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LIBERAL BIAS IS ALL AROUND US! Where did the Times find its Slander reviewer? Repping for Bush’s campaign:


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 Coulter’s ton-of-footnotes. Earlier, the same nonsense went on in the New York Times (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02), but that paper’s Janet Maslin wasn’t the first to tout Coulter’s voluminous notes. In the Oregonian, David Reinhard said that “[Coulter’s] arguments—her charges and countercharges—come peppered with footnoted quotations and documentation.” (“No commentator today argues with more honesty,” he said.) Later, the National Review’s Michael Potemra was impressed with Coulter’s “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 don’t prove that claims are accurate until the footnotes are actually checked! And, starting on page one of her book, Coulter’s 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 Coulter’s 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 Coulter’s text.

Where do they find such reviewers? we asked (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/19/02). In Malcolm’s 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 Malcolm’s 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…He’ll join the Los Angeles Times editorial board by month’s 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 Coulter’s book.

Let’s make a few points clear. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with repping for the Bush (or the Gore) campaign. And there’s nothing wrong with going from there to the Los Angeles Times. But there is something wrong with being clueless, and Malcolm’s review fits into that camp. Either Malcolm doesn’t know about with Slander’s problems. Or he chose to ignore those problems, counting up footnotes instead.

But let’s 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 didn’t notice that Slander’s specific claims in this area were baseless—in 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 Coulter’s book. Malcolm’s review, simply put, was a farce. Readers of the L. A. Times should ask why it can’t do better.

SHE STARTED IT: For the record, who first used Coulter’s ton-of-notes as an emblem of accuracy? Coulter did, on various programs. It’s a bit of a favorite talking point. Here are two early examples:

On Hannity & Colmes, 6/25/02:
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 it—that’s 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 we’ll be badgered on TV and won’t be able to come up with examples while being badgered and interrupted. Fortunately I have a book that documents the things I say.

Once Janet Maslin had counted the notes, Coulter helpers knew they should cite them:
On Hannity & Colmes, 7/15/02:
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.
Four weeks later, Malcolm still was counting the notes. We ask again: Who could believe that such PlaySkool procedures could drive the American discourse?

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:

Based on these considerations, E&R passed Crush with honors, but it didn’t get magna or summa.

(Ebert, in his Sun-Times review: “I expected another mindless surfing movie. ‘Blue Crush’ is anything but.”)