I’ll admit it: I actually read, once upon a time, Ann Coulter’s book Slander; Liberal Lies About the American Right. I had to swab my brain with Clorox afterward, but I did it. I had my reasons. And while Ann herself is no more worth discussing than any of the other vast horde of vitriolic pundits who have discovered that there are tremendous profits to be made in attacking “liberals”, this particular volume offers some fascinating illumination of that pursuit, and of certain propaganda tactics in general.
You have to read no farther than the title to get an indication of Coulter’s degree of accuracy. Slander is a legal term for oral defamation; but if that defamation is published or otherwise issued in a transfixed form (including video and audio recordings), then the correct term is libel, and that’s what she supposedly is documenting in the great majority of cases cited in the book. She should know better, since she’s reputedly a lawyer (if she ever represented me in court, I’d plead insanity pronto); and using the accurate word would have produced such a cute alliterative title to boot. Alas, while her inaccuracies and untruths begin with the title, they sure as hell don’t end there.
Just a couple of examples here. In discussing how some people had pointed out that George W. Bush, prior to the 2000 election, had been abroad only 3 times, she asserts that the issue didn’t come up during the 1992 election even though “Clinton’s wide travel consisted primarily of his joining antiwar protests across Europe and in Moscow during the Vietnam War.”, Actually, as a Rhodes scholar Clinton lived abroad for the better part of two years – and he didn’t exactly spend all of that time at demonstrations.
She also insists that family ties couldn’t have had an influence on George W. Bush’s university career, because at the time he enrolled at Yale, his old man was a little-known congressman fighting for political survival. Dubya’s wealthy and influential progenitors include not only George Herbert Walker Bush, but also Prescott Bush, Samuel Bush, James Smith Bush, William H.T. Bush, Robert E. Sheldon Jr. and George Herbert Walker; and all but the last named were themselves alumni of Yale. That Coulter is able to demote them all to nobody status in one fell swoop demonstrates that she is clearly a force to be reckoned with.
At other times, you’re not sure whether she’s consciously lying or just doesn’t know any better; she often just repeats right-wing talking points without any apparent concern for whether there’s any truth to them or not. She even obediently parrots a couple of oft-repeated rumors about Al Gore: that he claimed to have “invented the Internet”, and that on a tour of Monticello, he asked “Who are these guys?” when viewing busts of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. We’ve already discussed the Internet smear, along with several other legendary Gore “lies”. At Monticello, he actually said “Who are these people?”, but he was looking at likenesses of John Paul Jones and the Marquis de Lafayette – whose visages do not appear on currency and are unfamiliar to the vast majority of Americans, including, no doubt, the venerable Ms Coulter.
But the point here is not to go into a lot of detail about her loose grip on reality. Many others have already done that. For a hilarious take on her dishonesty delivered by Al Franken during a debate with her (and her catty attempt to recover by claiming that “liberals” believe one should never “paraphrase”), see here.
As I see it, the real focus of her little masterpiece is neither slander (libel) nor distortion, but something she says early in the game:”liberals hate conservatives”. That’s her apparent thesis, and the alleged “slander” she produces is an attempt to substantiate that : “liberals” lie about “conservatives” because they hate them so much.
Trying to prove that “liberals” hate “conservatives” is an obsession among many who call themselves “conservatives”. And they often blur the distinctions between (a) criticizing someone, (b) attacking someone in an uncivil manner, and (c) actually hating someone. There was a great deal of blurring recently when right-wing slime merchant Andrew Breitbart died, and some less-than-kind comments about his demise were posted on Internet forums. These comments were understandable even if not excusable; the passing of a polarizing figure always inspires a certain number of inappropriate remarks by anonymous individuals. And while in this case the imprecations were touted as proof of “liberal hate”, the truth is that such conduct spans the ideological spectrum. But those in the public eye, and especially in influential positions, usually speak well of the recently deceased, or not at all.
