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MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE! The L. A. Times bungled as it praised Coulter’s book. And guess where they found their reviewer…


GET CRUSHED: Don’t miss our first-ever movie review, appearing at the bottom of today’s pages.

MALCOLM IN A MUDDLE: Will the mainstream press corps ever break down and tell the truth about Ann Coulter’s 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 Coulter’s voluminous research. Incredibly, Malcolm describes the book as “a clever, documented diatribe detailing the media’s alleged liberal orientation” (emphasis added). He refers to Slander’s “205 pages of text and 36 more pages of footnotes citing chapter and verse.”

What’s so “incredible” about Malcolm’s 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 challenged—quite severely. But misused readers of the Los Angeles Times won’t be burdened with such politically incorrect knowledge. Like the New York Times before it (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/22/02), the paper praises Coulter’s 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? We’ll provide the incomparable answer tomorrow. Prepare for an amusing surprise.

HOW CLUELESS: In the meantime, just how clueless is Malcolm’s review? Comically, it singles out one of Slander’s most thoroughly bogus passages:

MALCOLM: A major Coulter point is the media’s 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. Bush’s failure on a TV interviewer’s 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 he’d 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, Coulter’s statement about Hiller’s 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 couldn’t have answered Hiller’s questions themselves. Was Hiller “feted” for his quiz? In Coulter’s 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, NBC’s David Bloom interviewed Larry Sabato, the press corps’ leading media maestro; Sabato said, of the pop quiz, “It really is pure, unadulterated, gotcha journalism. We’re electing a president, not a Jeopardy! champ.” Elsewhere, Sabato called Hiller’s quiz “the cheapest of cheap shots”—and his views were echoed on the weekend talk shows. On the November 5 NewsHour, for example, Paul Gigot, Mark Shields, and Jim Lehrer all agreed—there was an “ambush, gotcha quality” to Hiller’s “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 wasn’t asked” them. “Well, you join millions with that one,” Lehrer said—and indeed, all over Washington, pundits were saying that they couldn’t have answered the questions, either. On the November 5 Washington Week, Jeffrey Birnbaum accused Hiller of “gotcha” journalism; Alan Murray said that he couldn’t 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 things—but routinely, they beat up on Hiller. Just on Sunday, November 7, for example, a range of journalists spoke up to say that most people couldn’t have answered those questions. Steve Roberts made the point on CNN’s Late Edition. Ditto for Cokie, on ABC’s This Week, and David Maraniss on Meet the Press. Meanwhile, over at Fox News Sunday, the pundits engaged in some ritual clowning. Hiller’s questions had been so fiendish, the scribes couldn’t answer them still:

TONY SNOW: And now, it’s panel time…Let’s begin with a pop quiz. First, can anybody here at this moment name the prime minister of Chechnya?
JUAN WILLIAMS: Absolutely not.
SNOW: I’m clueless, too.
HUME: I heard it the other day, I read the name, I still can’t say it!
Hiller’s 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.

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 points—but 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 wire—and 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 Coulter’s 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 doesn’t know it?

ANN COULTER’S PROBLEM WITH THE TRUTH: In her treatment of Hiller’s 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 Carter’s 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. Here’s what was said on the NewsHour:

LEHRER: How do you read the—what do they call it—the Jeopardy! questions last night [sic], Mark?
SHIELDS: Well, Jim, a sense of relief that I wasn’t asked.
LEHRER: Well, you join millions with that one—including those of us who talk about those stories every night.
SHIELDS: No, that’s right. That’s right. Secondly, I think, Paul [Gigot] is on to something. There’s a “gotcha” quality to it—“Ho, ho, ho.” I think if anybody comes out—you know, journalism comes out with another black eye when it least needs it.
The NewsHour’s panelists claimed no knowledge. Here’s the exchange from Washington Week:
ALAN MURRAY: Let me say for the record, Gwen—
GWEN IFILL: For the record, Al.
MURRAY: My score on that test would have been exactly the same as George W. Bush’s. And—
IFILL: Well, thank goodness, Alan, that you’re not running for president.
MURRAY: Well—but, you know, I think he made a good point here because I am running a bureau [for the Wall Street Journal] that’s responsible for our coverage of foreign policy, but I don’t 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.
IFILL: Exactly.
Did anyone say he’d have known two names? At least one major pundit did, but Coulter doesn’t 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 claim—like so much of Coulter’s book—was simply, completely made up.

It’s been quite clear for quite a while; Coulter’s book is largely invented. So where in the world did the Times find Malcolm? Tomorrow, we’ll break down and tell.

PIPE IS THE HEAVIEST WAVE IN THE WORLD: Don’t let the critics keep you from seeing John Stockwell’s awesome new movie, Blue Crush. All praise to the Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan, one of the few male critics who captured this film’s dual appeal:

O’SULIVAN: “Blue Crush” works on two levels. First, it’s a pure celebration of riding the waves. It’s 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 Orlean’s 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 doesn’t always mean vanquishing someone else.

Either way, it’s thrilling.

Blue Crush’s girl-power feminism isn’t quite as thrilling as its awesome surf footage—nothing else could be. But it comes in a very respectable second. We’re thrilled that O’Sullivan said so.

The Post’s Ann Hornaday—one of the nation’s smartest reviewers—thoroughly nailed this movie. “Spectacularly filmed, well acted and snappily edited, ‘Blue Crush’ exemplifies Hollywood at its best and most brazen,” she wrote. “It’s honest, even occasionally elegant, American pulp.” Reread Hornaday’s 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 aren’t. 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.