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CONTEMPT (PART 1)! Coulter is filled with contempt for the public. But then, so are most of her friends: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, APRIL 25, 2005

LIKE THAT ALL HER LIFE: Last week, we thought of Marla Ruzicka every time we quoted “The Second Coming,” in which Yeats foresaw a future where “the worst are full of passionate intensity” while “the best lack all conviction.” It was hard not to think of Yeats’ words with Ann Coulter perched on the cover of Time—and with a denatured “press corps” continuing to pretend that it can’t see the essence of her ministry (much more on that pose tomorrow). But if America’s press corps lacks all conviction, “the best” among us surely do not. Last week, we remembered that fact each time we read about Ruzicka’s astonishing work.

Last week, we didn’t want to put Ruzicka’s name in the same posts as Coulter’s. But we’re going to continue discussing Coulter, and we were grateful this morning to see Bob Herbert focus on Ruzicka again—to see him names the actual names of some of the people she helped.

If you haven’t already done so, we suggest that you take a minute to look at the picture essay on the web site of CIVIC, the humanitarian group Ruzicka formed. When cameras follow the Ruzickas around, they send back images from humanity’s future. And by the way: Though Ruzicka seems to have been an exceptional case, there are many others like her—the best. They’re full of conviction, but their work escapes notice in the pages of the lounging mainstream press. (Note: Many reporters risk their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, as Ruzicka did.)

We were struck by two bits of journalism last week as we read about Ruzicka. We applaud the New York Daily News for the language it chose to use in a headline. (The language is drawn from this news report’s text.) And we thought Herbert used an interesting quote from Ruzicka’s father last Friday. What explained his daughter’s moral brilliance? According to Ruzicka’s dad, she had “been like that all her life.”

CONTEMPT (PART 1): It’s hard to believe, but there’s one more chapter to the story we told on Friday—the remarkable story of that remarkable passage in Ann Coulter’s crackpot book, Slander (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/22/05). We’re going to stay in the weeds one more day to unpack a critical story—the story of the contempt our pseudo-conservatives hold for the American public.

Quick review: Let’s take a trip back through the carnage, just as we laid it out last Friday. Early on in her fraudulent book, Coulter makes this striking claim:

COULTER (page 12): After Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion contrary to the clearly expressed position of the New York Times editorial page, the Times responded with an editorial on Thomas titled “The Youngest, Cruelest Justice.” That was actually the headline on a lead editorial in the Newspaper of Record. Thomas is not engaged on the substance of his judicial philosophy. He is called “a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests,” “race traitor,” “black snake,” “chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom,” “house Negro” and “handkerchief head,” “Benedict Arnold” and “Judas Iscariot.”
Good grief! A reader would think that the New York Times called Justice Thomas those nasty names—did so in an editorial which failed to address “the substance of his judicial philosophy.” But that’s totally false, as we showed you on Friday; it’s one of the thousand-and-one bogus claims which define Coulter’s best-selling book. In fact, the editorial in question was all about Thomas’ work—and no, it didn’t call him those names, nor did it call him any others. Coulter’s vicious claims about the Times were completely, utterly false. And just to put a cherry on top, Coulter had cut-and-pasted (plagiarized) those names from a book review by Lawrence Stratton. Stratton’s review appeared in the Washington Times; Coulter stole her nasty names from that source, then pretended the New York Times said them.

But uh-oh! As it turns out, Coulter may not have been the only scribe dissembling about those nasty slurs. On Friday, we excerpted Stratton’s review, to show you where Coulter got her string of insults—the ones she falsely attributed to the New York Times. But uh-oh! Over the weekend, we did more checking, and it turned out—what a surprise!—that Stratton’s claims seem to have been phony too! In short, the contempt for the public never ends when you get in the weeds with today’s talk-show right. Again, bear with us as we walk through the weeds surrounding Coulter’s work.

