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Caveat lector

Coulter dissembles right to the end. Check out her final presentation.

TUESDAY, JULY 23, 2002

CAR WRECK: Some of you think we’re carefully picking our topics when we write about Slander. Sorry. We fact-checked pages one and two because that’s where a book begins (TDH, 7/11). We checked the Katie Couric flap because it became a big flap. We fact-checked Coulter’s section on Schlafly due to Maslin’s review in the Times. But frankly, we haven’t checked any part of this book without encountering instant problems. We’d be surprised if there’s any part of this book where basic “facts” haven’t just been made up.

So yesterday, we got a grand idea. We fact-checked Coulter’s final page—and you can, of course, guess what happened.

Coulter closes with a screed against the New York Times. “[L]iberals have absolutely no contact with the society they decry from their Park Avenue redoubts,” she stupidly fumes. Then, her penultimate paragraph:

COULTER (page 205): The day after seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died in a race at the Daytona 500, almost every newspaper in America carried the story on the front page. Stock-car racing had been the nation’s fastest-growing sport for a decade, and NASCAR the second-most-watched sport behind the NFL. More Americans recognize the name Dale Earnhardt than, say, Maureen Dowd. (Manhattan liberals are dumbly blinking at that last sentence.) It took the New York Times two days to deem Earnhardt’s name sufficiently important to mention it on the first page. Demonstrating the left’s renowned populist touch, the article began, “His death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart.” The Times went on to report that in vast swaths of the country people watch stock-car racing. Tacky people were mourning Dale Earnhardt all over the South!
Typical, nasty, ugly, mean stuff. For the record, Earnhardt died on Sunday, February 18, 2001. And Coulter is right about one thing. The next day, February 19, “almost every newspaper in America carried the story on the front page.”

Coulter is right about something else, too—the New York Times piece to which she refers appeared on February 21. It was written by major star Rick Bragg, a down-home boy from the South. (When Bragg won a Pulitzer in 1996, the Times notice said, “Rick Bragg, 36, a native of Piedmont, Ala., has long said his life’s ambition was to write about the South.”) On this occasion, Bragg was writing from Earnhardt’s hometown; his piece began in the local Wal-Mart because, on the day of the NASCAR crash, residents bought every last bit of the store’s Earnhardt memorabilia. As Bragg explained what happened next, the tone of his piece became clear:

BRAGG (page one, 2/21/01): Today, it was clear what had become of some of it all: People had written their love on shirts and toys, and hung or propped them on a fence outside the offices of Dale Earnhardt Inc., one of the fanciest buildings in town. By morning, the makeshift memorial stretched 40 yards, and cars lined the country road.

“You were God to me,” a mourner scribbled on a card. Another wrote, “My boyfriend’s daddy loved you dearly.”

To the world outside Mooresville and the other little towns around this red-clay corner of North Carolina, Dale Earnhardt might have been racing’s biggest superstar, a walking corporation who won millions in prizes and millions more through smart marketing of his fame. He may have been the force behind the sport’s rise to nationwide popularity, after greats like Richard Petty had faded from victory lane.

But before he was “theirs,” as people here like to say, he was “ours.”

Bragg is hardly a foppish “northeast liberal.” But what did Coulter tell her readers? According to Coulter, Bragg had said that “tacky people were mourning Dale Earnhardt all over the South.” Her nasty comment reveals the sick heart which informs her rank, bile-induced volume.

But forget about the tone of Bragg’s piece; Coulter made a stronger point in that penultimate paragraph. She complained about the way the Times had supposedly ignored Earnhardt’s death altogether. Everyone else treated Earnhardt’s death as a page one story the day it occurred. Coulter’s question: Why, oh why, did the great New York Times wait two more days to put Dale on its cover?

We suspect you know the answer to that; Coulter was inventing. (Again!) In fact, the Times did run the story of Earnhardt’s death on its front page on Monday, February 19. (NEXIS makes this perfectly clear. Which part of “Page 1” doesn’t Coulter understand?) The headline might have provided a clue: “Stock Car Star Killed on Last Lap of Daytona 500.” The piece was written by Robert Lipsyte. Here’s how the Timesman began:

LIPSYTE (page one, 2/19/01): Stock car racing’s greatest current star and one of its most popular and celebrated figures, Dale Earnhardt, crashed and was killed today after he made a characteristically bold lunge for better position on the last turn of the last lap of the sport’s premier event, the Daytona 500.
Lipsyte discussed the crash itself; recent deaths to other drivers; safety devices that had been proposed; and Earnhardt’s role as king of the track. Like Bragg, the Timesman captured the awe in which Earnhardt was held:
LIPSYTE: [NASCAR president Mike] Helton had begun the day by announcing to a drivers’ meeting that because of its new television contract with Fox and NBC, Nascar had finally achieved “absolute professional status.”

At that meeting…Earnhardt sat in the front row, amiably shaking hands with a parade of corporate executives in suits who seemed thrilled to touch him.

The feeling cut across all classes. As he moved through the garage area surrounded by the guests, sponsors and clients of other racing teams, a man with a videocamera reached out and screamed, “I almost touched God.” No one laughed at him.

Of course, Coulter didn’t demean the tone of Lipsyte’s work. Instead, she simply lied about it, saying it didn’t exist. Coulter wanted to close with a bang. She wished Lipsyte out of existence.

What, oh what, are we to do with someone who dissembles like Coulter? Again, we’re quoting the next-to-last paragraph in her whole book. As usual, she builds a screed around an invented fact—one designed to demean those she hates. And just how nasty is Coulter’s conclusion? She draws an ugly conclusion indeed. “Except for occasional forays to the Wal-Mart,” she says, “liberals do not know any conservatives.” But conservatives “already know” liberals, she says. Conservatives know liberals as “savagely cruel bigots who hate America and lie for sport.”

Incredibly, that is Coulter’s final phrase. It closes her strange, disturbed book.

Amazing, isn’t it? Coulter—having just lied through her teeth about the Times—closes with a nasty rant attacking “liberals” for lying! The patent disturbance informing this book is thus put on its fullest display. Because no one else—of the left, right or center—lies and dissembles like Coulter. Our question: Why do TV producers and book reviewers and bloggers seem to think that this is OK? The entire establishment puts up with Ann Coulter. We ask our same question: Why is that?

YES, THAT IS WHAT WE SAID: Yes, that’s just what we said. The New York Times put Earnhardt’s death on its front page twice—on February 19 and 21. (The Washington Times put it there twice, too—on February 19 and 26.) But Coulter needed a closing riff. So she did her main thing. She dissembled.

HOPIN’ ON HARKEN: Let’s hope that Julian Epstein doesn’t know the basic facts about Harken. If he’s even modestly informed, his know-nothing outing on last night’s Crossfire would betray his basic obligation to be open and honest with viewers. Epstein feigned surprise and shock when told that Bush had been informed about pending 2Q losses at Harken. Over the last decade, we saw many conservatives go on Crossfire and play the fool in pursuit of Bill Clinton. Let’s hope that Epstein doesn’t know how neatly he aped them last night.

More on Harken will follow here. But Coulter, for now, does take precedence.