Ann Slanders: A Classic Case Study

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.

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Fourth-Right-Ness: Independence Day as a Tool for Partisan Sniping

The U.S. just celebrated its “birthday”, which it always does on the wrong day (July 4 instead of July 2, the date the Declaration of Independence was adopted, or August 2, the date most delegates signed it) and you might think that such an occasion would be one of national unity. But for many ideological extremists, it’s an opportunity to double down on their attacks against those who do not wholeheartedly concur with their extreme beliefs and values.

At a Republican Party barbecue in Georgia, Representative Paul Broun was offering up a prayer to the (presumably right-wing) God he claims to follow when he said :

Father, there are many who want to destroy us from outside this nation. Folks like al-Qaeda and the radical Islamists. But there are folks that want to destroy us from inside, the progressives and the socialists, who want to make this nation a nation that’s no longer under you, under God, but a nation that’s ruled by man.

It’s no secret that these people seem to think the most patriotic thing they can do is express their irrational, all-consuming hatred for half the citizens of the United States; and judging by Broun’s “prayer” it appears they also think it’s the most pious thing they can do. Surely God must hate all the same people they do, or what use is He?

There was an even cuter trick on a right-wing website called BigJournalism.com (in keeping with the prevailing concept that “journalism” entails misinformation and ideological indoctrination). This site is under the stewardship of Andrew Breitbart, whose truth allergies we’ve previously noted.

Here’s the deal: Big Journalism published the text of the Declaration of Independence, accompanied by an illustration of George Washington; and various words and phrases throughout the text are linked to other web pages that evidently are intended to suggest that President Obama is as tyrannical and oppressive as King George – though quite often, the links just give the impression of having been chosen at random. If you’re really bored and crave some cheap laughs, you might try looking at this post and clicking on some of these links.

If you click on the phrase “invasions on the rights of the people”, you’ll get a news story about how the House of Representatives passed the Health Care Reform Bill. Yes, you read that right. An action by the HOUSE to help extend the right of medical care to all citizens is deemed an INVASION OF RIGHTS by the PRESIDENT.

Click on the passage about how the king has “incited domestic insurrections”, and what do you get? A Wikipedia article about ACORN. Yep, the (former) existence of an organization devoted to improving the lives of disadvantaged citizens is proof positive that Barack Obama encourages people to form angry mobs bearing … well, guns and racist signs or something.

Oh, and try clicking on “harass our people”. Please, please do. You’ll connect with the blatant lie (now an official GOP talking point parroted by Newt Gingrich and John Boehner) that “Obamacare” will call for 16,000 new IRS agents to “track everyone’s bank accounts”.

And try the one about how he’s “ravaged our coasts”. That will take you to an op-ed at The National Review (another impeccable source of Big “Journalism”) about the administration’s moratorium on drilling. Yep, trying to stop oil companies from ravaging our coasts constitutes ravaging our coasts. If you’re a black Democrat and it’s a second Tuesday in March under a blue moon.

Propaganda like this even manages to take (relatively) legitimate concerns about some of Obama’s actions (e.g., Libya) and convert them into grossly inaccurate smears. What a breathtaking achievement.

Although this post is, unlike the “prayer”, ostensibly aimed at denouncing an individual rather than a large segment of the population, it’s hard not to connect the “patriotic” agenda of Breitbart and company with the Tea Party rhetoric, often incendiary and sometimes violent, of “taking back” THEIR country from the 53% of American voters who elected Barack Obama.

It’s hard to believe this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind. Or, for that matter, the putative Founding Father.

Lessons Learned and Points Pondered in the Media Maelstrom Over Weiner’s Wiener (Part 1)

If by chance a team of sociologists from another planet visited earth during the past few weeks, they surely reached the conclusion that Terran civilization (such as it is) is doomed to extinction in the very near future. And as if they didn’t have any other proof available, they could have pointed to the public’s all-consuming obsession with the electronic communications and the genitalia (not necessarily in that order) of a certain elected government official from the state of New York.

I know, I know. You’ve heard more than enough about this non-story already, and you’ve heard your quota of wiener jokes, at least for a couple of months. And normally, this is the kind of non-story I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole, or even a ten-INCH pole, if ya know what I mean. But any time there is such a brouhaha about something so small and insignificant (I don’t mean it that way, Congressman) – in fact, especially when there is a brouhaha about something so small and insignificant – it reveals a great deal about our alleged civilization, and it would behoove us to pause and take stock.

Lesson 1: Privacy is obsolete.

