TUESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2002
MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE: How strange are the mainstream press corps procedures? In the August 11 Los Angeles Times, Andrew Malcolm became the latest reviewer to praise Ann Coulters ton-of-footnotes. Earlier, the same nonsense went on in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02), but that papers Janet Maslin wasnt the first to tout Coulters voluminous notes. In the Oregonian, David Reinhard said that [Coulters] argumentsher charges and counterchargescome peppered with footnoted quotations and documentation. (No commentator today argues with more honesty, he said.) Later, the National Reviews Michael Potemra was impressed with Coulters massive amounts of footnoted evidence. Avoiding charges of being a girly boy, Potemra praised Slander for its painstaking marshaling of evidence.
What is so silly about these presentations? Duh. Footnotes dont prove that claims are accurate until the footnotes are actually checked! And, starting on page one of her book, Coulters citations frequently show that her claims have been simply made up. Indeed, by the time Malcolm penned his recent review, it was perfectly clear that Coulters book was packed with factual howlers. Her publisher had already agreed to revise the last page of her book, due to the groaning factual error on which her closing argument is based.
Malcolm simply ignored all this. He counted his 36 pages of footnotes and called Slander a clever, documented diatribe. Los Angeles Times readers were kept in the dark about the problems with Coulters text.
Where do they find such reviewers? we asked (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/02). In Malcolms case, part of the byline on his Times review helped us arrive at an answer.
Where in the world did they find Andrew Malcolm? This byline accompanied his piece:
LOS ANGELES TIMES BYLINE: Andrew H. Malcolm, a former foreign and national correspondent, editor, government and campaign spokesman, is the author of such books as Final Harvest and The Canadians. He is a member of The Times Editorial Board.
We were intrigued by the highlighted phrase. For whose campaign had Malcolm spoken? The Los Angeles Times forgot to say, so we conducted incomparable research. Finding? At the Washington Times, John McCaslin had limned Malcolms career when the LATimes hired him on. For whom had Malcolm been a rep? McCaslin laid out the cold facts:
MCCASLIN (3/14/01): Andrew Malcolm, longtime New York Times columnist and best-selling author, quit writing, moved to Montana, and became press secretary to then-Montana Gov. Marc Racicot only to be snagged by George W. Bush as deputy communications manager for the Bush presidential campaign. Later he turned down a top post in the Bush administration
Hell join the Los Angeles Times editorial board by months end with a broad mandate to write on myriad topics.
Where in the world did they find Andrew Malcolm? They found him repping for the Bush campaign, a fact the Times forgot to include in their by-line when he reviewed Coulters book.
Lets make a few points clear. Theres absolutely nothing wrong with repping for the Bush (or the Gore) campaign. And theres nothing wrong with going from there to the Los Angeles Times. But there is something wrong with being clueless, and Malcolms review fits into that camp. Either Malcolm doesnt know about with Slanders problems. Or he chose to ignore those problems, counting up footnotes instead.
But lets say this: The Los Angeles Times is not in the grip of that ol debbil, Liberal Bias. The Times had Slander reviewed by a Bush campaign rep. He stressed the way the Bush campaign was trashed by the liberal press. He didnt notice that Slanders specific claims in this area were baselessin fact, had been almost wholly made up. And the Times forgot to tell its readers which campaign its reviewer had repped for.
Counting footnotes! Who would believe that such PlaySkool procedures could drive the American public discourse? We see no sign that our major papers have the guts to discuss Coulters book. Malcolms review, simply put, was a farce. Readers of the L. A. Times should ask why it cant do better.
SHE STARTED IT: For the record, who first used Coulters ton-of-notes as an emblem of accuracy? Coulter did, on various programs. Its a bit of a favorite talking point. Here are two early examples:
On Hannity & Colmes, 6/25/02:
Once Janet Maslin had counted the notes, Coulter helpers knew they should cite them:
COULTER: This is why I had to write a book, because liberals like you would say things like that
Your comment right now that both sides do itthats why you need a book that is carefully documented and footnoted.
On Hardball, 6/26/02:
COULTER: I have footnotes. I do back this up. I have quotes in the book. You are starting with a generalization. This is why conservatives have to write books because well be badgered on TV and wont be able to come up with examples while being badgered and interrupted. Fortunately I have a book that documents the things I say.
On Hannity & Colmes, 7/15/02:
Four weeks later, Malcolm still was counting the notes. We ask again: Who could believe that such PlaySkool procedures could drive the American discourse?
HANNITY: How many pages of footnotes do you have in this book?
COULTER: Thirty-five. And we had to cut it down. I have a mainstream publisher, was not used to publishing a right winger. And they were wondering what all the footnotes were about. I had to explain to them I will be Aldridged otherwise. I must have substantiation for everything.
CRUSHING THE SKEPTICS: A handful of skeptics (OK, one person) have doubted our claim that Blue Crush got weak reviews. Our correspondent cited strong reviews in the Washington Post and the New York Times. The truth? For a middle-brow movie, Crush got a strange pattern of notices. It got admiring reviews in these two major papers, but lesser papers tended to say that the ocean footage was great but the story was boring. Reviewers tended to stress the fact that They Were Smarter By Far Than The Film.
Crush got good reviews from another prime source; Ebert and Roeper said TWO THUMBS UP. But that is far from their top ranking. According to numerous movie ads, TWO THUMBS UP can be topped in at least three ways:
TWO THUMBS WAY UP
Based on these considerations, E&R passed Crush with honors, but it didnt get magna or summa.
TWO THUMBS WAY, WAY UP
TWO ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS UP
(Ebert, in his Sun-Times review: I expected another mindless surfing movie. Blue Crush is anything but.)