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THINGS FALL APART (PART 2)! Coulter makes “errors” like other scribes breathe. But store-bought John Cloud couldn’t find them: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 20, 2005

BERNSTEIN WATCHES THINGS FALL APART: Congratulations to Carl Bernstein, perhaps our frankest press bigfoot. On last evening’s Special Report, Jim Angle cited a recent speech by the Watergate worthy:
ANGLE (4/19/05): Former Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, who helped break the Watergate story, says journalism nowadays is squandering the public's trust, insisting the, quote, "triumph of the idiot culture in news, particularly TV news, has weakened journalist drive for the truth."

At a press convention in Kansas, Bernstein said, quote, "The consequences to a society that is misinformed and disinformed by the grotesque values of this idiot culture are truly perilous. For the first time in our history," he went on, "the weird, the stupid, the coarse, the sensational and the untrue are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal."

Bernstein has given this speech before, but his timing last week was superb. (For a local report, just click here.) Indeed, he could have been talking about Time’s decision to put Ann Coulter on its cover. Yes, when Time takes our craziest pundit and tries to mainstream her through its cover, we’re seeing the triumph of “idiot culture,” in which "the weird, the stupid, the coarse and untrue are becoming our cultural ideal.” Put more simply, we’re seeing things falling apart.

What are “the consequences to our society” from the press corps’ idiot culture? In the campaign which transformed our national politics, they worked for two years to make Gore seem crazy. Now, they’re working to make Coulter seem sane. And yes, this is being driven by reactionary forces who want to roll back the last century’s advances. Because this is such an ominous event, we’ll discuss it for the rest of the week.

But try to make our young career writers comment on this matter. As of 11 A.M. Eastern today, no one at Tapped had said a word about Time’s kooky love song to Coulter. Nor has Josh Marshall said Word the First. And this is Kevin Drum’s full assessment:

COULTER-MANIA.... Looking for an antidote to Time's mash note to Ann Coulter this week? Try “The Wisdom of Ann Coulter,” an oldie but goody from the Washington Monthly archives.
Drum has many thoughts about the new food pyramid. But he offers no thoughts about Time.

But that’s the way it tends to be at sites that work inside the circle. To put this silence in perspective, here’s something Jack Shafer recently said at Slate:

SHAFER (4/8/05): I started writing press criticism at Washington City Paper back in 1986, because as editor I couldn't get anybody else to do it. Writers were frightened that if they penned something scathing about the Washington Post or the New York Times they'd screw themselves out of a future job. Today, the sort of dagger and epee work I used to perform on big media gets done by hundreds of bloggers before I can rise and read the morning paper. Thanks to blogs, we've gone from a culture where few criticized the press to one where it's the new national pastime.
Huh! Indeed, “hundreds of bloggers” are savaging Time for its bizarre product-placement of Coulter. But from within the established organs—from press-connected, professional sites which might even have some actual influence—we largely hear the sounds of silence. But then, these same self-dealers had nothing to say when the Times and the Post elected George Bush through their two-year War Against Gore. (Indeed, they avoid this topic even now.) They maintained their Code of Silence then, and they’re maintaining their silence now. Result? Bush is in the Oval Office, and Coulter’s on the cover of Time. But so what—their brilliant careers are still on track! Yes, it’s one of the obvious ways “the weird and the stupid” become our ideal. It’s the way things fall apart.

Meanwhile, for a professional writer who has spoken up, be sure to check out Eric Alterman’s blistering reaction to the Time profile. But we do have one small complaint about this part of his post:

ALTERMAN: Time’s cover story/whitewash of Ann Coulter will make it impossible for serious people to accept what the magazine reports at face value ever again...This is a profoundly depressing realization as its managing editor Jim Kelly is a friend of mine and I respect both his intelligence and integrity and to be perfectly honest, I cannot find a way to reconcile my high opinion of Jim and the journalism he has produced, together with my respect for many of the professional reporters and editors at Time, with this moral, professional, and intellectual abomination. The fact that the system could produce a story like this one—one that was in the pipeline for months and had plenty of opportunities to be both fact-checked and reconsidered—is a moral and intellectual scandal and a permanent stain on the reputations of everyone associated with it, most particularly its author, John Cloud.
Good for Alterman, who was willing to speak so frankly about some people he actually knows! But we’re puzzled by his air of general puzzlement—a puzzlement this fine writer often expresses when his associates engage in such work. Does anyone really fail to know why people like Kelly produce such “abominations?” Is there anyone who doesn’t understand the general shape of these grimy transactions? These transactions are helping things fall apart. Are we really confused by their provenance?

