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MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE! The L. A. Times bungled as it praised Coulters book. And guess where they found their reviewer
MONDAY, AUGUST 19, 2002
GET CRUSHED: Dont miss our first-ever movie review, appearing at the bottom of todays pages.
MALCOLM IN A MUDDLE: Will the mainstream press corps ever break down and tell the truth about Ann Coulters Slander? Andrew Malcolm reviewed the book in the August 11 Los Angeles Times. And, like other footnote-counters before him, the Times reviewer was deeply impressed by Coulters voluminous research. Incredibly, Malcolm describes the book as a clever, documented diatribe detailing the medias alleged liberal orientation (emphasis added). He refers to Slanders 205 pages of text and 36 more pages of footnotes citing chapter and verse.
Whats so incredible about Malcolms description? By the time his review appeared, the problems with those pages of footnotes had been thoroughly documented, all over the Net. Any real journalist surely knows that Slander is factually challengedquite severely. But misused readers of the Los Angeles Times wont be burdened with such politically incorrect knowledge. Like the New York Times before it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02), the paper praises Coulters footnotes, without saying that her voluminous notes routinely give the lie to the claims in her text.
Our question: Where do papers like the Los Angeles Times find reviewers who are so deeply clueless? Well provide the incomparable answer tomorrow. Prepare for an amusing surprise.
HOW CLUELESS: In the meantime, just how clueless is Malcolms review? Comically, it singles out one of Slanders most thoroughly bogus passages:
MALCOLM: A major Coulter point is the medias ready acceptance of Democrats questioning of Republicans intelligence. Thus, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush have at least two things in common: All were president and all were not too smart. Bushs failure on a TV interviewers pop quiz of world leaders was, according to Coulter, endlessly cited as proof of his intellectual challenge. Bush was asked about it frequently.
Coulter makes such a claim in Slander. Andy Hiller, the wise-ass local reporter who sprung the pop quiz on Bush, was giddily feted as if hed just invented cold fusion, she writes on page 139, complaining about the liberal bias which makes the media so tough to get down.
Malcolm highlights this presentation. In fact, Coulters statement about Hillers treatment is total, complete, utter fantasy. Hiller popped his quiz on November 3, 1999. Was he giddily feted for his conduct? In fact, Hiller was slammed throughout the press as the corps engaged in its standard Group Thinking. As always, pundits recited a list of Standard Spin-Points. Hiller had engaged in gotcha journalism, they said. After all, we were electing a president, not a Jeopardy! champion. And pundits rarely failed to note that they couldnt have answered Hillers questions themselves. Was Hiller feted for his quiz? In Coulters imagination, yes. Nowhere else on the face of the earth.
What was actually said about Hiller? He was slammed, all over the dial. On the Friday, November 5 Today show, NBCs David Bloom interviewed Larry Sabato, the press corps leading media maestro; Sabato said, of the pop quiz, It really is pure, unadulterated, gotcha journalism. Were electing a president, not a Jeopardy! champ. Elsewhere, Sabato called Hillers quiz the cheapest of cheap shotsand his views were echoed on the weekend talk shows. On the November 5 NewsHour, for example, Paul Gigot, Mark Shields, and Jim Lehrer all agreedthere was an ambush, gotcha quality to Hillers ankle-biting questions, which gave journalism another black eye. Lehrer referred to the Jeopardy! questions which Hiller asked; Shields voiced a sense of relief that I wasnt asked them. Well, you join millions with that one, Lehrer saidand indeed, all over Washington, pundits were saying that they couldnt have answered the questions, either. On the November 5 Washington Week, Jeffrey Birnbaum accused Hiller of gotcha journalism; Alan Murray said that he couldnt have answered. On the November 6 Capital Gang, Robert Novak called Hiller a wise guy reporter engaging in gotcha journalism. The real problem, Novak said, is that winning Jeopardy! games and leading the nation require different skills. Margaret Carlson called it gotcha too. On Meet the Press the following day, William Safire also said gotcha. The quiz was fun and games, but phony.
As usual, mainstream pundits all said the same thingsbut routinely, they beat up on Hiller. Just on Sunday, November 7, for example, a range of journalists spoke up to say that most people couldnt have answered those questions. Steve Roberts made the point on CNNs Late Edition. Ditto for Cokie, on ABCs This Week, and David Maraniss on Meet the Press. Meanwhile, over at Fox News Sunday, the pundits engaged in some ritual clowning. Hillers questions had been so fiendish, the scribes couldnt answer them still:
TONY SNOW: And now, its panel time
Lets begin with a pop quiz. First, can anybody here at this moment name the prime minister of Chechnya?
Hillers questions defied response! For the record, the quiz was called gotcha journalism by Gwen Ifill, Andrea Mitchell, Fred Barnes, Juan Williams, Deborah Orin, Al Hunt and Martin Schram, joining Lehrer, Sabato, Birnbaum, Novak and Carlson in that assessment. Jeopardy! comparisons were also widespread, voiced by Morton Kondracke, Clarence Page, Michael Barone and Howard Kurtz, along with Lehrer, Sabato, Mitchell and Novak. Your pundits routinely speak with one voice. In this case, that voice spoke for Bush.
BRIT HUME: No.
MARA LIASSON: No.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Absolutely not.
