Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right
I see from the current issue of Reason that Ann Coulter is not entirely persona grata with other enemies of the left. “Why are conservatives trying to rehabilitate McCarthyism and the Japanese internment?” asks Cathy Young, but treats only the second half of her question. Coulter is faulted for her favourable view of McCarthy in her book Treason- but Young does not discuss it. “In both cases there was a geniune security risk and a wrong headed government response that did grave damage to the very freedoms it was supposed to protect,” she writes. In fact it is the pairing of the two issues that is wrong-headed. In Treason, Coulter says nothing about the rights and wrongs of the internment, but does point out that the “liberals” supported it. It “was praised by liberal luminaries such as Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter and Hugo Black. The national ACLU didn’t make a peep… There was one lonely voice opposed to the Japanese internment: that of J. Edgar Hoover (pp. 194-5).” Moreover, the intermnet was (Democrat) government initiated and enforced; McCarthy was trying to stimulate government activity. Does Young mean by the “wrong-headed government response” its passivity and stonewalling of McCarthy’s attempts? I do not think so.
This introductory paragraph might not have been necessary if I had read Ann Coulter’s books in the right order, instead of coming across her Treason hardback (2003) in a charity shop before finding her Slander paperback (2002) for five times the price in Borders Books. In this book she attacks what she sees as bias against the right in what is now termed the Mainstream Media (MSM) in the US- effectively the press and TV networks. Our own media in Britain (as in the rest of the world) is left unexamined, though someone else might find it worth looking at to see what the differences are, both in variety of political orientation and in national coverage. The radio stations seem another matter, their ownership sufficiently dispersed, their impact seen perhaps as less influential, but their content dependent on their sponsors, in turn dependent on the market. Their “talk-show hosts” are, when right-wing, regarded by the left, in carefully phrased insinuations, as sufficently provocative to nourish the pathology of the Oklahoma City bomber. They are undoubtedly more popular; Coulter gives several examples of failed attempts by left-wing talk-show hosts to break into the market. Significantly, the only place for survivors is on National Public Radio, where they are heavily subsidised by the taxpayer- does the parallel with the BBC (unmentioned by Coulter) come to mind? The Internet is also an information and opinion source under suspicion by the left, and a number of them, including Mrs Clinton, have wondered how it can be muzzled.
Assisted by the Index, it is informative to list what she has in her sights. Most of the material from the (in Ann Coulter’s view) left leaning press comes from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Newsweek and Time, with supporting quotes from The Boston Globe, The Chicago Sun-Times, Church & State, The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Columbia Journalism Review, Glamour, Harper’s Magazine, The Kansas City Star, and USA Today. As for TV:
The one TV station that is not an ocean of liberal Democrats punctuated by the occasional ‘from the right’ opinion commentator is Fox News Channel.
So what difference does this make? The first chapter is a somewhat scattergun blast, targeting what I hope are the more far-out manifestations of leftist behavior. Republicans are regularly compared to Nazis. Ken Starr (remember him?) is compared to Heinrich Himmler (remember him?) Women who testify against Clinton are ugly and in the case of Paula Jones is “some sleazy woman with big hair” [eh?]. After 9/11, Americans are warned that anti-abortion extremists are more of a threat then al-Queda, while an academic “agonized” over flying the stars and stripes, an unambiguous signal of patriotism, which worried others of like mind. Right-wing blacks, such as Colin Powell and Clarence Thomas, are “Uncle Toms”, with Clarence Thomas being a “chicken-and-biscuit-eating Uncle Tom”, a “house Negro”, a “handkerchief head” and a “Colored lawn jockey for conservative white interests:, the meaning of which I would love to have explained. “Strict constructionists” of the Constitution, like Robert Bork, are intent on bringing back back-street aboritions, segregated lunch counters, and probably slavery itself. That’s according to Teddy Kennedy, survivor of Chappaquiddick. Newt Gingrich’s now abandonded and forgotten “Contract with America” (“Contract on America” as Clinton wittily put it) was equated with Hitler’s genocide. The “Christian right” (more about which later) “inflamed the air”, resulting in a “three-step process” that led to a couple of thugs beating a gay man to death in Wyoming. And of course, Bush wanted to add arsenic to the drinking water.