Where did Coulter get her string of insults—the insults she put in the mouth of the New York Times? As we showed you on Friday, she cut-and-pasted from Stratton’s review of We Won’t Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action, a book by two Georgetown professors (Charles Lawrence and Mari Matsuda). Again, here’s the relevant part of Stratton’s review. We highlight the material Coulter swiped:

STRATTON (5/14/97): The violent implications of [Lawrence and Matsuda’s] analysis are apparent from the hate-laden language criticizing "colored critics of affirmative action," such as Thomas Sowell, Glenn Loury, Linda Chavez and Shelby Steele, but especially Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In over 75 references to Justice Thomas, the authors use images designed to evoke hatred: "race traitor," "black snake," "chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom," "house Negro," and "handkerchief head." Not content, they psychoanalytically diagnose Mr. Thomas as suffering from "internalized racism and self-loathing" and accuse him of engaging in "Black on Black crime."

According to Stratton, it was Lawrence and Matsuda who called Thomas those names. But uh-oh! Yes, Coulter lied when she swiped those slurs and pretended the New York Times had said them. But it seems that Stratton may have played the rubes too, in his original review! After Stratton’s piece appeared in May 1997, Lawrence and Matsuda wrote the Washington Times; they complained about his “eagerness to mislead the reader about the content” of their book. We printed Stratton’s presentation last week, so we’re printing their letter in full:
WASHINGTON TIMES LETTERS SECTION (6/2/97):

Misleading rhetoric mars the affirmative action debate:

Lawrence Stratton does not like affirmative action and, not surprisingly, he does not like "We Won't Go Back: Making the Case for Affirmative Action," our book.

If he had responded to the merits of our case, your readers might have read some important arguments against affirmative action. Instead, he relied on misrepresentation and curiously archaic red-baiting.

Many of our colleagues here at Georgetown found it humorous that the gentle authors of a religious and ethically based book should be portrayed as promoting violence and hate. But most of your readers do not know us and a response is required to answer what amounts to defamation of our characters.

Typical of Mr. Stratton's eagerness to mislead the reader about the content of "We Won't Go Back" is this sentence: "In over 75 references to Justice Clarence Thomas, the authors use images designed to evoke hatred: 'race traitor,' 'black snake,' 'chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom,' 'house Negro' and 'handkerchief head.'" Mr. Stratton obviously intends for his readers to think that the pejoratives were our own words. In fact, they are quotes clearly attributed in the text to others—including Justice Thurgood Marshall, Spike Lee and Emerge magazine—in our discussions of the black community's response to Justice Thomas.

We do not use such pejoratives ourselves. As we state in the book, our own response to Justice Thomas is not one of name-calling, but of complicated affinity as well as profound disagreement.

Our book seeks to move beyond the vituperative we/they rhetoric that has dominated the affirmative action debate. It is a book intended to affirm the human family, our connectedness, our inevitable interdependency and our potential to live generous lives. Apparently, Mr. Stratton is not yet ready for this kind of conversation When he is, we will welcome him.

CHARLES R. LAWRENCE
MARI J. MATSUDA
Professors, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington

The race-baits do appear in Lawrence and Matsuda’s book—but they were attributed to others, the authors wrote. (See below: Lawrence/Matsuda have long been critical of the use of such racial rhetoric.) We haven’t seen the Lawrence/Matsuda book ourselves, and darn it—it can’t be searched on Amazon. But we’ll place a generous bet on who is actually right in this matter. In general, newspapers don’t print long letters assailing their work unless the letters have actual merit. And we’ve traced all the slurs to the people Lawrence and Matsuda cite, as you can see below.

Readers, let’s get ourselves back out of the weeds and remember the key fact about Coulter’s book. Her nasty claims about the New York Times are completely, utterly false. And this is only one example; such nasty but utterly bogus claims typify her fake, bizarre book. Yes, you have to be filled with sheer contempt to peddle garbage and slander like this. But the modern world of the pseudo-con right spills with such open contempt for the public. And guess what? The mainstream press shows contempt for you too, when it refuses to correct Coulter’s work.

TOMORROW—PART 2: Coulter lied about the Times. In response, the Times praised her great research!

WITH REGRETS: Lawrence and Matsuda have long spoken out against the use of racial invective. For example, their previous book was called Words That Wound: Critical Race Theory, Assaultive Speech, and the First Amendment. Here is its opening sentence: “This is a book about assaultive speech, about words that are used as weapons to ambush, terrorize, wound, humiliate, and degrade.”

Who really called Thomas the string of names Coulter plagiarized from Stratton? No, it wasn’t the New York Times, and no, it wasn’t Joycelyn Elders, and we’ll now assume it wasn’t Lawrence and Matsuda either. Over the weekend, in fact, we ran Nexis checks on all the terms in question, and we saw who did call Thomas these names. A full rundown is offered below.

