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CONTEMPT (PART 2)! Good Lord! When the New York Times reviewed Coulter’s book, it praised her brilliant research: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, APRIL 26, 2005

CONTEMPT (PART 2): There’s a word for Coulter’s approach to the public; Ann Coulter is filled with contempt. It takes a special kind of contempt to write a book like her best-seller, Slander—a book that’s defined by its endless wild statements and bizarre, multi-faceted “errors.” As we’ve seen, Coulter’s “mistakes” often show up in layers—layers that display her open contempt for our society’s most basic values. For example, she closes Slander with a crazy screed about “liberals,” who are said to be “savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport.” But uh-oh! Coulter’s generalization was built on a claim about the New York Times—a factual claim which turned out to be utterly false. But so what! Coulter said she’d change her “mistake” when the book appeared in paper. And sure enough, she did change her “mistake”—to something else that was blatantly bogus! Yes, there’s only one word for the type of person who would produce such layers of misstatement. That person is filled with contempt for the truth—and for the people who purchase her books.

But just try to make the mainstream press corps speak back to Coulter’s misstatements! Coulter can mislead readers and make a joke of our discourse because the mainstream press corps allows it. Indeed, how far has the mainstream press corps gone to avoid confronting this pundit’s contempt? Consider the way Coulter’s book was reviewed by her favorite target, the reviled New York Times.

As we’ve seen, Slander’s “mistakes” about the Times are legion—and they drip with contempt. The book begins with a silly claim about the paper’s treatment of Tom DeLay. On page two, we get an absurd description of the Times letters page—a description any New York Times reader would recognize as laughably bogus. (Most Coulter fans don’t read the Times; they had no way to know they were being deceived.) And yes, the book ends with another “mistake” about the Times—the “mistake” which set up that closing screed, which Coulter changed in paperback form to yet another “error.” But surely, Coulter’s contempt is best exposed by that startling passage from Slander’s page 12. Before we see how the Times reviewed Slander, let’s recall the nasty claim Coulter presents on that page:

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.”
How bizarre is Coulter’s best-selling book? The claims in this passage are remarkably nasty, and as we’ve seen, they’re utterly false; no, the Times didn’t call Thomas that long string of names, although Coulter’s reader had no way to know that. Indeed, Coulter cut-and-pasted that list of names from a totally different source; having done so, she simply pretended that the New York Times had said them. Of course, Coulter engages in blatant dissembling throughout her book, but this passage helps us see the depth of her grinding pathology. Coulter wanted to say that the liberal Times had engaged in the nastiest possible conduct. So of course! Unable to make such a claim in good faith, she plagiarized. She simply made the claim up.

Yes, there’s a word for the attitude driving this conduct—Coulter is filled with contempt for our values. But average Americans have no way to know that—in part, because of the odd review that appeared in the New York Times.

Do citizens have a right to know the truth about a person like Coulter? Do they have the right to know when a big best-seller is full of “mistakes?” For the most part, average citizens can’t learn the truth until somebody decides to tell them—and that, the New York Times wouldn’t do. As we’ve seen, Coulter lies about the Times all through this disturbed, crackpot book. And what did Gotham’s paper do when it reviewed this contemptuous book? Janet Maslin handled the task. Incredibly, here’s part of her treatment:

MASLIN (7/18/02): A great deal of research supports Ms. Coulter's wisecracks. And some of it is used to persuasive effect (even if one bit of proof that Phyllis Schlafly is treated dismissively by the left comes from a People magazine review of "The Muppets Take Manhattan"). In the extended game of "Gotcha!" that is "Slander," she uncovers more than enough egregious loose talk (for example, Peter Jennings's televised, off-the-cuff comments about the state of brain surgery in Cuba) to have a field day.
In her review, Maslin criticized Coulter’s nasty tone—her “insult slinging,” which stemmed from “a bottomless source of bile.” Indeed, this was Maslin’s principal reaction to Slander. But though Maslin complained about Slander’s tone, she never told readers that the book is full of blatant misstatements. Indeed, in the passage quoted, Maslin praised the “great deal of research” supporting Coulter’s various claims; earlier, she approvingly cited Slander’s “780 footnotes,” suggesting that Coulter had done the kind of research that other pseudo-con best-selling authors had not. (Coulter’s footnotes were contrasted to Bernie Goldberg’s reliance “upon firsthand experience.”) And Maslin returns to this theme one more time, near the end of her review. She describes the passage in which Coulter assesses the media’s coverage of Election Night 2000. And again, Maslin laments the way Coulter’s big mouth detracts from her otherwise admirable research; according to Maslin’s critique of this topic, Coulter lets “a shrill generalization destroy the measured reasoning that has preceded it.” In short, Maslin persistently criticized Coulter’s tone—but seemed to suggest that her research was otherwise sound. Maslin praised Coulter for all of those footnotes. If she had actually looked a few up, she might have seen how fake and phony Coulter’s “research” really tended to be.