SNOW: Im clueless, too.
HUME: I heard it the other day, I read the name, I still cant say it!
Was Andy Hiller giddily feted? In fact, he was slammed in almost every quarter. Indeed, just how silly is the pop quiz punditry as an example of liberal bias? Consider where the Standard Points seemed to come from. All over the dial, pundits recited a set of pointsbut where, oh where had they first been heard? The record on that is abundantly clear; the points were first offered by Bush rep Karen Hughes, speaking to the Associated Press on November 4. The person who is running for president is seeking to be the leader of the free world, not a Jeopardy! contestant, Hughes said. I would venture to guess that 99.9 percent of most Americans and probably most candidates could not answer who is the president of Chechnya. Her points went out on the AP wireand were quickly recited all over the press. In Slander, of course, this very episode is used to show the press corps overpowering liberal bias! But then, this type of silly dissembling is on display all through Coulters wreck of a book.
Coulter dissembles all through her strange book. This fact has long been crystal clear. Where on earth did the L. A. Times find a reviewer who still doesnt know it?
ANN COULTERS PROBLEM WITH THE TRUTH: In her treatment of Hillers quiz, Coulter indulges herself in the type of nonsense found throughout her book. Read this account, for example:
COULTER (page 139): The pop quiz soon raised a delicate matter even more urgent than Bush-bashing: How many answers would the opinion-makers lyingly claim they could have gotten right? Eventually, the blabocracy bravely settled on only two as the appropriate answer. This was probably because Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carters National Security advisor, admitted he would have known the answer to only two. Noticeably, only two well-known commentators admitted that they could have identified only one of the world leaders (the same one Bush got): George Will and Chris Matthews. Say what you will about Will and Matthews, neither can be accused of lacking intellectual confidence.
This is typical work for Coulter. In this passage, she directly accuses the press corps of lying. In fact, it is Coulter herself who is baldly misstating. This is surely one of the most ludicrous passages in her thoroughly ludicrous book.
According to Coulter, the blabocracy settled on a lie, agreeing to say they could have answered two questions. Only Matthews and Will copped to less. These claims are utterly bogus. We have seen the exchange on Fox News Sunday, where no one knew a thing four days later. Heres what was said on the NewsHour:
LEHRER: How do you read thewhat do they call itthe Jeopardy! questions last night [sic], Mark?
The NewsHours panelists claimed no knowledge. Heres the exchange from Washington Week:
SHIELDS: Well, Jim, a sense of relief that I wasnt asked.
LEHRER: Well, you join millions with that oneincluding those of us who talk about those stories every night.
SHIELDS: No, thats right. Thats right. Secondly, I think, Paul [Gigot] is on to something. Theres a gotcha quality to itHo, ho, ho. I think if anybody comes outyou know, journalism comes out with another black eye when it least needs it.
ALAN MURRAY: Let me say for the record, Gwen
Did anyone say hed have known two names? At least one major pundit did, but Coulter doesnt seem to know who it was. For reasons that are fairly obvious, Coulter offers no footnotes supporting her claim about the blabocracy claiming two answers. That claimlike so much of Coulters bookwas simply, completely made up.
GWEN IFILL: For the record, Al.
MURRAY: My score on that test would have been exactly the same as George W. Bushs. And
IFILL: Well, thank goodness, Alan, that youre not running for president.
MURRAY: Wellbut, you know, I think he made a good point here because I am running a bureau [for the Wall Street Journal] thats responsible for our coverage of foreign policy, but I dont think I have to know those names to do my job well, nor do I think that the president has to be able to know those names.
DAVID BRODER: All you have to do is look it up in your Microsoft computer.
Its been quite clear for quite a while; Coulters book is largely invented. So where in the world did the Times find Malcolm? Tomorrow, well break down and tell.
PIPE IS THE HEAVIEST WAVE IN THE WORLD: Dont let the critics keep you from seeing John Stockwells awesome new movie, Blue Crush. All praise to the Washington Posts Michael OSullivan, one of the few male critics who captured this films dual appeal:
OSULIVAN: Blue Crush works on two levels. First, its a pure celebration of riding the waves. Its in love with hydraulics. With the assistance of water camera operator Don King, director John Stockwell (a surfing aficionado who co-wrote the script with Lizzy Weiss, based on literary journalist Susan Orleans Outside magazine article Surf Girls of Maui) jumps on top of and under the ocean to make his point. Second, Blue Crush is a clear-eyed portrait of the unique kind of power that women possess, a power that shows us that victory doesnt always mean vanquishing someone else.
Blue Crushs girl-power feminism isnt quite as thrilling as its awesome surf footagenothing else could be. But it comes in a very respectable second. Were thrilled that OSullivan said so.
Either way, its thrilling.
The Posts Ann Hornadayone of the nations smartest reviewersthoroughly nailed this movie. Spectacularly filmed, well acted and snappily edited, Blue Crush exemplifies Hollywood at its best and most brazen, she wrote. Its honest, even occasionally elegant, American pulp. Reread Hornadays dead-on review for added pleasure after seeing the movie.
Last Friday, many reviewers used their space to say they were Smarter Than This Movie. They arent. Our entire staff has seen it three times; it awesomely rocked the third time out. Most reviewers missed this ride. Paddle hard. You can still catch it.