If anyone has a right to heap invective on Breitbart, it’s Shirley Sherrod, whose career he wrecked with one of the notoriously fraudulent videos he distributed. But when pressed by the media to comment, she avoided saying anything directly about him, instead just noting:
“The news of Mr. Breitbart’s death came as a surprise to me when I was informed of it this morning. My prayers go out to Mr. Breitbart’s family as they cope during this very difficult time.”
That’s the kind of thing mature adults say, and no doubt even ol’ Andrew himself would have been equally gracious about the death of someone he didn’t like.
Oops. Actually, on the occasion of Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, Breitbart declared:
“I’m more than willing to go off decorum to ensure THIS MAN is not beatified,”
and further called Kennedy a “villain”, a “duplicitous bastard” and a “prick”. So never mind.
Still, the thing is there’s another distinction that often gets blurred: the difference between attacking an individual and attacking a demographic. Not everyone who hates President Obama is racist (though certainly a good many at least border on that description). But this is a distinction that Coulter cannot or will not make. Over and over, she tries to prove that “liberals hate conservatives” by citing attacks by specific “liberals” against specific individuals who happen to be “conservative”.
So there I sat, pen in hand, eager to tally up all the instances she produced to substantiate the allegation that “liberals” hate “conservatives” in general. And after slogging through the whole tome, I’d counted a grand total of…4. Yes, FOUR. And even those were rather dubious.
One of them, for instance, came from Jesse Jackson:
“In South Africa, the status quo was called racism. In Germany, it was called fascism. Now, in Britain and the U.S., it is called conservatism.”
Is this really an expression of hatred? I wouldn’t necessarily say so, especially knowing what I do about Jackson. Nor is it really equating “conservatism” with fascism or racism, though it certainly suggests that all are an undesirable “status quo”. But here we see yet another line that often gets blurred: the distinction between condemning an “ism” and condemning those who adhere to it. If you’ve read very much by Michael Moore or Al Franken, you know that they certainly do their share of condemning “conservatism” as well as specific “conservatives”. But they also have bent over backward to find reasons to praise “conservatives” in general. Can you say the same about civility toward “liberals” by Ann Coulter? Or Rush Limbaugh? Or Glenn Beck? Or Sean Hannity? Or – well, you get the idea.
Well, if this is the best she can come up with, we’ll give it to her. Four instances of “liberals” hating “conservatives”. Very good.
Now you might think my pen got awfully bored with only four hash marks to make during the whole book. Bur fear not – I was also keeping another tally at the same time. I was curious to see how many times the author herself expressed hatred toward “liberals” in general. And the answer was a minimum of 163. Yes, ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-THREE, nearly once per page on average. And I say “minimum” because I was very strict in what I counted, excluding questionable slurs and sometimes even multiple slurs within the same sentence.
And unlike the alleged slurs by “liberals” there is nothing the least bit ambiguous or ambivalent about hers. “Liberals” are liars.“Liberals” are nasty. “Liberals” are hypocrites. “Liberals” are un-American. “Liberals” love abortion. “Liberals” are greedy. “Liberals” are unprincipled. “Liberals” are anti-religion. “Liberals” are stupid. “Liberals” are “savagely cruel bigots” who “lie for sport”. “Liberals” hate “ordinary” Americans. “Liberals” are communists—no, wait, “liberals” are actually fascists. (Self-contradiction, even in the same breath, doesn’t seem to be a problem for her.)
But if you expect her to explain exactly what a “liberal” is, you’re SOL. In fact, she suggests that the surest way to know you’re dealing with a “liberal” is that someone questions the term. This unswerving loyalty to labels, however, does not prevent her from questioning the term “religious right”, and even suggesting – I kid you not – that “there’s no such thing”.
So, to summarize the book: “Liberals” (whatever they may be, and you shouldn’t ask) have produced four possible slurs against “conservatives”. Ann Coulter (who is only one of many many many many many ideologues attacking “liberals”) has produced at least 163 very definite slurs against “liberals”. And from this we’re supposed to conclude that “liberals hate conservatives”.
Good one, Ann.