Our Ann Coulter problem: Why the press can't ignore her.

Media criticism.
March 5 2007 6:09 PM

Our Ann Coulter Problem

Why the press can't ignore her.

Ann Coulter. Click image to expand.
Ann Coulter

Ann Coulter shocked nobody last week by calling presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot" during her appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Here's the YouTube video, as well as the quotation captured by the Associated Press: "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot,' so I—so kind of an impasse, can't really talk about Edwards."

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It's true that the Democratic Party leaders displayed outrage. The Edwards campaign e-mailed the Coulter news to its supporters, calling her remarks a "shameless display of bigotry." Howard Dean, Democratic National Party chairman, called her statement "hate-filled" and demanded that the Republican candidates for president repudiate it.

The three Republican front-runners did exactly as Dean instructed with such speed that they must maintain 24/7 "Ann Coulter Damage Control Departments." A spokesman for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the comments "wildly inappropriate." Rudy Giuliani harmonized, saying the comments "were completely inappropriate." Mitt Romney's spokesman slammed Coulter's quip as "an offensive remark." Top conservative bloggers expressed similar indignation, which the Human Events Web site collected: "Ann Coulter doesn't speak for us," harrumphed Red State. Captain's Quarters' Ed Morrissey wrote that "such offensive language—and the cavalier attitude that lies behind it—is intolerable to us." Newsbusters' Warner Todd Huston dubbed Coulter "the H.L. Mencken of our times ... minus the intellect."

The context of Coulter's one-liner was probably too Hollywood for her audience. (As UPI explained, Coulter was probably riffing off actor Isaiah Washington's recent—and calculated—entry into rehab after he called one of his Grey's Anatomy co-stars a "faggot.") Townhall.com's Dean Barnett wrote that "uncomfortable silence" and not "boisterous laughter" followed her remark.

Coulter has been drawing on her outré political vocabulary for so long that the CPAC utterance couldn't have come as a surprise to her foes, her allies, or even the apolitical who avoid the news.The Washington Monthlycataloged her gift for extreme speech five years ago, just as she was perfecting her political phonemes. Here are a few choice Coulter cuts:

"[Clinton] masturbates in the sinks."—Rivera Live, Aug. 2, 1999

"God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It's yours.' "—Hannity & Colmes, June 20, 2001

The "backbone of the Democratic Party" is a "typical fat, implacable welfare recipient"—syndicated column, Oct. 29, 1999

To a disabled Vietnam vet: "People like you caused us to lose that war."—MSNBC, Oct. 11, 1997

"Women like Pamela Harriman and Patricia Duff are basically Anna Nicole Smith from the waist down. Let's just call it for what it is. They're whores."—Salon.com, Nov. 16, 2000

"I think there should be a literacy test and a poll tax for people to vote."—Hannity & Colmes, Aug. 17, 1999

"My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."—MSNBC, Feb. 8, 1997

It's probably unfair to Ramsey Clark to call Coulter his right-wing analogue, but there you are. He defends the indefensible, she attacks the undefended. Neither have any shame. Both regard negative publicity as good publicity. Both color their hair.

The press marginalized Clark for his nuttism long ago, but every odious phrase turned by Coulter only makes her a bigger star. Perhaps the newspapers, TV news, the blogs, and the politicians feel obliged to censure her publicly for her transgressions because, unlike Ramsey, she makes them in acceptable or semiacceptable settings such as at a CPAC conference or on a TV show and not at Saddam Hussein's trial in Baghdad. The press and the pols are also afraid that silence in the face of new Coulterisms will be interpreted as sanction, so they huff and puff at her scuzzy comments, as they did this week, to prove their own enlightenment. All that does is advertise Coulter's ideas to still-greater audiences, which translates into additional book sales and TV appearances, which drive still more book sales. She couldn't be happier.

Not everybody can pull off this trick. Dinesh D'Souza out-Coulters Coulter in his new book, The Enemy at Home, published by Doubleday, by blaming 9/11 on America's cultural left. (I'm not kidding.) Although he's mastered the art of the outrageous, he's too easily wounded by his critics because he wants to be taken seriously as a "scholar." The attacks on his ridiculous book have produced genuine sadness, as all this I-can't-get-no-respect grimacing in this January 2007 piece for the Washington Post Outlook section indicates.

Coulter doesn't make D'Souza's mistake of striving for respect. Effrontery is what she does for a living, and she's comfortable with it. So, I suppose it's only a matter of time before she calls Barack Obama a Black Panther masquerading as Uncle Tom, describes Hillary Clinton as a dyke Hitler, or reaches for something even more irreverent. As long as respectable forums like TV talk shows, New York publishers, and CPAC continue to give her a platform, the press won't be able to leave her alone. And this chapter of the Coulter show hasn't even concluded. According to Media Matters for America, Coulter will appear on CNN's Paula Zahn Now tonight.

******

Your favorite Coulterism? Send nominations to slate.pressbox@gmail.com. (E-mail may be quoted by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Jack Shafer was Slate's editor at large. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com.

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