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Caveat lector

A nasty book which defies belief makes us ask if we have any standards.


THE GROWTH OF PRO WRESTLING: Mike Barnicle asked the perfect question. “You couldn’t believe what you just wrote, what I just read,” he told Ann Coulter on Hardball. “You couldn’t believe it,” he repeated. “I think I write in a colorful style,” Ann replied. “But do you believe it?” he said.

How thoroughly unbelievable are vast parts of Slander? To get an idea, review Tuesday’s New York Times letters page. Up top, four letters reply to a page-one story about civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The first letter, by the president of the American Association of Diplomacy, generally agrees with the thrust of the piece. The second letter, from a reader in Michigan, argues against the article’s thesis. The third and fourth letters—from Maryland and Connecticut—are also split, one pro, one con. Meanwhile, right next door are two other letters. One, by former senator Gary Hart, agrees with a recent Times editorial. Below it, the executive vice president of the American Bankers Association disputes another recent Times ed.

All in all, for better or worse, a typical day on this page. But on page two of Coulter’s dissembling book, readers are flown to an alternate world. Having already misstated several matters (TDH, 7/11), Coulter describes a world only she knows. Here’s what “American wake up [to] in the morning” according to Coulter’s strange book:

COULTER (page two): We read letters to the editor of the New York Times from pathetic little parakeet males and grim, quivering, angry women on the Upper West Side of Manhattan hoping to be chosen as the that day’s purveyor of hate. These letters are about one step above Tiger Beat magazine in intellectual engagement. They are never responsive; they never include clever ripostes or attacks; they merely restate the position of the Times with greater venom: I was reminded by your editorial that Bush wasn’t even your average politically unaware Yalie; he was too busy branding freshmen at his fraternity house.
As occurs on almost every page of this book, Coulter’s readers are baldly misled by this phantasmagoric account of her subject.

Does Coulter believe the things she writes? At THE HOWLER, we don’t have a clue. Frankly, it would take a psychiatrist to venture a guess about Coulter’s bizarre, nasty musings. But this ludicrous account of the Times letters page is like a good deal of Coulter’s bizarre book. Its account of the facts is baldly inaccurate. And it is filled with a quivering venom and rage—the very traits which its author opposes.

How to explain such delusional writing—which seems to be driven by rage-filled projection on page after topic after page? We don’t know how to answer that question. But we rise to pose a different question—why is such nasty, delusional work accepted as part of our discourse? Why do cable producers book its author, as if they don’t know that they’re booking a nut? Why do reviewers praise her “great deal of research,” without mentioning that her “research” is largely made up? Why do bloggers run to type the silly spin which she herself sends them? And why does Barnicle—after noting that Slander defies belief—say, as he said on Hardball, “I would encourage people to read it?”

Here at THE HOWLER, we don’t read minds, but we do note that Coulter is very big business. She brings warm bodies to cable programs, and she sells big piles of books. But those books are sold to “ordinary Americans” who don’t know that they’re being lied to on page after page because reviewers—at the New York Times, for example—are too timid or lazy to tell them. Did Janet Maslin check to see where her own paper, the Times, put the Dale Earnhardt story? If she did, the simple truth didn’t seem fit to print. Amazingly, Janet Maslin simply said that Coulter had done a “great deal of research.” In her roll-over treatment of a fraud and a fool, Maslin approvingly cited the “780 footnotes” without noting that the “facts” behind those footnotes are largely made up.

Is there any standard to which we adhere? Is our discourse now simply professional wrestling? When pundits stand up for Coulter’s bizarre work, their rank cynicism—like their answer—is clear.

WE’RE GLAD TO SE THAT SOMEONE GOT “CLEARED:” Just to make our readers mad, we include this clip from Tuesday’s Crossfire. For the record, when prosecutor Mary Jo White announced that she wouldn’t bring charges against Robert Torricelli, she referred the matter to the Senate Ethic Committee, and offered no further characterization of her probe:

BEGALA: Tell me, this was all looked at by a federal prosecutor. How did that come out?

CARLSON: The federal prosecutor referred it to the ethics committee, where it is now. And Democrats—

BEGALA: He was cleared. Three words: He was cleared.

CARLSON: Actually, Paul, Mary Jo White, if you knew the facts of the case, referred it to the ethics committee, which is now refusing to talk to the chief accuser because he’s a bad man. It’s insane. It’s ridiculous. It’s a travesty.

BEGALA: You finished?

CARLSON: Yes, I am.

BEGALA: She referred to the ethics committee because there’s no prosecutable case. The Senate ethics committee, I don’t know whether they will find this or not, up to criticizing him under the Senate rules, but he was cleared by the competent prosecutors. You happened to leave that out of your little attack there.

CARLSON: Well, they should go ahead and get the facts, don’t you think, Paul? Don’t you think they should hear all the facts?

BEGALA: We’ve heard all the facts. The New York Times took all the leaks from the prosecution.

CARLSON: Not to the man who made the allegation, as you know.

BEGALA: No. You know what? You just need to acknowledge the fact that the guy was cleared by prosecutors. But he’s a Democrat, so it doesn’t count?

CARLSON: You can’t even defend him and you know it.

BEGALA: I did. He’s been cleared—he’s been cleared by the prosecutors.

We know just what you’re going to say. Tomorrow: a FAQ about Breeden and Doty.

WE USED TO TEACH KIDS LIKE THAT: She gnaws through tape. She kicks down doors. She punches out screens—with “an easy smile.” Does anyone doubt that she’s Charlie’s next seraph? You know what to do. Just click here.