THINGS FALL APART (PART 2): Let’s pity poor store-bought reporter John Cloud, who searched and searched for mistakes by Ann Coulter but just couldn’t seem to find any (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 4/19/05). In his current Time magazine cover piece, Cloud offers a 5800-word profile of Coulter, the painfully crackpot pseudo-conservative who is clearly our craziest living pundit. But poor Cloud! He’d heard that Coulter makes lots of mistakes. But when he conducted his tireless search, he just flat-out couldn’t find them:

CLOUD (4/25/05): Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words "Ann Coulter lies," you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors.
Amazing, isn’t it? But then, at a time when reactionary power is buying your “press corps,” trying to roll back progressive advances, store-bought boys—store-bought boys like John Cloud—can be surprisingly hapless.

Good Lord! How hard can it be to find Big Mistakes by a complete, total fraud like Ann Coulter? In 2002, when her best-selling Slander made Coulter a star, we began our own search in an obvious place—on page one of her kooky, cracked book. And yes, the fakery started up instantly; Coulter’s groaning “mistakes” began on page one, and continued right on to the end of her volume. Indeed, we reported on Slander for three straight weeks, finally stopping from sheer, total boredom—and Coulter’s “mistakes” simply littered the book, from page one right to its conclusion. Somehow, though, for all his striving, Cloud couldn’t seem to find them. He wracked his brain, and searched high and low. But they were nowhere around.

What sorts of “mistakes” are found in Slander? On page one, with brilliant prescience, she boo-hoo-hoos about the way “the left” slimes poor Tom DeLay. “For his evident belief in a higher being, DeLay is compared to savage murderers and genocidal lunatics on the pages of the New York Times,” Coulter writes. But uh-oh! To document this excited claim, she offers a footnoted reference to a Maureen Dowd column, a column which actually criticized three major pols: Tom DeLay, George W. Bush—and Al Gore (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/11/02). Uh-oh! If “the Times” was comparing DeLay to savages, it was doing the same thing to Gore! But then, if Cloud wants to find Big Clownish Mistakes, he can pretty much check any footnote from Coulter; her claims routinely turn out to be fake, if you bother to check out her sources. Consider the faking she does on page two, at the expense of liberal witch Katie Couric. One turn of the page, and Coulter starts in on one of her favorite fake targets:

COULTER (page 2): In this universe, the public square is wall-to-wall liberal propaganda. Americans wake up to “America’s Sweetheart,” Katie Couric, berating Arlen Specter about Anita Hill ten years after the hearings.
The implication was perfectly obvious. Couric wouldn’t stop crabbing about Anita Hill, even “ten years after the hearings”—and she just won’t stop berating Republicans. And there was one of those famous footnotes, for which Coulter was praised in the great New York Times! Yes, footnote 7 sourced Coulter’s claim that Couric berated the poor helpless Specter. And since this was Coulter’s first example of that “wall-to-wall liberal propaganda,” we made a quick decision here. We decided we’d look the cite up.

And so we looked up Coulter’s reference, a Today show appearance by Specter on March 6, 2001. As it turns out, Specter was there to promote a new book, Passion for Truth—a book which “details his life as a prosecutor, his service on the Warren Commission, and his years in the US Senate,” according to Couric’s collegial introduction. “Nice to have you,” Couric said. “What motivated you to write this book?” And you guessed it! Prepare to laugh! Specter said he’d written the book because he wanted to discuss Anita Hill:

COURIC (3/6/01): What—what motivated you to write this book?