Is it fair to expect a reviewer to check the factual claims in a best-selling book? In general, we have no opinion. But Coulter’s book was full of misstatements about Maslin’s own paper—and many such statement were blatantly false. How about that claim on page 12, for example? Did Janet Maslin really believe that her paper’s editorial page had called Clarence Thomas “a colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests,” a “race traitor,” a “black snake,” a “chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom,” a “house Negro” and a “handkerchief head?” If Maslin read as far as page 12, she encountered that startling claim—and one would assume that it set off alarm bells. But Maslin passed over this work without comment. Readers were told about Slander’s tone. But they were also told, three separate times, that the book’s research was rather impressive.

Maslin actually praised Coulter’s research! In so doing, she helped establish the bizarre conventions which now obtain regarding Coulter. Coulter had written a nasty book which was full of false statements about the Times. And in response, the paper’s reviewer praised the book’s brilliant research! Yes, it takes a ton of contempt to write a phony book like Slander. But how strange is the world in which we live when slandered parties—in this case, the Times—praise the slanderer’s wonderful research? When they count up footnotes—but refuse to fact-check them? When they refuse to speak back to contempt?

JUMPING JENNINGS: Does “a great deal of research support Coulter’s wisecracks?” Does she “use it to persuasive effect?” In the passage cited above, Maslin complains about Peter Jennings’ “televised, off-the-cuff comments about the state of brain surgery in Cuba.” But was something wrong with Jennings’ comment? Here’s the remark to which Maslin refers; it’s quoted on page 117 of Slander, along with five other comments which are supposed to help us see the press corps’ loony liberalism:

JENNINGS (4/3/89): Medical care was once for the privileged few. Today it is available to every Cuban and it is free. Some of Cuba's health care is world class. In heart disease, for example, in brain surgery. Health and education are the revolution's great success stories.
Coulter and Maslin were suitably flummoxed. But at the time, some of Cuba’s health care was world-class; indeed, major articles had already appeared about the nation’s “health tourism.” In USA Today, Juan Walte reported on the subject two years later:
WALTE (8/19/91): ''Health tourism'' they call it—part of the communist regime's drive for hard currency to keep its economy afloat.

The government has invested heavily in medical services, and is using the system to lure foreigners seeking cures at prices they can afford.

''Our prices are low in comparison with other parts of the world,'' says Dr. Jorge Luis Perera Horta. He is the vice president of ServiMed, a subsidiary of Cuba's new government-run tourism corporation...

Few Americans are rushing south for surgery. But Perera says more than 1,000 foreign patients visited this year. Last year about 1,600 foreigners visited, mostly from Spain, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and Uruguay. A few came from as far as India, Mozambique and Canada.

And yes, new types of brain surgery were being done in Cuba. How good was Cuban health care in 1989? We don’t have the slightest idea. But you can be sure of one other thing—neither did Coulter or Maslin.

For the record, Jennings was reporting from Havana this day, and his report was often less than flattering. Cuban housing? “Three generations of one family are often obliged to share the same space,” he reported. “There is so little privacy.” And not only that: “In a city which has some of the most beautiful architecture in the Caribbean there are no resources to save some of the older buildings. Like fading dowagers they are slowly falling apart.” But then, human rights was no walk in the park, either: “Cubans may gripe about their lot in life, but there is no true freedom of speech, no freedom of the press. There is still only the Communist party, and while a handful of dissidents is tolerated, especially with the international news media in town, they may still be swept up without charge for trying to speak their mind.” In short, Coulter’s clip of Jennings’ remark was classic, dim-witted kooky-con agitprop, in which a single remark is cadged, then clucked over. In a slightly more rational world, major scribes would approach such clowning with care. But when major reviewers won’t even tell readers that a big best-seller is full of “mistakes,” expecting this modest degree of smarts is like asking a moo-cow to whinny.

More on Cuba’s health care industry, this time from the loony-left magazine Business Week:

GAIL DEGEORGE (8/3/92): Castro is also counting on income from the country's extensive health care system and biotechnology industry. ''Health tourism'' draws in hard-currency patients from the Caribbean, South America, and even Europe. As many as 6,000 foreigners are expected this year for such specialty treatments as night-blindness surgery and orthopedic therapy. For years, Castro has also targeted biotechnology as part of an effort to diversify the island's economy. Three years ago, Havana sold Brazil's Sao Paulo state government $ 10 million worth of Cuban-developed meningitis-B vaccine to help check an epidemic.
What was the state of Cuban health care? We don’t know. Neither did Coulter.