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August 16, 2006

In Defense of In Defense of Ann Coulter

Not to get too deep into the weeds on this, but I'm going to break with Duncan here and defend TNR's defense of Ann Coulter (which is, surely, the TNRiest article of all time). Coulter is less a political force nowadays than some sort of bizarre rorschach atop which we dump our worst impulses and greatest rages. I don't know a single person who believes she's anything less than a talk show vaudeville act, yet she remains prominent in the conversation. How her trolling retains its effectiveness is worth mining a bit, and it's to TNR's credit that, after publishing some killer takedowns of her last week, they're willing to let Elspeth Reed explore the other end.

Reed argues is that a certain fraction of what emerges when liberals face down Ann Coulter has a sexist tinge to it and that, as a woman who enjoys bare knuckle political debate, she thrills to Coulter's decidedly un-lady like willingness to tear apart her assailants. That the response to Coulter so often focuses on her looks also deserves some examination. It's not clear why the venom from a blond, leggy snake should be treated any different than the bile Hugh Hewitt spits out, yet rare is the soliloquy on how desperate the writer would have to become to hit the Hewitt. It's a fair point, and I'd extend it by wondering why liberals seem to have so few aggressive female flacks.

That said, Reed's article veers into a few less interesting places, underplaying the odiousness of Coulter's remarks (folks were not offended at her characterization of the 9/11 Widows as "broads" but as grief merchants) and allowing comedic value to trump untruth. Were Coulter an admitted satirist, we could all relax and chuckle at her outrageous slurs. Unfortunately, she's a "serious" pundit with a troubling ubiquity on the cable news shows and a Time cover to her name. At one point, Reed frets that the liberal response to the widows thing makes us look like "weenies" -- I think we're far more weenified when we chuckle at Coulter's attacks, like the high school nerd who tries to laugh along when the joke's on him. Indeed, a good example of how to handle Coulter came from Reed's editor Peter Beinart who, rather than chuckling at Coulter's latest attacks on gays and Bill Clinton, dismembered her on Larry Kudlow's show, even getting Kudlow to disavow her comments. I'm all for the occasional defense of Ann Coulter, but only when the norm is no-holds barred attack.

Crossposted at Tapped

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Reed argues is that a certain fraction of what emerges when liberals face down Ann Coulter has a sexist tinge to it and that, as a woman who enjoys bare knuckle political debate, she thrills to Coulter's decidedly un-lady like willingness to tear apart her assailants.

Except that she doesn't just tear apart her assailants. Tearing apart her assailants would mean attacking Al Gore for being boring, Southern, or straight. Attacking him by tearing apart someone else who is lower than she is on the depth chart (gay people) is what is wrong with Coulter. We wouldn't say it was appropriate if Coulter had said, "I'm pretty sure Gore's real father was a [n-word]." Well I wouldn't; maybe Reed would. In either case, Reed makes a pretty bad argument for it by simply not acknowledging the difference between attacking the person in front of you with things relating to that person, and attacking them by ascribing to them characteristics that (a) don't have any actual connection to them, and (b) relate more appropriately to people below both the attacker and her object on the social hierarchy.

It's not clear why the venom from a blond, leggy snake should be treated any different than the bile Hugh Hewitt spits out, yet rare is the soliloquy on how desperate the writer would have to become to hit the Hewitt.

Um, because we're pretty sure the only reason she's on the cover of Time, invited on TV, or generally supported by the major media is because she's blond and leggy? (This is basically a version of the Sarah Silverman Effect.) Maybe Hewitt has the same general name recognition with equally bad arguments, but I doubt it.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 16, 2006 12:29:39 PM

"Um, because we're pretty sure the only reason she's on the cover of Time ... is because she's blond and leggy? (This is basically a version of the Sarah Silverman Effect.)"

Sarah Silverman is not blond.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 12:35:40 PM

Furthermore, Sarah Silverman is significantly funnier than Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 12:37:53 PM

"We wouldn't say it was appropriate if Coulter had said, "I'm pretty sure Gore's real father was a [n-word]."

Well, that's because racial prejudice is rejected across the political spectrum, while anti-gay prejudice is only rejected by the left half of the spectrum.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 12:51:55 PM

Well, that's because racial prejudice is rejected across the political spectrum,

Look...two...posts...up.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 16, 2006 12:56:09 PM

"Look...two...posts...up."

Assuming you're referring to Macaca-gate, that kinda proves my point. The right isn't rushing to defend Allen.

Think about how the GOP feels the need to pay constant lip service to racial diversity in a way they don't feel the same need with sexual preference issues.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 1:04:42 PM

"It's a fair point, and I'd extend it by wondering why liberals seem to have so few aggressive female flacks."

