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Caveat lector

Coulter loves inventing examples in which “the left” yells “airhead.”

MONDAY, JULY 15, 2002

ANN COULTER, DISSEMBLING ON COURIC: Ann Coulter dissembles throughout her new book, but the word “airhead” seems to bring out the worst in the pundit. She loves inventing examples in which “the left” uses “airhead” to put down conservatives. Let’s look at one silly example:

COULTER (page 134): Another Republican who failed to meet the exacting IQ standards of the media is President George W. Bush. The image of Bush as an “airhead”—as the New York Times nonjudgmentally put it—has been lovingly nurtured by the media.
Wow! Did the New York Times call Bush an “airhead?” Coulter’s footnote offers two citations. The first is an article by Sam Howe Verhovek on March 12, 2000, right after John McCain dropped his White House campaign. Verhovek’s topic: Where would McCain voters go now that their man was defeated:
VERHOVEK: Bart Ferko, of Oakland Township, Mich., a dance-studio owner, said he had concluded that a real rebel like Mr. McCain could not be elected president. “Obviously, if you’re not part of the network, you’re out,” he said.
Still, if many of these voters express contempt today for both Mr. Gore (“plastic,” “detached,” “a bore” were some of their descriptions) and Mr. Bush (“an airhead,” “out of his depth,” “unqualified”), they also typically said they were likely to vote in November, and to choose one or the other.
In the world of Ann Coulter, that’s an example of the New York Times calling Bush an airhead. Her readers, once again, have no way of knowing how thoroughly they’re being misled.

But then, Coulter loves inventing “airhead” insults. Earlier, she makes a similar bogus claim about favorite mark Katie Couric:

COULTER (page 51): Most politicians would rather die face-down than be ridiculed by Katie Couric…[F]or the media to accuse you of being against “progress and enlightenment” (the New York Times on Jesse Helms) or to call you an “airhead” (Katie Couric, on Ronald Reagan)—well, that makes strong men tremble and weak men liberals.
Wow! Did Katie Couric call Reagan an “airhead?” Sorry, that isn’t true either. Once again, here’s the actual statement by Couric, made on the 9/27/99 Today show:
COURIC: Good morning. The Gipper was an airhead. That’s one of the conclusions of a new biography of Ronald Reagan that’s drawing a tremendous amount of interest and fire today, Monday, September the 27th, 1999.
Clearly, Couric attributed the “airhead” remark to Edmund Morris, the Reagan biographer. And, as we noted in last Friday’s HOWLER, Couric’s statement this day was run-of-the-mill; it was being made all over the media. In particular, conservatives were making this same comment too—Sean Hannity on Fox, for example:
HANNITY, 9/27/99: Welcome back to Hannity & Colmes. I’m Sean Hannity. Coming up, the authorized biography of Ronald Reagan calls him, quote, an airhead. And it is upsetting a lot of the former president’s supporters.
Couric and Hannity said the same thing. Neither called Reagan an airhead.

What’s the background to this story, which Coulter is now widely flogging? We’ll take a look at that tomorrow. But on page 51 of Slander, Coulter plainly says that Couric called Reagan an airhead. It isn’t until page 133 that she notes that Couric was actually quoting somebody. And at that point, Coulter offers another misleading account, putting Couric in the wrong once again. When Coulter hears “airhead” (or “Couric”), she flips.

Not that Coulter needs an excuse to engage in her trademark dissembling. No major pundit, of the left, right, or center, dissembles as pathologically as Ann Coulter does. She misleads her readers all through this rank book. Our question: When will pundits get the courage to say so, right on the air?