SPECTER: Because I wanted to tell what is happening behind the scenes. I have been criticized for more than three decades for my work as one of the young staff lawyers on the Warren Commission where I came up with the single bullet theory, and I thought it was important to write it all down just exactly why I came to that conclusion and why the commission accepted it. I go into some of the background on the Professor Anita Hill/Justice Clarence Thomas controversy, take up some questions which never got to the public, such as why we never called Angela Wright, who was a young woman who had a story very similar to Anita Hill’s. I go into the background of what happened on Judge Bork’s confirmation hearing and one of the big concerns that I had about Judge Bork on his technical approach and lack of humanitarianism, when he upheld the decision which said that women who worked for a lead company either had to consent to be sterilized or to lose their jobs, which I thought was exactly wrong.

At this point, Couric began playing it rough, according to the program’s transcript:
COURIC (continuing directly): Uh-huh.

SPECTER: Go into the, the details behind the scenes on the Warren Commission, where my job was to talk to all the witnesses at the scene, and how I wanted to talk to Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy, and how the chief justice in effect overruled that. Had a very, very short deposition, attended only by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the chief justice and the general counsel. And to tell what goes on behind the scenes, and, really, the need for the truth to come out so that the American people can have confidence in their government.

Phew! If Specter votes against the filibuster, he’s the biggest hypocrite in Washington! At any rate, Couric roused herself after Specter’s oration; she asked one question about the Warren Commission, and then two questions about the Bork hearings. And then, she finally asked one question about the Anita Hill matter. Readers, here’s the sum total of the “berating” she handed to poor helpless Specter this day. Here you see the day’s sum total of “wall-to-wall liberal propaganda:”
COURIC: You know, you—you angered a lot of feminists when you accused Anita Hill. In fact, you detail how she changed her testimony during questioning, during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. And you accused her of publicly, quote, "flat out perjury." Any regrets?

SPECTER: I think it was an impolitic thing to say. But I think that it was warranted on the facts. And in this book, I go into great detail as to how I came to that conclusion and why, and how another key member of the Judiciary Committee agreed with me.

COURIC: Uh-huh.

SPECTER: And it was necessary in my view to find out what happened as best we could. There was a very late challenge to Clarence Thomas, and I thought that as a matter of fairness, we had to try to find out the facts.

“Any regrets!” Phew—that was a tough one! For the record, Couric posed no follow-up question here; instead, she asked a question about Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich, a topic “the left” will always raise when it wants to stage a display of its famous “wall-to-wall propaganda.” Did Couric really berate poor Specter—assail him with “wall-to-wall liberal propaganda?” In fact, the interview was mild throughout, and closed with a question Republicans would love. By the way, here’s the one question Couric asked about the Warren Commission
COURIC: As you said, the Kennedy family during, when you were serving on the Warren Commission, refused to allow you to examine X-rays and autopsy photos of JFK. Why do you think they—they refused to do that and how badly did that hamper the investigation?
As another part of the “liberal propaganda” which was “wall-to-wall” in Coulter’s book, Couric invited Specter to tell the world how the Kennedys hampered his work.

So there you see a typical episode from Coulter’s pathologically dishonest book. Regarding Hill, Couric asked an obvious question, about a topic which Specter brought up. She didn’t challenge his comments at all. Result? Coulter told readers that Specter had been “berated” about Hill; she plainly implied that relentless old Couric just wouldn’t drop the ten-year-old topic. She played her readers for complete, utter fools, as she does all through this bizarre book.

But then, Slander is wall-to-wall propaganda itself, an endless display of absurd, bogus claims supported by fake, phony footnotes. If Cloud had checked any claim in the book, he would have stood a very good chance of finding another big “error.” For sheer amusement, see what happens when you check out the claim that the vicious New York Times called Candidate George Bush an “airhead” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/15/02). Check how silly things can get when Coulter designs Nexis searches (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/9/02). Did the press corps say Reagan was senile in 1984? Note the way Coulter fakes about that (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/26/02). Read the bizarre description of the Times letters page—a passage which appears on Slander’s page two, right along with the nonsense about Couric (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/25/02). Enjoy a good laugh when you read a Chicago Tribune puff-piece about local girl Phyllis Schlafly—an article Coulter tells her readers is “preposterously demeaning” (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02). Watch her as she trashes Couric for asking another obvious question—a question Sean Hannity asked the same night (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/12/02). Yes, when we sat down to fact-check Slander, we found that almost every claim turned out to be a groaning misstatement. It’s amazing that Cloud couldn’t find these “mistakes”—especially since the work had all been done for him, here and at other, lesser sites.