Coulter cut-and-pasted—and lied. Tomorrow, we’ll come back out of the weeds and we’ll take a look at the astounding way the New York Times “responded” to this. Why is Coulter so influential? Because the mainstream press corps lacks all conviction. They’ve made it clear in the past two decades: They simply don’t care if people like Coulter lie right in the face of the public. They don’t care if Coulter shows contempt for the public—if she makes a screaming joke of all our most basic traditions.

WHO ACTUALLY CALLED THOMAS THOSE NAMES: We haven’t seen the Lawrence/Matsuda book, and darn it—it can’t be searched on Amazon. But Nexis archives show the provenance of all but one of the terms in question—and yes, our findings track what Lawrence and Matsuda said in their letter. No, the New York Times didn’t call Thomas those names. Here are the people who did:

Who actually called Thomas a “house Negro?” Royce Esters, little-known head of the Compton, California, NAACP, in 1991 (quoted in Emerge). Obviously, Esters wasn’t a big enough name for Coulter’s purpose. So she pretended the New York Times said this.

Who actually called Thomas “a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests?” As we noted on Friday, the Manchester Union-Leader attributed that insult to the (unnamed) head of the Maryland NAACP in early 1997. So did Perry Morgan, in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. But apparently, this wasn’t a big enough name for Michael Fumento; a year later, in the Weekly Standard, he attributed the phrase to Jesse Jackson. Fumento seems to have misread (or “misread”) the Union-Leader article, which mentions Jackson but attributes the comment to that local NAACP head.

Who actually called Thomas a "chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom," and a “handkerchief head?” Spike Lee, 1991, quoted in U.S. News & World Report. For the record, Lee was channeling someone else: “I think Malcolm X, if he were alive today, would call Thomas a handkerchief head, a chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom." Of course, no one cares what Spike Lee says, except, perhaps, for Reggie Miller. So Coulter pretended the New York Times had actually made these remarks.

Who actually called Thomas a “black snake?” The claim has often been attributed to Thurgood Marshall—but careful, you do have to stretch things a bit! The comment derives from the 1991 press conference at which the aging Marshall announced his retirement. Thomas wouldn’t be nominated for another week, although his name was in wide circulation as the most likely black nominee:

QUESTION (6/28/91): Do you think President Bush has any kind of an obligation to name a minority justice in your place?

MARSHALL: I don't think that that should be a ploy, and I don't think it should be used as an excuse one way or the other.

QUESTION: An excuse for what, Justice?

MARSHALL: Doing wrong. I mean for picking the wrong Negro and saying, "I'm picking him because he is a Negro." I am opposed to that. My dad told me way back that you can't use race. For example, there's no difference between a white snake and black snake; they'll both bite. So I don't want to use race as an excuse.

QUESTION: Justice Marshall, over the years you have said a number of critical things about George Bush. After the Willie Horton episode and after the president's actions on civil rights legislation, do you have any hope that the president will make an appointment that will reflect any sensitivity about the concerns of black people?

MARSHALL: I don't have the slightest idea of making any comment on what if anything the president of the United States will do.

Marshall wasn’t specifically asked about Thomas, and no, he didn’t name him. But within a few years, his comment was being massaged and improved. When Marshall died in 1993, for example, William Kuntsler wrote a piece called “Remember our fallen giant.” Unfortunately, Kuntsler’s own memory was somewhat hazy this day. He wrote, “Marshall must have had Clarence Thomas well in mind when he told an interviewer, shortly after his successor's nomination, that ‘a Black snake is no better than a White snake.’” As we noted, Thomas hadn’t been nominated when Marshall made his remark.

Who actually called Thomas a “race traitor?” As of 1997 (when Stratton’s review appeared), we can’t find any such name-call in the Nexis archives. In fact, Nexis records only one such name-call to the present day; in 1998, Thomas was called a “race traitor” by James Albrook in the New Pittsburgh Courier, “America’s Best Weekly.”

For the record, pundits routinely say that Thomas has been called a “race traitor” without citing any actual instance. So Coulter decided to remedy that. Deceiving readers as she constantly does, she pretended the New York Times said it. Tomorrow, we’ll see the astonishing the way the great paper chose to “respond.”