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Caveat lector

Christopher Caldwell didn’t play nice in his review of Slander.


SOMETIMES YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE READING A NUT: To his credit, Christopher Caldwell didn’t play nice in his review of Ann Coulter’s new Slander. “[S]he has produced a piece of political hackwork,” he says, writing in Sunday’s Washington Post. “The deeper into her subject she gets, the more she resorts to the tools of calumny and propaganda she professes to critique.” Caldwell hails from the Weekly Standard, but he’s willing to play it straight about Coulter’s pathologically inaccurate book. How hard-hitting is Caldwell’s critique? He finally turns to the type of language a person must use to describe Coulter’s work. At one point in Slander, according to Caldwell, Coulter “enter[s] the territory of those leftist nuts who say we’re living in a dictatorship because Noam Chomsky isn’t on the front page of the New York Times every single day”

No, he doesn’t quite say that Coulter’s a “nut”—but he comes admirably close. Indeed, there is no polite way to describe the nonsense found throughout Coulter’s book. Simply put, Coulter’s accounts of all matters, large and small, are almost pathologically bogus. Unfortunately, cable producers—always pleased to make a joke of our discourse—have no present plans to take notice.

Consider just one of the ludicrous moments in Slander. In Chapter 9, Coulter complains about the press corps’ use of the terms “Christian conservative” and “religious right.” According to Coulter, “[t]he point of the phrase ‘religious right’ or ‘Christian conservative’ is not to define but to belittle.” And lefties, of course, get a pass:

COULTER (page 166): Despite the constant threat of the “religious right” in America, there is evidently no such thing as the “atheist left.” In a typical year, the New York Times refers to either “Christian conservatives” or the “religious right” almost two hundred times. But in a Lexis/Nexis search of the entire New York Times archives, the phrases “atheist liberals” or “the atheist left” do not appear once. Only deviations from the left-wing norm merit labels.
In a footnote, Coulter extends her complaint. “In a one year period (roughly corresponding to calendar year 2000), the New York Times found occasion to mention either ‘Christian conservatives’ or the ‘religious right’ 187 times. Not once did the paper refer to ‘atheist liberals’ or ‘the atheist left.’” To Coulter, of course, this is all a sign of gruesome bias. She goes on to claim that the terms “religious right” and “Christian conservative” are now used “[j]ust as some people once spat out the term ‘Jew’ as an insult.”

It certainly makes for high excitement, but does it make any sense? Do newspapers use “Christian conservative” as an emblem of hatred, and avoid “atheist left” due to liberal bias? If so, we have big news to share. If Coulter’s NEXIS search has proven these things, then the once-conservative Washington Times is spilling with lib bias, too.

In the calendar year 2000, how often did the New York Times refer to “Christian conservatives” or the “religious right?” A NEXIS search of that year presents 182 references. But the Washington Times—a much slimmer paper—had 151 such cites that same year. And how about those other terms—“atheist liberals” or “the atheist left?” Incredibly, Coulter was right in one of her claims; the New York Times never used either term. But guess what? The Washington Times never used the terms, either. If Coulter has sniffed out a vast left-wing plot, Wes Pruden is in on it too.

Why do newspapers write about “Christian conservatives?” Because they exist, and because they’re important. And why don’t we read about the “atheist left?” Because the group doesn’t exist. That’s why the New York Times doesn’t mention the group; that’s why the Washington Times doesn’t mention it, either. Everyone in America knows this is true—until they read Coulter’s cracked book.

But then, such nonsense fills every page of this book. There is no other pundit—of the left, right or center—who engages in such pathological foolishness. Caldwell, a conservative, was prepared to say “Nut.” Why won’t Mickey Kaus say it also?

TOMORROW: Mickey Kaus spent ten seconds, tops, researching Katie Couric’s recent “catfight.”

STRAWMEN OF THE WORLD, COLLAPSE: As we’ve often said, the power to paraphrase is the power to spin. Andrew Sullivan employs the tool in his eponymous website this morning. He improves what Nicholas Kristof says in today’s New York Times:

SULLIVAN: Nick Kristof, after yet another murder of Jews by a Muslim hater, worries about American religious bigotry. “If we want Saudi princes to confront their society’s hate-mongers, our own leaders should confront ours,” he preaches. Our bigotry is as bad as theirs, he opines. Excuse me? When conservative Christians start murdering thousands of Muslim and Jewish civilians in the Middle East, it will be. Until then, there is simply no equivalence between anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S. and anti-Western and anti-Semitic terrorism in the Arab world.
Can you spot the inventive paraphrase? Just to help, we put it in bold. But where exactly in Kristof’s column does he say that “our bigotry is as bad as” that in the Arab world? The answer is simple—he doesn’t say it at all. Let’s face it: If Kristof actually said such a thing, Sully would rush you the quote.

By the way, inventive paraphrase dominates Slander. Coulter’s the reigning queen of the two-word quote, which she then surrounds with absurd accounts of what the person in question supposedly “said.” It’s a favored technique of dissemblers worldwide. Absurd examples from Coulter’s book will appear here as soon as tomorrow.