarse,” Cloud says at one point. “[S]he's not one of those conservatives who won't say "f___" two or three times over dinner.” But just how coarse can Coulter be? Cloud isn’t up to telling his readers. Her trademark claims go unrecorded.

But that’s just one of the ways the press corps’ boys are currently air-brushing Coulter’s “coarseness.” There’s another script which Cloud has mastered: Coulter is really just joking. Of course, this is the cowardly Limbaugh approach—the approach Rush takes on the few occasions when the press corps challenges one of his “errors.” But it’s now becoming a standard script, one the press corps’ cowardly boys use to avoid discussion of Coulter. And Cloud runs the theme all through his piece. Please don’t ask us to waste our time “analyzing” Cloud’s sweet script. But here are some of the many passages in which he tries to tell Time readers that Coulter is just a comedian:

CLOUD: [I]n person, Coulter is more likely to offer jokes than fury. For instance, you might ask her to name her historical antecedents in the conservative movement, and she'll burst forth, "I'm Attila the Hun," and then break into gales of laughter so forceful you smell the Nicorette. "Genghis Khan!"

CLOUD: When I spoke with her friend Miguel Estrada, an attorney and onetime White House nominee for a judgeship...he said Coulter's appeal 15 years ago, when they met, was "the same as it is today. She was lively and funny and engaging and boisterous and outrageous and a little bit of a polemicist ... Most of the time, people miss her humor and satire and take her way too literally."

CLOUD: Coulter's speech was part right-wing stand-up routine—she called Senator Edward Kennedy "the human dirigible"—and part bloodcurdling agitprop. "Liberals like to scream and howl about McCarthyism," she concluded. "I say, let's give them some. They've had intellectual terror on the campus for years ... It's time for a new McCarthyism." Curtain.

CLOUD: [S]he told me several times that, as she put it in an e-mail, "most of what I say, I say to amuse myself and amuse my friends. I don't spend a lot of time thinking about anything beyond that."

CLOUD: So which is it? Is she a brave warrior or a shallow hack? Or is Ann Coulter that most unlikely of conservative subspecies: a hard-right ironist?

CLOUD: [A]s Coulter herself points out in Is It True What They Say About Ann?, "I think the way to convert people is to make them laugh or to make them enraged ... Even if I could be convinced that if I had gone through 17 on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hands, I might convince one more liberal out there, I think I'd still write the way I write, because it gives me laughs." Coulter told me that when her editor suggests cutting a line from a column to save space, "I'll ask him, 'But is it funny?' And if he says it's funny, I'll cut an actual fact [instead]."

CLOUD: People say that Jon Stewart has blurred the line between news and humor, but his Daily Show airs on a comedy channel. Coulter goes on actual news programs and deploys so much sarcasm and hyperbole that she sounds more like Dennis Miller than Limbaugh.

CLOUD: One theory about Coulter is that she is less Joe McCarthy and more a right-wing Ali G, acting out a character who utters what the rest of us won't.

CLOUD: [E]ven friends sometimes say her public and private personas differ. Kent Brownridge, 63, general manager of Wenner Media and a longtime Democrat who used to work for George McGovern, says, "You couldn't find a nicer friend" than Coulter. But, he adds, "I think she has a professional point of view or a shtick or whatever...Ann has perfected a thing she does on TV because she is outrageous and funny."

See that? She’s like Dennis Miller, or maybe Jon Stewart. No, wait a minute—she’s like Ali G! Her speeches? Pshaw! They’re really an act! People are taking her way too literally! Yes, having failed to report her nastiest statements, Cloud tells readers that it’s all a big joke. Indeed, he ends on this theme:
CLOUD: On TV or in person, you can trust that Coulter will speak from her heart. The officialdom of punditry, so full of phonies and dullards, would suffer without her humor and fire. Which is not to say you don't want to shut her up occasionally. Not long ago, I went to church with Coulter—Redeemer Presbyterian, an evangelical congregation in Manhattan. The actor Ron Silver had also tagged along—Coulter brings lots of people to church, including, at one time, an ex who is Muslim. Pastor Timothy Keller spoke of the importance of allowing one's heart to be "melted by the sense of God's grace because of what he did on the cross for you." After he finished, I asked Coulter whether she had managed to convert her Muslim boyfriend. "No," she answered, her heart apparently not melted: "I was just happy he wasn't killing anyone." With that, she threw her head back and laughed. —With reporting by Nathan Thornburgh/New York
Good boy! Cloud has mastered two standard scripts. Coulter’s mistakes are badly exaggerated! And: Really, with Coulter, it’s all a big joke! Typing like the best-behaved boy, Cloud spins and deceives his readers. They won’t have to ponder the nasty things Coulter actually says to the rubes. And, of course, they’ll get to hear that her comments are all in good fun.

It’s true. In our culture, the worst are full of passionate intensity, as we see on every page of Coulter’s cracked books—and house boys like Cloud seem to lack all conviction. And yes, “the blood-dimmed tide is loosed” on our public culture when fellows like Cloud can’t find Coulter’s “mistakes” and refuse to record her actual “coarseness.” Anarchy really is loosed on the world as we’re told what is plainly untrue—that it’s all a form of good solid fun, that Coulter has mainly been joking.

TOMORROW: Pretending she’s normal