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Daily Howler: The Times praised part of Coulter's book. Here's what we found when we fact-checked
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MASLIN’S FOLLY! The Times praised part of Coulter’s book. Here’s what we found when we fact-checked: // link // print // previous // next //
FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2005

THEY WERE WITH STUPID: Dick Durbin did better on Hardball last night. After Bush’s news conference, Durbin tried to tell the public how much those private accounts would cost:
DURBIN (4/28/05): I’d put everything on the table but privatization. And I was there in 1983, a brand-new congressman. I voted for it, because Social Security is so important. But privatization is a loser. It doesn`t strengthen Social Security. It cuts benefits dramatically and it adds $5 trillion or more to the national debt for our kids. That`s not a way to approach this.
That was better than Durbin’s effort in March, when he said (on Meet the Press) that the transition would cost “$2 trillion to $5 trillion,” thereby understating what Dick Cheney himself had said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/7/05). But to this day, Democrats still can’t coordinate even this simple, key point. On last evening’s Hannity & Colmes, for example, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) said this:
SMITH (4/28/05): Let me just—yes. The president's plan, as Congresswoman Northup just said, is to borrow $2 trillion. I mean, that has been his plan on every single policy.
Smith was with stupid! Cheney has already copped to at least three trillion dollars for the transition. But Smith agreed with the low-ball estimate of Rep. Ann Northup (R—KY). Even now, the Dems keep going on TV and making absurd statements like this.

As we’ve said a thousand times, Paul Krugman, quoting the CBO, has said the transition could cost as much as fifteen trillion dollars. We don’t know if that is accurate, but it’s obvious that the Democratic Party has no interest in finding out, or in acting like rational players. It’s abundantly clear that these people don’t care. No group of people who actually cared could continue to blunder so egregiously.

And as Dems blunder, the public stays uninformed. In effect, Bush is proposing a massive, hugely expensive public works project. Even if you like the idea of private accounts, it still would cost a massive amount to set up the system, and the public still hasn’t really been told about the nature of the transaction or about the size of those costs. Bush said nothing about these costs last night, and duh, the press corps didn’t ask him. And then the Dems went out and made absurd, half-hearted remarks, with Rep. Smith actually understating the price tag Cheney has copped to.

By the way, Alan Colmes was with stupid too, and no, not the usual one:

COLMES (4/28/05): Where is the president's plan to pay for privatization? He has not talked about the trillions it's going to cost, nor has he talked about how he would pay for that. He has not given specifics about what his plan would be. He says, "I'm open to ideas." So tell me, Congresswoman, how would he pay for the transition cost, something he hasn't addressed?

NORTHUP: Well, I think he has addressed many of these things, and we've talked about the fact that there's a $10 trillion unfunded liability. And when you reduce that significantly, and it costs $2 trillion to go through that transition, overall, you've reduced the overall liability debt of this country.

COLMES: I don't know what you—where does the $2 trillion come from? It's going to cost $2 trillion for the transfer. Where does that money come from?

On balance, we like the work Colmes does. But there’s a word for Colmes and Smith last night: Hopeless. Northup understated—and they were right with her! And this has persisted for months.

WOLF WAS WITH STUPID TOO: Results keep trickling in on Nexis. Joe Biden on yesterday’s Blitzer Reports:

BIDEN (4/28/05): And the fact of the matter is, the fact is, that if you're going to go with private accounts, as the president is talking about, it's going to cost at least $1 trillion, $2 trillion over 10 years. The money's got to come from somewhere, and it's going to do nothing, nothing, nothing to positively affect solvency.
Here at THE HOWLER, we like Joe Biden! But it’s amazing—no other word for it.

MASLIN’S FOLLY: Bear with us, folks—we love this stuff. On Tuesday, we discussed Janet Maslin’s New York Times review of Ann Coulter’s kooky best-seller, Slander (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/26/05). In her review, Maslin cited a part of Slander where Coulter assembled six troubling “liberal” quotes; in one of the quotes, Peter Jennings said that health care was one of the Castro regime’s “success stories.” Maslin praised Coulter for “having a field day” at the expense of Jennings’ “egregious loose talk.” In so doing, Maslin extended the part of her review which praised Coulter’s assiduous scholarship. “A great deal of research supports” Coulter’s claims, Maslin said, and yes, she counted Coulter’s 780 footnotes and praised Coulter for her “measured reasoning.” When Maslin scolded Jennings’ “loose talk,” she continued to push the secondary theme of her review. Slander’s author may be driven by bile, but by gum she did do her homework!

But Coulter didn’t do her homework; in an astonishing number of kooky cases, she didn’t do her work at all. In RE Jennings, there was nothing obviously wrong with his statement about Cuban health care, and in the rest of the report from which this statement was cadged, he portrayed a crumbling Cuban economy and a Cuban human rights nightmare. But so what? Coulter cadged the health care quote and used it to rail against Jennings’ rank liberalism. And Maslin was right there cheering her on—and failing to fact-check Coulter’s work.