Chapter Two starts with a section of what used to be called “radical chic” (not a term found here, perhaps outdated)> A billionare brags:”I dont need a tax cut.” Norman Mailer helps a murderer’s release from gail, puffs his book wiht its Marxist cliche’s, throws a dinner party for him, says it is “tragic” when he murders again. Naturally a pornographer who insults Christianity is a martyr for free speech. Then there is the sort of feminist that gets ignored – the right-wing one, Phyllis Schlafly. Coulter sketches her impressive biography which includes high academic achievements and ten books, none of which were reviewed by The New York Times, though at least one, A Choice not an Echo, which sold three million copies, was a best seller. Starting single-handed against the national consensus, she organised the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. Suck without trace, it is too late now to debate whether ERA would have benefited, penalised, or made no difference to women at all. There is a scathing rundown of her rivals on the left, particularly of Gloria Steinem, founder of the magazine Ms, which failed, despite a million dollar subsidy from a male media tycoon. Schlafly also bore six children: “You can start a career at 50, but not a family,” I believe she has said.
Nothing could be more contemptible then the insouciant attitude of American feminists to President Clinton’s treatment of women because he showed up positive to their “litmus test” of being pro-abortion. One might think there was nothing they could gain or lose since abortion as a right had been inserted into the Constitution by the Supreme Court ( Roe vs Wade) thereby preventing any legislation to reverse the situation. However, Surpreme Court judges not being immortal, there was always the danger that a Republican president (especially a right-wing one) might nominate the wrong man or woman to fill the vacancy. And Federal Surpreme Courts have reversed previous decisions. Under these circumstances, it is best to have as many Federal senators as possible doing their utmost to block a presidential nomination. That is why “moderate” Republican senators are cosseted by the media. What can happen when a moderate Republican senator is no longer needed, as when Clinton reached the White House, is recounted in the sad story of Bob Packwood. His harassing sexual behavior towards mainly, it seems, his office staff then became public knowledge, though it seems to have been continuous through the seventies and eighties, but kept undisclosed even by his own persecuted personnel, because of his position on aborition. Explained one, “For me, abortion rights where on the line,” so she held her tongue. Of course, the public disclosure radically altered Packwood’s image in the media, not that theydid not already know but, pre-Clinton, “were not interested in financing the story”. A deal between an investigative journalist and Vanity Fair “fell through”. And that in 1992 when Anita Hil nearly ruined Clarence Thomas. Coulter has an amusing collection of Before and After quotes on Packwood in her chapter How to go from being a “Jut-Jawed Maverick” to a “Clueless Neanderthal” in One Easy Step.
The next chapter documents the cosy relationship between Democrat politicians and their staff and jobs in the media, when they change from a career in one to a career in the other. After all, it shouldn’t be hard to get in: 89 % of media persons based in Washington voted for Clinton in 1992, when only 43% of the electorate did. Coulter lists 29 such career to career Democrats: I suppose it’s up to those who think that doesn’t suggest institutional bias to produce a similar list of Republicans. Another chapter is devoted to the bias of TV networks other than Fox. There is a long discussion on the behaviour of the networks on the Presidential Election night in 2000 (Gore vs Bush). By using exit polls networks can “call” a state for one or other candidate before the votes are counted, and even before the polls have closed. Coulter points out that networks other than Fox were quicker to “call” states that voted Gore than those that voted Bush. In the mess that Florida got into, NBC, CNN, ABC and Fox (as well) all called it for Gore on faulty exit data before the polls closed, thereby, subsequent surveys suggest, discouraging 10,000 to 37,000 Republicans from bothering to vote. But as actual counting got under way, prediction began to favour Bush and Fox was the first to call the state for him, followed by the other networks. Though they were all using the same data, and the trend was confirmed by the independent number crunching Voter News Service, and the prediction (unlike earlier ones) could have made no difference to the result, and which turned out to be correct, there was great indignation when it was discovered that a relative of Bush was working on the Fox team that night.