Indeed, how pathologically does Coulter misstate? Consider Slander’s Big Closing Anecdote—an anecdote Coulter was forced to recant after we fact-checked it here at THE HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/23/02). In Time, Coulter tells Cloud that this is her “one error,” her “one mistake.” And, of course, because it’s Coulter, she lies in Cloud’s face as she does:

CLOUD: When I asked Coulter about her mistakes, she responded by e-mail: "I think I can save you some time ...The one error liberals have produced is that I was wrong when I said the NYT didn't mention Dale Earnhardt's death on the front page the day after his death. There have been novels and Broadway plays written about Ann Coulter's one mistake, which was pretty minor IMHO [in my humble opinion]—the Times article DID begin: 'His death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart.'"

Actually, it didn't. The article began, "Stock car racing's greatest current star and one of its most popular and celebrated figures, Dale Earnhardt, crashed and was killed today." The article doesn't mention Wal-Mart, although a subsequent piece did.

So even when she admitted her “one mistake,” Coulter misstated the most basic facts. But because John Cloud is thoroughly store-bought—because he’s paid not to find her mistakes—he still couldn’t make himself see the pathological way Ann Coulter lies to the world.

How pathological is Coulter’s penchant for “mistakes?” As she noted in her e-mail to Cloud, she made a groaning “mistake” on Slander’s last page, saying that the New York Times “didn't mention Dale Earnhardt's death on the front page the day after his death.” Needless to say, this bogus claim led to a crackpot closing diatribe, in which Coulter said that liberals are “savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport” (more on this crackpot presentation tomorrow). To state the obvious, her nasty summation was utterly ludicrous, and, as always, she had her facts wrong; as Cloud notes, the Times did publish a reverent, page-one report on Earnhardt’s death the day after he died. (As Cloud notes, the Times published a second page-one report three days later.) This, Coulter says, is her “one mistake.” And yes, she did amend Slander’s final page when the book came out in paper. But uh-oh! All too typically, when Coulter changed Slander’s final page, she changed it to something else that was bogus! Somehow, despite his relentless search, Cloud missed this bit of pathology. But readers, here’s the current, next-to-last paragraph from Slander. This account—Coulter’s amended account, from her paperback edition—is still baldly misleading:

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.) Demonstrating the left’s renowned populist touch, the New York Times front-page article on Earnhardt’s death three days later 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!
In short, Coulter’s current version plainly implies that the Times provided no next-day coverage. It gives a totally false impression, even after Coulter “corrected.” There’s a word for this kind of conduct—pathological. But poor John Cloud—a store-bought man—knew he was paid not to see this.

Coulter dissembles as other scribes breathe. Her dishonesty reaches the point of disturbance. But reactionary forces are now working to roll back a century’s worth of liberal advances, and store-bought fellows—fellows like Cloud—know there’s big dough on the table. In order to get his hands on that dough, Cloud pretends that he can’t find mistakes. He hunted and hunted—but he just couldn’t find them. More of his clowning tomorrow.
TOMORROW—PART 3: Coulter’s venom is pure pathology. But it’s all in good fun, John Cloud says.

COULTER CORRECTS: For the record, here are the two versions of Slander’s next-to-last paragraph. How did Coulter fix her “one mistake?” Simple! She took a statement which was blatantly wrong, and replaced it with one which is baldly misleading. Conduct like this is pure pathology. But Cloud just couldn’t find it:

COULTER, ORIGINAL MISTAKEN VERSION (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!

COULTER, CURRENT “CORRECTED” VERSION (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.) Demonstrating the left’s renowned populist touch, the New York Times front-page article on Earnhardt’s death three days later 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!

The original version was flatly wrong. The current version is baldly misleading. And yes, this “correction” still sits in American bookstores. But poor Cloud! He searched and searched for Coulter’s mistakes. But somehow, he just couldn’t find them.