How inept were Maslin’s claims about Coulter’s diligent scholarship? Since Maslin praised the part of Slander where Coulter cadged that quote from Jennings, we decided we’d fact-check the five other quotes which comprise Coulter’s “loose talk” six-pack. And remember what we’ve always told you—there seems to be no part of Coulter’s book which stands up to the simplest fact-check. Did Coulter do a “great deal of research” when she slapped this book together? Should Coulter be praised in the Times for those footnotes? Hardly. Consider the kooky cracked pottery we stumbled across when we fact-checked Coulter’s “quote” from Keith Kelly.

Yes, Coulter lists six naughty quotes on page 117 and invites us to marvel at their foolishness. One of the “quotes” is attributed to Kelly, a long-time reporter for the New York Post. Here’s the text, as it appears in Slander. Kelly’s “quotation” comes with a critique from triumphant Coulter:

COULTER (page 118):
“[T]he media consortium...decid[ed] on October 22—for the sake on national unity in the current political crisis—not to release an in-depth analysis of the Florida election...which, according to inside sources, gave the state election to Al Gore.”
Keith Kelly, the New York Post, December 5, 2000 [129]
(The media consortium study was not completed for another year, at which point it was promptly released, showing that Bush had won on every count.) [130]
That’s the “quotation,” as it appears in Slander, along with two of those Famous Footnotes and a pithy Koulter Kritique. This passage appears on page 118 of the hardback edition—and on page 149 of the paperback version. Amazingly, no part of this passage was amended when Slander came out in paper. We say that’s amazing because—as is the norm with Coulter’s work—every single part of this passage is wrong, right down to those highly-praised footnotes.

To start with: No, Keith Kelly didn’t make this statement, nor did anyone else at the New York Post. According to Coulter’s footnote 129, this quotation comes from a 12/5/00 Post report headlined “No President, but Election Books are Coming.” Yes, there was a report with that headline that day, and yes, the report was written by Kelly. But Kelly’s story didn’t discuss the consortium vote count in Florida—which, of course, hadn’t yet been completed—and no, Kelly’s story didn’t include the statement which Coulter attributes to it. As usual, her attribution is totally wrong; Kelly had nothing to do with the quoted statement. Like so much of her work in Slander, this presentation by Coulter isn’t just wrong; it’s bizarrely wrong. And of course, it comes in a part of the book which Maslin specifically praised.

So no, that quotation doesn’t come from Kelly, or from the New York Post at all. In fact, it comes from a much less visible source—a lengthy report in Publishers Weekly by Michael Bronski, author of The Pleasure Principle, a book about gay issues. And no, the quotation didn’t appear in December 2000, at a time when the Florida recount wasn’t complete. In fact, Bronski’s report appeared on November 5, 2001—and his statement made perfect sense.

What was Bronski talking about in his lengthy Publishers Weekly piece? He was discussing the fate of books about Campaign 2000 in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. “Readers' rush to grapple with and understand all aspects of the new political crisis has dramatically slowed interest in the already overpublished shelf of books about last year's political crisis,” he wrote. As he continued, he offered the deeply troubling statement which Coulter attributed to Kelly:

BRONSKI (11/5/01): This does not bode well for titles on the election that are just hitting stores now. Booksellers are mustering only limited hopes for such titles as John Nichols and David Deschamp's Jews for Buchanan (New Press, Nov.), Douglas Kellner's Grand Theft 2000: Media Spectacle and the Stolen Election (Rowman & Littlefield, Nov.), Abner Green's Understanding the 2000 Election (NYU Press, Oct.) and Jack N. Rackove's anthology The Unfinished Election of 2000 (Basic, Oct.). None of these books were helped by the media consortium that includes the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the broadcaster CNN deciding on October 22—for the sake of national unity in the current political crisis—not to release an in-depth analysis of the Florida election they had commissioned from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, which, according to inside sources, gave the state election to Al Gore.
So there’s the quote which Slander back-dates a year and attributes to the New York Post. It actually appeared in Publishers Weekly, where almost nobody saw it. And by the way, Bronski’s statement about the findings of the consortium turned out to be basically accurate. His “inside sources” were pretty much on the money; the media consortium had decided to delay the scheduled mid-September release of its results because of the 9/11 attacks. The report was finally released on November 11, six days after Bronski’s report. Here’s what Dan Keating reported in the next day’s Washington Post:
KEATING (11/12/01): In all likelihood, George W. Bush still would have won Florida and the presidency last year if either of two limited recounts—one requested by Al Gore, the other ordered by the Florida Supreme Court—had been completed, according to a study commissioned by The Washington Post and other news organizations.

