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Caveat lector



Barnicle asked the perfect question when he interviewed Coulter.

WEDNESDAY, JULY 24, 2002

FATHER COUGHLIN HAD A LIVELY STYLE, TOO: There are many ways to be cast as the chump when you look up an Ann Coulter footnote. Sometimes, as on her book’s final page, her stated fact is utterly false (TDH, 7/23). Sometimes, as on her book’s page two, she has grossly misstated an interview session (7/11). Sometimes you end up with Muppet reviews (7/22). Sometimes she says that Phyllis Schlafly was “preposterously demeaned,” and the article she cites is a puff piece (7/22).

Yep, there’s a whole lot of chump change in Ann Coulter’s book. But the factual “errors” which litter this book are only one part of the problem. Perhaps as striking as the factual “errors” are the conclusions she draws from her “facts.” On her final page, Coulter baldly misstates a basic fact, saying that the New York Times kissed off the death of Dale Earnhardt. But even if the Times had put Earnhardt on page twenty-three, how in the world would that lead a sane person to a cuckoo-land statement like this one?

COULTER (page 205): Except for occasional exotic safaris to the Wal-Mart or forays into enemy territory, liberals do not know any conservatives. It makes it easier to demonize them that way. It’s well and good for Andrew Sullivan to talk about a “truce.” But conservatives aren’t the ones who need to be jolted into the discovery that the “bogeymen” of their imagination are “not quite as terrifying as they thought.” Conservatives already know that people they disagree with politically can be “charming.” Also savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport.
Coulter, of course, has just lied in our faces, misstating the NYT’s coverage of Earnhardt. But even if the Times hadn’t put his death on page one, how in the world would that lead to the thought that “liberals” are “savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans?” Coulter, of course, takes 27 bucks from those same normal people, then lies in their faces on page after page. But who could get from Coulter’s “fact” to the nasty, odd judgment she offers?

But Coulter’s book is full of such statements—sweeping expressions of typological thinking rarely seen in the last fifty years. Here, for example, is what she writes on her penultimate page, 204:

COULTER (page 204): This isn’t merely to say that liberals have near-exclusive control over all major sources of information in this country, though that is true. Nor is the point that liberals are narrow-minded and parochial, incapable of seeing the other fellow’s point of view, though that is also true. And it’s not that, as a consequence, liberals impute inhumanity to their political opponents and are unfathomably hateful and vicious. That’s true, too.
Such demonistic images—and such bizarre, sweeping judgments—drive this book from beginning to end. Here is an early example:
COULTER (page 6): Liberals hate America, they hate “flag-wavers,” they hate abortion opponents, they hate all religions except Islam (post 9/11). Even Islamic terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do. They don’t have that much energy. If they had that much energy, they’d have indoor plumbing by now.
This produced the best question Coulter has yet been asked in her interview sessions on Slander. On Hardball, Mike Barnicle read that page 6 quote, and then posed a sane person’s question:
BARNICLE: Ann, I love you. You’re never boring, and I understand the point that you’re trying to make in this book, but aren’t you afraid—and I know you’re going to say that it’s, you know, a vast generalization, the quote I just read from—but aren’t you afraid that stuff like that makes you and your argument sound like a complete nut case?
Ann complained about Mike’s rude language. But Barnicle amplified what he had said. Go ahead and enjoy a good laugh at Coulter’s defense of her work:
BARNICLE: Well, I asked you if you didn’t think that such a gross generalization—because you couldn’t believe what you just wrote, what I just read. You couldn’t believe it.

COULTER: I think I write in a colorful style.

BARNICLE: But do you believe it?

COULTER: I think I back everything up.

BARNICLE: But do you believe that—do you believe that liberals hate America and the flag? Do you believe that?

COULTER: Yes. In fact, I have documented it and written columns about it. They hate it much more than I had imagined.

BARNICLE: What about Bob Kerrey? What about Bob Kerrey? He’s a liberal. Does he hate the flag? Does he hate the flag?

COULTER: The anecdotal evidence is just, is just preposterous in this regard. I have footnotes. I do back this up. I have quotes in the book.

Coulter has footnotes! Mordant chuckles bounced off the walls of the HOWLER’ s incomparable headquarters. Continuing, Coulter said that she has “a lively style.” But doggone if Barnicle didn’t persist—and in the process, he made an odd statement. “You do have a lively style,” he said. “I would encourage people to read it. I read you all the time. You’re not boring.”

Is Coulter a “nut case?” We don’t do that work. But her book is full of a kind of thinking not seen in our discourse in many years. She makes absurdly sweeping, nasty assertions; as Barnicle implies, no sane person could think they were true. But “I would encourage people to read it,” Mike said. So we persist with our question: Why is that?

FIRST FAQ: Here’s the exchange, from Monday’s Crossfire, between Julian Epstein and former Florida rep Bill McCollum:

MCCOLLUM: Of course President Bush knew there was going to be a loss. The question was did he know there was going to be a five times as much loss as he thought it was going to be? And the answer is no, he didn’t. And the SEC records show that.

EPSTEIN: Mr. McCollum is saying that he knew there was going to be a loss before he made the trade? And that wasn’t public information? Wow, now you’re making the case for an investigation! I hate to tell you.

MCCOLLUM: No, sir. You’re talking about a $4.2 million loss that was a rather routine loss in those days in that particular instance.

In this exchange, McCollum speaks with perfect accuracy about the findings of the SEC probe. By contrast, Epstein is surely feigning ignorance, and is misleading viewers who don’t know the facts. Play-dumb-and-mislead was the approach often used on this same show against President Clinton.

This leads to our first incomparable FAQ. Readers have complained that the $4.2 million projected loss really would have been a “huge” loss, just as Molly said. But the semantics here are irrelevant. As the SEC summaries clearly explain, a loss of that size would have been normal for Harken. Investors wouldn’t have been surprised. No question of “insider info” would obtain. And rightly or wrongly, the SEC gumshoes judged that, while Bush had been told about a loss of that size, he didn’t know the size of the actual losses. Indeed, he “could not have known” the size of the losses, the gumshoes explicitly said.

There never would have been a probe if the losses were only $4 million. Epstein almost surely knows that, but many Crossfire viewers do not. After complaining about this stuff for years, it’s too bad he tried to confuse them.

THE PRESS WON’T EXPLAIN IT: But the Men in Black could. You know what to do. Just click here.