Or at least it’s an endangered species. In this age of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, anything you do or say has the potential to make you immortal. Especially if you’re a public figure.

Lesson 2: Even very intelligent people can do very stupid things.

Few would dispute the capable intellects of Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, John Edwards or even Arnold Schwarzenegger. But sometimes the brain gets muddled by an overdose of testosterone. Anthony Weiner was one of the brightest members of Congress, with a rare knack for injecting reason into a discussion and exposing the idiocies of some of his colleagues. Now, he’ll be forever remembered as just another guy who, once too often, did his thinking with his crotch.

Lesson 3: Sometimes even a habitual liar tells the truth.

Because the reports of Weiner’s shenanigans came from serial liar Andrew Breitbart, many people dismissed them at first. But even in Europe, a broken clock is right once a day. While Brietbart was incapable of being truthful about ACORN or Planned Parenthood, he came through on the topic he really, passionately cared about: a young congressman’s hot bod.

Lesson 4: Americans are terrified of sex

Except for a handful of oppressive theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is almost nowhere where people live in such abject terror of s-e-x as the good ol’ U.S. of A. Think about it. We have a government agency that monitors TV broadcasts for signs of “indecency” and hands out fines for the same – one of the heftiest of recent memory being for the all-too-brief accidental exposure of Janet Jackson’s right hooter.  This agency once decided that the word fuck is obscene only if it refers to sex, and not if merely used as an expletive. You think I’m making this up? Meanwhile, many Americans are horrified at any usage of the word at all (the mere word, mind you-heaven knows how they react to the act itself) and some may spell it as f**k so nobody will know what they’re really trying to say. When Americans talk about immorality, it’s a good bet they’re not referring to lying, cheating, stealing or even killing, but to f**king.

Lesson 5: Americans are obsessed with sex.

But despite -or perhaps in large part because of – the fear and paranoia, we just can’t get enough of it. While publicly condemning Janet Jackson’s impropriety, we privately replay the recording in slow-mo to get a better look at her starboard buoy. A Hollywood box office success without at least one sex scene is virtually unthinkable. Many people, if they eliminated the time they spend perusing pornography, could just about supply the electricity they’d need for their other Internet usage by making a battery from a potato. When people wring their hands over the latest celebrity sex scandal, there’s a part of them thinking, “damn, why couldn’t that have been me?”

Lesson 6: Americans are confused about sex.

But why bring Ms. Jackson’s mammary miracle into the picture at all? Why can’t we just appreciate it for the magnificent work of nature it is without dragging sex into the frame? Because this is Amurrca, bub, and there’s no such thing as nudity without sex, and there’s no such thing as sex without obscenity – unless of course it’s a strictly private matter between father and daughter.

Even breast-feeding – yes, breast-feeding – has been attacked by the self-appointed guardians of (other people’s) “morality”, inspiring one of my all-time favorite bumper stickers: “If breast-feeding offends you, put a blanket over your head.”

But wait. It gets even better.

Spirit Of Justice is an Art Deco statue placed in the Dept. Of Justice Building in Washington D.C. in the 1930’s.  Like much classical-styled sculpture, it personifies Justice as female, and it depicts the female form, for esthetic and symbolic reasons, with a bare breast. She survived the Great Depression, she survived World War II, she survived a presidential assassination, she survived Watergate, she survived Dan Quayle,  she survived Monicagate. But she didn’t survive John Ashcroft.

The second Bush in the Oval Office deemed himself on a mission from the Almighty to convert the heathen masses to his vision of Christian (sic) morality (sic), and accordingly appointed people like ultra-fundamentalist Ashcroft, who was uncomfortable being photographed in front of the less-than-fully-clothed sculpture.

Which just makes you wonder what kind of man would regard a block of metal as a potential copulatory partner. In any case, the administration spent 8000 bucks of your tax money to put a drape over the offending boob – the one on the statue, that is.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. When you combine fear with obsession with contrived ignorance, confusion is the inevitable product. Ours is, after all, the country that has experimented with abstinence-only sex “education”, as the result of which the term “spit baby” became popular among Texas teens who believed they’d been impregnated through oral activity.

Which brings us back to the representative with the unfortunate last name. Apparently, he didn’t commit adultery, though he may have had it on his mind. He didn’t even bare his w***er.  And even if he had, that wouldn’t have constituted s*x. But in the minds of many Amurrcans, it’s all the same.

Lesson 7: Politicians are addicted to (illicit) sex.