Because liberals have so few aggressive flacks of any gender? Where are the aggressive liberals given prominence in the mainstream media? As has been said before, there is no equivalence between the rhetoric of Michael Moore and that of Coulter or O'Reilly or Savage. Moreover a large part of why the right picks on Moore (whether he deserves it or not) is because he's just about the only unabashedly liberal voice in the media.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Aug 16, 2006 1:06:12 PM

A local weekly recently dumped Ann's column and replaced it with Buckley. Local folks had written in to complain about a few of Ann's latest rants, and the plagiarism issue happened at the same time, so she got dumped. Apparently, this triggered a nationwide astroturf campaign, so the little weekly paper got a whole bunch of pre-formatted emails to complain about it, and of course the usual "liberal bias" accusation. The really funny part was that the local weekly printed some of these letters side by side with the names and random remote cities underneath, kind of putting a skewer through the whiners.

Posted by: ChowChowChow | Aug 16, 2006 1:08:29 PM

Look to Ezra for a defense of TNR when it's possible to do so in some intellectual way. A future job prospect?

OK, they tore her apart one week, and kissed her butt the next. Is TNR the 'fair and balanced' Faux News of the political wonkery magazines?

Really, defending Coulter in any manner is frankly, il-liberal.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Aug 16, 2006 1:11:13 PM

As a straight, liberal male, I must say, I have never found Coulter to be attractive, sexually, nor do I find her interesting in the least. She is a nut-job performance artist, shilling for the forces of evil. She doesnt bring any interesting ideas to the table, she just plays the outrage game to the max. Why anyone outside of her fan-base pays her any mind, is beyond me.
TNR is pathetic.

Posted by: Tano | Aug 16, 2006 1:20:25 PM

Assuming you're referring to Macaca-gate, that kinda proves my point. The right isn't rushing to defend Allen.

What? No one defended Coulter on the homophobic slur as such, either. Coulter has also described some set of Arabs as "ragheads." The right doesn't seem overly bothered by that. TNR isn't apparently overly bothered by it, either. Neither fact strikes me as terribly surprising.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 16, 2006 1:20:36 PM

"Really, defending Coulter in any manner is frankly, il-liberal."

Meh. What if Coulter were being attacked by a group of crab eating macaques looking to feast on her flesh? Defending her in such a situation would not seem il-liberal to me.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 1:22:14 PM

"Coulter has also described some set of Arabs as "ragheads." The right doesn't seem overly bothered by that."

I'll fully concede the fact that anti-arab bias isn't nearly as politically radioactive as anti-black bias.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 16, 2006 1:27:27 PM

Look to Ezra for a defense of TNR when it's possible to do so in some intellectual way. A future job prospect?

I wonder that myself. The logic pretzels are unusually contorted, and given the general worthlessness of the cause -- TNR?!?!? -- it's hard to avoid the question, Who's he really trying to impress, here?

In the long run, Mr. Klein would do his career a much bigger service by studying the Howler. Bob Somerby may not have Marty Peretz's deep pockets, but his mind and his prose style are a lot more valuable.

Posted by: sglover | Aug 16, 2006 1:52:56 PM

The thing is that attention, mine and yours, has a price tag. It always has, at least as long as I’ve been alive, but the competition for attention has been increasing. Even in strict economic terms, that means that when someone grabs your attention, they’re stealing from you. In more meta terms, philosophical even, they’re making you less free.

There are a lot of ways of grabbing attention. Loud noises, flashing lights, grisly images, those work pretty well. So do good looking women, children, and kittens. Or puppies...

What also works is making you afraid. There’s a lot of that going around. It’s related to making you angry, and there’s a ton of that, too, as well as making you gleeful because someone else (the right someone) is going to be angry or afraid. That’s the stock-in-trade of some right-wing hatemongers, but don’t kid yourself, your politics only speaks to which someone is trying to make you afraid of, or angry about.

But what to do about it? It’s a conundrum, because “Every knock is a boost.”

One idea is to try to ignore the advertisers, attention grabbers, hate-mongers, and the rest, but that isn’t what I do in [roadside] rubbernecking incidents. I try to deal with the surrounding effects. So maybe the answer is to ignore the originating factor and to concentrate on those who give their attention to it. Don’t attack the leaders or the spokesmen, attack the followers.

You read Ann Coulter? Why would you ever want to gawk at such a car wreck?

From "Paying Attention to Attention"

http://webnews.sff.net/read?cmd=read&group=sff.people.james-killus&artnum=154&FontSize=2

Posted by: James Killus | Aug 16, 2006 2:24:15 PM

Ree[ve] argues is that a certain fraction of what emerges when liberals face down Ann Coulter has a sexist tinge to it and that, as a woman who enjoys bare knuckle political debate, she thrills to Coulter's decidedly un-lady like willingness to tear apart her assailants.

Except that she doesn't just tear apart her assailants. Tearing apart her assailants would mean attacking Al Gore for being boring, Southern, or straight....

Al Gore is one of Coulter's assailants? When has he attacked her? Or the Jersey Girls? Or Norman Mineta? Or Maxine Waters? For that matter, how much bad press did Coulter get in The New York Times before her Timothy McVeigh crack? (The Times gave Slander a surprisingly favorable review, fer crissake.)

Once again, a few lefties in the comments sections of blogs are being declared the equivalent of one of the top figures in the mainstream, mass-media Right punditocracy. And you're endorsing that nonsense, Ezra.

