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Caveat lector

The NYT praised Coulter’s footnotes. It should have looked a few up.

MONDAY, JULY 22, 2002

TRUST BUT VERIFY: When the New York Times’ Janet Maslin reviewed Slander, she had some good solid fun with a footnote. “[O]ne bit of proof that Phyllis Schlafly is treated dismissively by the left comes from a People magazine review of The Muppets Take Manhattan,” she chuckled. Indeed, just how eager was author Ann Coulter to slam the press corps’ treatment of Schlafly? She went all the way back to 1984 to cite the Muppet movie review, which included a jab at the Illinois icon. Of course, Coulter’s text doesn’t say what she’s citing. You have to read the footnote to see how far she went to find a vile slam at the right.

Maslin has some fun with this footnote, but gives too much credence to others. “A great deal of research supports Ms. Coulter’s wisecracks,” she writes—apparently not understanding how much of this “research” has simply been made up by Coulter. Do reviewers ever fact-check books? If Maslin had checked the “780 footnotes” she approvingly cites, she might have seen—and she might have told readers—how much of this book is just false.

As we’ve seen, if Maslin had fact-checked Slander’s first page, she would have found instant dissembling (see the DAILY HOWLER, July 11). Page two? The same sad result. But Coulter loves to mask bogus claims with a footnote. Indeed, when Coulter limns Schlafly, she does it again. She slams the press corps’ performance:

COULTER (page 40): [T]he mainstream media ignore Schlafly when not deploying their trademark elitist snubs. Revealing true facts about Schlafly would inevitably result in unfavorable comparisons with inconsequential feminists. Not one of Schlafly’s books has ever been reviewed in the New York Times. Schlafly is preposterously demeaned with articles reporting that she is trying to remain “relevant.”
That last claim is duly footnoted; Coulter cites a Chicago Tribune piece from 8/1/96. (Her charge is plural, but there’s only one cite.) But in fact, the Tribune’s profile of Schlafly—by the AP’s Jim Salter—is flattering from beginning to end. In paragraph one, Salter says that Schlafly “will be attending her 11th GOP convention this month…showing no intention of being irrelevant” (emphasis added). He closes with a detailed review of Schlafly’s impressive career:
SALTER: Schlafly rose to national prominence in 1964, when she wrote “A Choice Not an Echo,” a history of the Republican convention, regarded as a manifesto for the far Right movement that championed Barry Goldwater.

Then in the early 1970s, Schlafly took on the Equal Rights Amendment, beginning a grassroots anti-ERA effort that eventually led to its defeat. [James] Dobson says Schlafly “almost single-handedly” defeated the amendment.

In the process, she became the subject of scorn by feminists and liberals. She was spit upon, took a public pie in the face. Feminist Betty Friedan once told her, “I’d like to burn you at the stake.” She was vilified in a 1970s “Doonesbury” cartoon.

“That gave me more status with my children than anything I’ve ever done,” Schlafly said, laughing.

In 1976, at age 51, Schlafly was fighting the ERA, writing an 832-page book about Henry Kissinger and raising six children when she entered law school. She graduated 27th out of a class of 204.

Baldly dissembling, Coulter says that this Tribune piece was “preposterously demeaning” to Schlafly. But then, three pages earlier, she told readers that “[t]here is certainly not the remotest possibility that the mainstream media will ever breathe a word of [Schlafly’s] extraordinary accomplishments.” Note to Maslin: If you don’t check all of Coulter’s “research,” she’ll mislead you time after time.

Other footnoted claims about Schlafly are highly bogus. And one more point, kids—Coulter is cagy! According to a NEXIS search, the Washington Times has never reviewed any of Schlafly’s books, either.

IT HAD US FUMING, TOO: Just for a bit of comic relief, here’s another of Coulter’s complaints:

COULTER (page 40): [According to the mainstream media], Phyllis Schlafly never comes up with a witty or tart reply. She “fumes” (Newsweek) or “opens her mouth” (New York Times) or “snaps” (Newsweek).
Admittedly, Coulter’s charges here are odd. But a problem looms in her research, too. Footnotes bolster each Newsweek quote. But did the New York Times really say that Phyllis Schlafly “opens her mouth?” Coulter offers no citation, and a diligent search reveals no such statement. According to NEXIS, there are thirteen cites in the NYT archive for the entry “Schlafly AND mouth.” But in none of these articles did the New York Times ever claim that she actually opens it. Our judgment? Coulter has made a troubling charge. It’s time to bring forward the evidence.

By the way, when did Newsweek say that Schlalfy “snapped” a reply? The cite is twenty-three years old. Here’s the offending passage:

NEWSWEEK (4/30/79): The changes [in state divorce codes] can exacerbate the plight of older women. “We now have a whole new class of impoverished women not equipped to go into the work force,” snaps Schlafly. Chicago lawyer Joseph DuCanto, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, agrees. “It’s an illusion,” DuCanto contends. “A court says, ‘Get out there, lady, and hustle.’ You go to Marshall Field’s and talk to women clerks. One of two is divorced, middle class and has to get and work, and that’s the only work they can do.”
It’s hard to know what Newsweek did wrong. Its writers agreed with Schlafly’s assessment. But Coulter has a good ear for insults, and she traveled two decades to find one.

INCOMPARABLE FAIRNESS: None of this denies the obvious. A serious writer might want to examine the media’s treatment of Phyllis Schlafly, or the media’s approach to a wide range of issues. But Coulter isn’t a serious writer; Coulter is a dissembler and clown. That’s why Christopher Caldwell, a serious conservative, dismissed her book as “political hackwork.” If reviewers would check out her “great deal of research,” they might see just how right Caldwell was.

Coulter’s last page? It’s just made up also.


Week of July 15, 2002: Harken hoopla; more on Slander.

Week of July 8, 2002: Mostly Ann Coulter and Slander.