On Coulter and Controversy
By W. James Antle III
jantle@politicalusa.com
10/8/2001

I love Ann Coulter. I mean her mind. Well, her writing. You know what I mean.

Her syndicated columns contain incisive commentary and pungent prose, combining a serious analytical mind with a no-holds-barred approach, as opposed to the drab inside-the-beltway crap that so permeates the work of most well-known mainstream conservative pundits in her age group. Her words are the verbal equivalent of fluorescent colors against the gray backdrop of the typical talking heads.

But on the question of whether she is being censored by National Reviewís decision not to publish two of her articles and then drop her column entirely, Coulter is wrong.

Ann Coulter is no dumb blonde. Her credentials are impeccable: bachelorís degree from Cornell, law degree from the University of Michigan Law School, an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals clerkship, corporate law practice, stints at the Justice Department and as then Sen. Spencer Abrahamís (R-MI) legal counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee and work on behalf of the Center for Individual Rights. Her book High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton spent eight weeks on The New York Times best-seller list and set the standard for stating the conservative position on impeachment back in 1998. Neither is she a stranger to controversy. Her career as a commentator was launched by the impeachment debate, in a trial by fire in such freewheeling forums as Rivera Live, Equal Time and the infamous Bill Maherís Politically Incorrect.

It is this at times that gets her into trouble. The venues in which Coulter established herself as a nationally known conservative commentator place a premium on shouting and shock value, creating habits that have detracted (and distracted the readers) from her genuine ability for thoughtful analysis. Pat Buchanan may have been the "pit bull of the right," but one would never have found a reference to White House interns earning their "presidential knee pads" in any of his writings.

Coulterís travails began when she marred an otherwise wonderful tribute to Barbara Olson, herself a brilliant commentator and wife of the US Solicitor General who was killed aboard the flight that terrorists crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, with a tirade about how we "should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." She then casually brushed off the importance of avoiding heavy civilian casualties in the Middle East, on the grounds that German civilians died when we bombed their cities during World War II. It is also important to place this sentence in its proper context, as she was not specifically singling out the terrorist groups for this kind of treatment. She was talking about those who cheered and danced in response to the attacks as well. To wit: "This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson."

These are perfectly understandable sentiments coming from someone who just lost a friend, but a writer familiar with significant proportions of public opinion in some parts of the world would understand that such a response from the United States would necessitate something rather close to a genocidal slaughter on our part.

Now, as far as pundits go, I am a nobody who writes as a hobby. But while I might be likely to say things along these lines to the person on the bar stool next to me after my ninth pint of Bass Ale, I would never write that in a published article that would actually be read by people who view all things in print (or on the web) as the truth. Surely, a commentator of Ann Coulterís stature should know better than to express herself in that fashion in her column.

The editors at National Review thought so too. So they were more (and perhaps too) careful about her next columns on the subject, which included a call for Janet Reno to have done unto Islamic fundamentalists as was done unto the Branch Davidians and a comment about frisking "swarthy-looking" men. Coulter then regrettably decided to publicly criticize National Review for censorship.

But when is it censorship to expect a published writer to exercise judgment about the words she uses when discussing sensitive topics in an emotionally charged climate, or for a publication to exercise such judgment in accordance to its standards when the writer fails to do so? The government isnít suppressing her opinions. Even after she was dropped by National Review, Universal Press Syndicate still carries her column, which appears in 50 newspapers. Horowitzís Frontpage Magazine added her as a columnist and her work still appears on such sites as Townhall.com and Jewish World Review.

If Joe Sobran, a senior editor for 18 years, could be fired, certainly Coulterís public attacks on National Review combined with the tone of her controversial article justified removing a contributing editor to the on-line version of the magazine. National Review On-Line editor Jonah Goldberg, pointing to other un-PC articles that have run on the site since the terrorist attacks, made the argument well: "The only difference between what we've run and what Ann considers so bravely iconoclastic on her part, is that we've run articles that accord persuasion higher value than shock value. It's true: Ann is fearless, in person and in her writing. But fearlessness isn't an excuse for crappy writing or crappier behavior."

Coulter has been subjected vitriol from the left for some time. One particularly vicious attack made its way into Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacobyís annual summary of liberal hate speech. Another, referring to her as a "telebimbo," would definitely have been written off as misogyny had a liberal like Hillary Clinton been the target. She does not deserve it from her comrades on the right.

But sometimes Coulterís columns read like a transcript of the recordings of Richard Nixon in the Oval Office. Which is a tragedy, because just like in Nixonís case, the publicity accorded the rants conceals the insights of a truly brilliant mind.

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