But if Gore had found a way to trigger a statewide recount of all disputed ballots, or if the courts had required it, the result likely would have been different. An examination of uncounted ballots throughout Florida found enough where voter intent was clear to give Gore the narrowest of margins.

According to the consortium recount, Bush would have won the state if one of those “limited recounts” had occurred. But Gore would have won by a narrow margin if the whole state had been recounted. And by the way—Coulter’s footnote 130 specifically cites this Keating report! In her note, she paraphrases Keating’s report, but absent-mindedly forgets to mention what he said right there in his second paragraph. But so it goes almost any time we check the footnotes in Coulter’s book, a book which Maslin repeatedly praised for its “great deal of research.”

So let’s review; let’s examine the “egregious loose talk” which Coulter “uncovered” in this part of the book, which Maslin commended. For unknown reasons, Coulter falsely attributed Bronski’s quote to the uninvolved Keith Kelly. The quote appeared in Publishers Weekly; she put it in the New York Post. (Her footnote cited a specific article in which the quote didn’t appear.) Her date was wrong by roughly a year; as a result, she ridiculed Kelly for making this statement at a time when it didn’t even make sense. And she gave a baldly misleading account of what the consortium recount actually found. The recount “show[ed] that Bush had won on every count,” Coulter typed. As usual, Koulter’s Kritique was pleasing but designed to be wrong

But so what? When Maslin motored through page 117, she took a pass on fact-checking Coulter. She noticed the footnotes—but didn’t fact-check them—and so she praised the brilliant way Coulter went after Jennings’ “egregious loose talk.” In fact, egregious loose talk was all around as Maslin read the page in question. But uh-oh! She didn’t see where the loose talk was—and ended up praising its kooky purveyor! Here again, we see a passage in which Slander’s “mistakes” show up in bewildering layers. But so what? In the Times, Coulter wasn’t criticized for this misconduct; instead, she was praised for her numerous notes, for her “great deal of research.”

Two final points:

No, this passage wasn’t corrected when Slander came out in paperback. To this day, you can read this ludicrous passage in any good American bookstore (or on Amazon, through its search-the-book service). According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Coulter’s who-gives-a-dang publisher, Crown, “corrected five errors for the book's second printing: three minor misidentifications of public figures, an incorrect citation of The New York Times's coverage of the race car driver Dale Earnhardt's death, and an erroneous claim about press coverage of an Al Gore gaffe.” But apparently, this kooky passage about Keith Kelly wasn’t wrong enough for excision. Neither was the nasty claim that the New York Times, in an editorial, called Clarence Thomas all those vile racial names. These blatant “errors” sit in Slander today, even as its author is praised in Time for her lack of mistakes.

And this: What comment sat on the back of Treason, Coulter’s subsequent book, telling suckers how brilliant its author is? Of course! Here’s one of the blurbs from the back of that kooky volume:

“A great deal of research supports Ms. Coulter’s wisecracks.”
And there you see those two basic themes: Coulter doesn’t make mistakes. And the things she says are all meant in good fun. Last week, Time took these two talking-points and pushed them right out onto its cover. Like Maslin before him, Time’s John Cloud just couldn’t find Coulter’s mistakes.

COTEY GOT IT RIGHT: Just to establish the record, we’ll present Coulter’s full six-pack of kooky quotes at a later date. In the meantime, let’s remember Dahlia Lithwick’s reaction to Mark Levin’s Men in Black. Good for Lithwick! When she actually read Levin’s best-seller, she was surprised to see how kooky it is—and she was surprised by the fact that the mainstream press was saying nothing about this. Lithwick reasoned as a normal person would—like a person from an earlier era, a person from the planet described in your eighth-graders’ civics textbooks. She assumed it was the role of the press to inform the public about books like Levin’s. She assumed the press was supposed to speak up when a major best-seller was so hugely bogus. Lithwick was right in that reaction, of course. But she was wrong in thinking that the mainstream press had performed this sort of work in the recent past.

In fact, when the press corps hands a free pass to Levin, it engages in its standard behavior. As far as we know, only one major newspaper came to terms with the factual squalor of Slander. In the St. Petersburg Times, Mark Cotey actually performed the role of a traditional journalist. In August 2002, he wrote a detailed, 2000-word report on the endless mistakes in Coulter’s best-seller. He quoted us, and many others. He behaved the way Lithwick assumed the press would. And yes, he stood completely alone. No other newspaper tackled this task; by contrast, the New York Times praised Coulter’s research. Indeed, the Times’ words of praise sit on the back of Treason, misleading the public to this day.

In the Sunshine State’s Times, Mark Cotey got it right! He behaved as Lithwick assumed a scribe would. Everyone else knew to keep their yaps shut, and last week, Coulter sat on the cover of Time, praised for her brilliant lack of mistakes. On the web, amateur liberals railed and roared; professionals kept on keepin’ quiet.