O’REILLY, A TOTAL NON-FACTOR: Predictably, Coulter has been dissembling about the Couric matter all over cable TV and talk radio. Here she is on last Thursday’s O’Reilly Factor, spinning right in her host’s face:

O’REILLY: Joining us now is Ms. Coulter. I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m so excited about this story now. Couric says that she was quoting somebody else. But you say that she made the [airhead] comment, which is the crux of the debate.
O’REILLY: Who’s right?
COULTER: Well, it’s in my book. And I’m right, of course.
O’REILLY: Well, she says she was quoting someone else. And she backed it up somewhat in—
COULTER: No, I mean that’s—I say that in my book. I don’t say that it came out of nowhere.
Take your pick. First Coulter tried saying that Couric did say it. Then, when Bill began to challenge her account, she said she explained the whole thing in her book. Sorry. As noted, Coulter’s “explanation” came 82 pages late, and that “explanation” was bogus as well. More on that hoohah tomorrow.

But Coulter, of course, can say what she likes when she goes on a show like the Factor. Simply put, O’Reilly was totally unprepared for this session. Clearly, he hadn’t read what Coulter wrote about Couric, although he chose the topic himself. It takes ten minutes, using Slander’s index, to review what Coulter wrote about Katie. O’Reilly—too lazy and unprofessional to do so—was completely unprepared on the air.

There’s good and bad news when it comes to O’Reilly. On the one hand, the tough-talking tyro is tangy and talented. But he is frequently uninformed on the air, and now he’s begun a new radio gig. If Thursday’s performance is any sign, things aren’t about to get better.

AS SOMEONE SAID, THERE’S NOTHING NEW HERE: Yesterday’s Harken story in the Washington Post is a good example of lousy reporting. Mike Allen and George Lardner wrote the piece, which appeared on the Post’s front page. They claimed to offer new information about what Bush knew when he sold his Harken stock on June 22, 1990.

In paragraphs 4 and 5, you get the nugget. The following passage is simply bogus—an example of the Whitewater-style reporting the press corps long used against Clinton:

ALLEN AND LARDNER (pgh 4): Although Bush has maintained over the years that the size of the losses took him by surprise, interviews and internal Harken documents provide a newly detailed picture of how much Bush knew about Harken’s financial straits when he sold the stock.

(5) A confidential Harken chronology, obtained by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, said that 16 days before he sold the stock, Bush was sent the company’s “weekly flash report,” giving “information provided by subsidiaries regarding estimated historical and projected earnings.”

Finally, after much insinuation, the authors explain what that “flash report” said:
ALLEN AND LARDNER (pgh 16): The flash report Bush was sent 16 days before his stock sale, which was for the week ending May 31, 1990, projected losses for the second quarter of about $4 million.
The writers make it sound exciting, but there is no “new detail” here at all. During Campaign 2000, the Dallas Morning News and the Associated Press received a boatload of SEC documents under a Freedom of Information request. Here’s what the News reported on September 7, 2000:
DALLAS MORNING NEWS: The records released Wednesday show Mr. Bush, a Harken board director and member of its audit committee, received a so-called “flash sheet” in early June 1990 estimating quarterly losses for the company would reach $4 million.
The AP reported the same information. All the Post’s other “new details” were in these AP and DMN stories.

No, there’s no “new detail” in the Post’s report. Nor does it contradict what Bush has long said, although the Post so implied in paragraph 4 (see above). What has “Bush “maintained over the years?” As the Post notes, he has said that he was informed of impending second-quarter losses, but was surprised by the total ($23 million). In 1991, SEC gumshoes found that Bush had been told about a possible $4.2 million loss, but didn’t know what the losses would total.

Were the gumshoes right? We don’t have a clue. But there is no “new detail” in the docs the Post flogs, and they don’t contradict what Bush “has maintained.” This is the sort of gong-show reporting the press corps long used in its war against Clinton. Now, after years of pandering and fawning to Bush, the press corps seems to be seeking a scandal. And guess what? When the Washington press corps starts seeking a scandal, it often starts making things up.

Ironically, there’s one new tidbit in the Post’s story, and the writers don’t seem to have noticed. Bush aide Dan Bartlett told the scribes that Bush was expecting a loss of roughly $9 million. If accurate, that would seem to be a new detail, but the reporters don’t seem to notice. But then, why take note of real “new details,” when you can simply make “new details” up?