By some counts, at least 55% of married American men and at least 45% of married American women ADMIT to having had affairs.  I’d bet that the percentages of politicians are much higher – very close, in fact to 100%. There’s something about the power and prestige and money and ready availability of nookie that makes it pretty much inevitable.

Many will say that “they all do it” is not a valid defense, because the number of people doing a certain thing does not determine its moral acceptability. True enough, but on the other hand it creates a grotesquely uneven playing field if you penalize the polictician who just happens to be unlucky enough to get caught. If it didn’t, you wouldn’t have bottom-feeders like Breitbart so eagerly volunteering their PR services on behalf of Weiner’s goods.

(NEXT: Sorry, but there’s more to come.)

ACORNization: Playing Both Sides of the Race Card

Once upon a time, Shirley Sherrod was an official in the Obama administration. She was also African-American. These two facts, especially in combination, made her a prime target for ACORNization.

Andrew Breitbart, the “conservative” blogger who had helped catapult James O’Keefe into the limelight like a ten-ton sack of manure, posted a video of Sherrod addressing the NAACP and apparently making racist comments in reference to the first white farmer she had been sent to assist. In the wake of this, the “conservative” blogosphere and punditocracy went apeshit. Even the NAACP and President Obama were taken in by it, and she was forced to resign her position.

But oh, did we mention that someone somehow had accidentally dropped a pair of shears on the video and cut out the portions that put her remarks in context and clarified that far from being racist, she had aided the farmer to the best of her ability and even become perennial friends with him? (In the aftermath of the faux scandal, this farmer and his wife even came to Sherrod’s support.) Eventually the deception was discovered and Sherrod was offered a new post in the administration by the apologetic Obama. But by then the damage had been done. Chalk up another glorious victory for ACORNization.

Meanwhile, O’Keefe himself was not exactly resting on his devious laurels. He employed his “citizen journalism” to play the other side of the race card in targeting another right-wing bugaboo, National Public Radio.

NPR has long been assailed by the punditocracy as a bastion of “liberal” propaganda; Mozart and the Car Talk guys are  allegedly communist agents.  (Most NPR listeners, on the other hand, describe themselves as either “conservative” or “middle of the road”.) The ideologues surely don’t even believe this kind of crap themselves, but they do know that NPR is at least not a spittle-flecked right-wing rantfest. (If it was, they’d call it fair and balanced.)  And since NPR receives public funding, cutting off that funding would be a golden opportunity to silence a voice that doesn’t always sing along with the choir. Not surprisingly, Republicanoids have been trying to do just that for years.

Aside from the “librul bias” smear, there is simply the Randian (Ayn or Paul, take your pick) notion that government shouldn’t fund anything but defense. Yet NPR receives less government funding than do the students of Liberty University in Virginia, which is undeniably partisan and in fact blatantly bigoted, having banned the student Democratic club as being “un-Christian”.  Founded by Jerry Falwell (and bailed out of a financial bind by the rabidly right-wing and stridently anti-American Rev. Moon), this is a RELIGIOUS institution supported by tax dollars and promoting extreme right-wing values. So how many Republicanoids do you hear clamoring to cut that particular purse string?

In any case, here comes another O’Keefe cinematic masterpiece, this one depicting a (recently resigned) fundraiser (yes FUNDRAISER, not journalist, or even anyone who, like O’Keefe, pretends to be one) for NPR saying that the Tea Party crowd is over the top and racist. And the world was shocked, shocked! How could anyone suspect that this group with ties to white supremacists,  this group that carries around signs with racial epithets directed at the president, how could anyone possibly think this crowd harbors racists?

But as always with an O’keefe opus, there was more to the story. The unedited footage shows that the fundraiser was actually discussing not his own views on Tea Partiers, but those of some REPUBLICANS. And while the butchered video made it appear that NPR would accept ethically  questionable donations, the fundraiser actually stated 6 times during the interview that they would not.

But as always, the media demonstrated its unbridled lust for sensationalism and pettiness, and its severe allergic reaction to even the mention of research.

MORAL OF THE STORY: If you’re a “conservative”, it’s okay to portray someone else as a racist (at least as long as the someone else is black) even if you have to fabricate evidence. If you’re anyone else, it’s a scandal of tsunami proportions to suggest that anyone else is a racist, or even that anyone else thinks anyone else is a racist (especially if they’re white) no matter how much evidence you have. And if you’re James O’Keefe, Andrew Breitbart, or anyone of comparable character, the world is your oyster.