Posted by: Steve M. | Aug 16, 2006 2:58:05 PM

(What I'm saying in the comment above is that the people who actually attack Coulter in a sexist way are a few comments-section types, not the people Coulter attacks. If she took cheap shots at people who take cheap shots at her, fine. But she doesn't. She takes cheap shots at, say, the 9/11 widows and at everyone who works at The New York Times.)

Posted by: Steve M. | Aug 16, 2006 3:00:54 PM

Um, ok, Ezra.

Posted by: Matt Stoller | Aug 16, 2006 3:01:23 PM

"why liberals seem to have so few aggressive female flacks"

Because an aggressive liberal would aggressively attack big corporations and the hacks who do their bidding- Democrats and Republicans alike. There is no way that an aggressive liberal could get on TV or have a newspaper column in the US's corporate-controlled media. What you get are milquetoast moderates who masquerade as liberals.

Posted by: JR | Aug 16, 2006 3:26:22 PM

Yawn -- you guys always seem to think I defend TNR because I'm looking for a job. It's bizarre -- I do the same with Jonah Goldberg, and I'm clearly not seeking employment at The Corner. Is it really that hard to believe I find folks I disagree with to be interesting and, occasionally, even insightful? If so, why?

Punditry is an enormously male dominated profession. I think Reeve has a worthwhile point in that Coulter breaks the mold in a fairly spectacular way. I obviously don't agree with Coulter, but there are currents in her success worth examining.

You guys, of course, can disagree. But it's sort of low to be constantly charging opportunism just because it's the easiest way to assume that I don't actually have a different opinion than you. If I wanted a job at TNR, I wouldn't spend the last graf nailing what was wrong with the article, and I'd be praising Marty, not the newest intern.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 16, 2006 4:16:27 PM

By the way, the "folks I disagree with" in the first sentence there are TNR writers, not Ann Coulter.

Posted by: Ezra | Aug 16, 2006 4:19:40 PM

Coulter survives only based on her odious babism.

Posted by: George | Aug 16, 2006 4:38:32 PM

There's something mentally wrong with Ann Coulter. Why is this not highlighted? That dead glaze and surprise guffaw when somebody challenges her bs -- check out her stints on Hannity and Colmes where she comes off as a coked out sociopath, laughing whenever Colmes demands she explain herself.

She's not funny, not witty, not attractive, and not sane. The fact that Sean Hannity can attack Ward Churchill on his claim that the victims of 9/11 were "not innocent" then allow Coulter on to disgustingly slander 9/11 widows...well, to mimic Armando:

You are wrong.

There is no defense for Ann Coulter.

Unless you're copping an insanity plea.

Despicable.

Posted by: christian | Aug 16, 2006 5:00:49 PM

Yawn -- you guys always seem to think I defend TNR because I'm looking for a job. It's bizarre -- I do the same with Jonah Goldberg, and I'm clearly not seeking employment at The Corner. Is it really that hard to believe I find folks I disagree with to be interesting and, occasionally, even insightful? If so, why?

Well, when you defend bad writing and worse reasoning, and when all the evidence is that you really know better, I sorta gotta wonder what's up.

Punditry is an enormously male dominated profession. I think Reeve has a worthwhile point in that Coulter breaks the mold in a fairly spectacular way. I obviously don't agree with Coulter, but there are currents in her success worth examining.

Oh bullshit. Coulter's not doing one single thing that your basic rush hour shock jock hasn't been doing for years. Hell, Don Rickles was doing her schtick 40 years ago. So she does it in the political realm, and she's a she -- yeah, baby, that's some serious mold-breaking, you bet! She's as shopworn as this latest fleck of contrarian TNR shit.

I can't wait for TNR to reveal how Rush Limbaugh's really a latter-day Abe Lincoln -- because Lincoln liked folksy stories, too! Man, that'll be so cool, so counter-intuitive, so mold-breaking. What a great way to get beyond that confining "liberal" straitjacket, dude!

Posted by: sglover | Aug 16, 2006 5:32:13 PM

I posted the following in response to your second Tapped post on Coulter, Ezra, but it applies just as well here, I think:

You seem to agree with Reeve's notion that "something in Coulter's brassy provocation is alluring, and refreshingly different from the general stereotype of women wilting before criticism," but this is a bit like praising Jeffrey Dahmer for his table manners. So Coulter is an example of assertive womanhood. Does the fact that her America would deny women the right to vote, let alone control their bodies, make up for that at all? Phyllis Schlafly's "brassy provocation" killed the Equal Rights Amendment.

The basic arguments against against Ann Coulter are simple and fairly obvious:

1. She's a bigot, and transparently so, referring to Muslims as "ragheads" and deriding political opponents as "total fags."

2. She's a bloodthirsty psychopath who routinely calls for the slaughter of innocents.

3. She's an authoritarian thug who equates dissent with treason.

This is not "brassy provocation." This is a Nazi in drag. That someone would find her "alluring" is hardly surprising; fascism has always had a big following.

Posted by: Christmas | Aug 16, 2006 6:00:01 PM

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