The cover of Slander states it to be “The #1 New York Times Bestseller”, referring presumably to the hardback edition. This would be doubly gratifying to the author, since her strictures against media bias include the world of publishing: “publishers don’t like conservative books, the major media ignore them, and bookstores refuse to stock them.” It would be hard to deny that this seems to be the case with Glasgow’s Borders Books where a wall of books on the US are nearly all anti-war, anti-Bush and anti-American – and by Americans. However, Coulter points out that when a conservative book does surmount the three hurdles she mentions and then does well, it tends to be called “a surprise best-seller” and lists seventeen books with that very phrase attached. “Surprise” right wing best sellers wouldn’t, of course, have had good reviews. Candidates on the left would, and some would also have been given generous advances by their publishers – but then flopped. For good measure, Coulter adds the uncritical media treatment of literary frauds, such as Rigoberta Menchu, uncovered as an autobiographical liar after winning a Nobel Peace Prize (unrecovered: there was, its Director said, “no question of revoking the prize”), or Michael A. Bellesiles, author of Arming America , who made up data purporting to show that early Americans possessed hardly any guns. Eager to believe, publishers gave a $25,000 advance for a book alleging that President Bush had a cocaine conviction covered up so successfully that no evidence remained, only the word of the author. They withdrew it from the shops when they discovered he was a twice convicted criminal.
There are two chapters examining the perennial left-wing chant that Republicans, and especially Republican Presidents are stupid: “The Dumb Republican/Smart Democrat myth lives in a world devoid of rational thought and logical consistency. It never occurs to anyone to ponder why the Republican Party would pursue such a crazy strategy of consistently running really dumb guys for office – much less president. Or why the Democratic Party insists on tapping presidential candidates who are so mind-bogglingly smart they can never connect with the average voter.” Need one say more? Only that the left mindset seems unable to admit that anyone can disagree with it and be intelligent.
Finally Ann Coulter looks at, or perhaps looks for the “religious right”. This category of persons is difficult to identify or enumerate. And if “religious right” is a tautology for “religious Republicans” where is the surprise if they vote Republican? Another leftist bugbear “organized religion” turns out to be remarkably unorganized, at least in support of the Republicans. After all, the most organized religion in the US, Roman Catholicism, split almost evenly between the two parties both in 2000 and 2004. The less organized Protestants favoured the Republicans, but at 55%, only by 1% more than white men did. Even only 41% of self-styled Evangelicals register themselves as Republicans. According to The New York Times, the religious right uses its influence in two ways, with its money and its bloc voting. But where, in that case, are the large amounts of money that the religious right contributes to the Republican cause? Coulter can find nothing much and certainly nothing to match the $7 million trial lawyers gave to the Democrats for the election in 2000. As for the notion of a “bloc vote”, no religious bloc can be identified comparable in any way with the Democrat-favouring black (90%), Jewish (79%), Hispanic (67%) and unmarried womenf0 /mothers?f1 (63%) vote in 2000. And where is its leadership, charismatic or otherwise? The four most prominent (and familiar) overtly religious politicians are Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan and Gary Bauer. Two – Robertson and Buchanan – have run in Republican presidential primaries, but neither have been supported by the others; indeed Bauer endorsed Senator McCain who was attacking both Falwell and Robertson as “agents of intolerance and forces of evil”. To quote a source known to all of them: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Ann Coulter is frankly partisan, a prosecuting council with no nonsense of allowing the Whig dogs to get the best of it, as our bludgeon wielding Dr Johnson would put it. Does her book convincingly demonstrate that there is left wing media bias, or just her paranoia?
To turn things round the other way, does the left have the same sort of grievances against the right? Could a similar book be written (perhaps it has?) about “the vast, right-wing conspiracy” that Mrs Clinton complained about following the fuss made about her husband’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky?