June 16, 2006

Seems everywhere you go these days, whether it be on the national and cable TV networks or on various national conservative talk radio outlets, you will find Ann Coulter, who is pounding the pavement promoting her new bestseller “Godless: The Church of Liberalism”, which has rocketed up to #1 on Amazon.com’s non-fiction list. Coulter has always been brash, provocative, fearless, and controversial, but it seems that this time she’s touched off a real firestorm of controversy in her chapter on the so-called “Jersey Girls”, the four 9/11 widows from New Jersey lionized on the Left for their passionate attacks on the Bush Administration during the 9/11 Commission Congressional hearings.

The specific portion of her book at the center of the kerfluffle reads as follows:

“These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation, and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. . . . These broads are millionaires lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities. . . . I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much. . . .

“And by the way, how do we know their husbands weren’t planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they’d better hurry up and appear in Playboy.”

Wow. Pretty rough stuff, no matter how you slice it. While I’ve often found Coulter amusing and her commentary spot-on, this time I think her remarks are not only over the top, but pretty offensive as well. Were I one of the “Jersey Girls”, I might even consider dropping a dime to my lawyer to see if Coulter’s remarks verge on slander in a court of law.

It should come as no surprise that the usual liberal mediacrats and liberal Democrats are howling with rage over Coulter’s remarks. What is surprising, however, are the complaints coming from bloggers and commentators right of center, who seem aghast – absolutely aghast! – that someone from their side of the aisle could produce such a venomous diatribe. For example, the usually level-headed Jim Geraghty (“TKS” at NRO) bemoans the fact that Coulter and other rabble-rousers like her are given such attention in the forum of public debate:

Forget building a better mousetrap — if you say something stunningly offensive, rude, and obnoxious, the world will beat a pathway to your door. If you make a brilliant argument, maybe the world will pay attention; maybe not. But it’s easier and more immediately rewarding to shock and appall people — and it seems like more and more folks have decided they would rather be infamous than not famous.

…Bloggers are asking similar questions about other masters of the Don Rickles and Triumph style of debate – Michael Savage, Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan. Think about how many sideshow controversy-courting gasbags have sprung up to occupy our national debate in recent years: Ward Churchill. Ted Rall. Why do Harry Belafonte’s opinions on politics generate headlines? Why are Charlie Sheen’s theories about vast conspiracies organizing 9/11 not treated like the ravings of a guy on a street corner yelling about alien mind control?

And TKS is not the only one. Dignan from Red State wonders why conservatives shouldn’t be howling just as loud when people like Coulter write stuff like this as they do when liberal counterparts like Michael Moore and Harry Belafonte spin their own wild conspiracy theories and such. Dignan even goes so far as to question the religious ethics of Christians who would defend Coulter’s remarks:

I am even more saddened by the Christians who defend Coulter, particularly her remarks about the 9/11 widows. Whether or not the 9/11 widows are “exploiting their victim status” to make anti-Bush rants doesn’t excuse Coulter’s remarks about them. Whether she is correct or not doesn’t make what she said right. Saying that these women enjoyed their husbands’ deaths is unconscionable and is a sin. If I made such a public comment, I can guarantee that my church would rightfully call me out for it and ask for my repentance.

No offense, Dignan, but that is total bull$hit. People can listen to what other people say and make up their own minds as to what they want to believe. There’s a big, BIG difference between thoughts and words someone might take offense to and what might be characterized as sinful. Let’s not go overboard here: if sin was somehow equated to thought and speech that could be deemed offensive, hell, we’d all be in… um, Hell.

Look, there’s no doubt Coulter’s words are outrageous and should be condemned for their inherent ignorance and stupidity, but to me this is much ado about nothing. A few points might be helpful here:

1) Coulter is a big girl who can take care of herself. She stands by what she has written, and is unapologetic about it. Whether she writes deliberately to generate controversy and sell books, or whether she truly believes what she writes (and my guess is the latter), she is what she is. No one elected her or selected her to speak for anyone but herself. You can love her, hate her, buy her books, protest her appearances, or turn the channel or radio dial whenever you hear her voice. However poisonous and offensive her writing might be to some, it’s within her rights to do so, and we have our right whether to support it in the marketplace with our hard-earned dollars or not.

2) Coulter is hardly the only one on the “left” or “right” who has ever produced scathing political commentary. One listen to Randi Rhodes on Air America or Michael Savage will tell you that. Same holds true in the blogsphere – Markos “Daily Kos” Moulitsas Zuniga‘s infamous “screw ’em” comment (referring to the American contractors whose bodies were burned and hung from that bridge in Fallujah) or Charles Johnson’s regular anti-radical Islam posts on Little Green Footballs are just two examples.

3) Coulter is hardly the first to have criticized the “Jersey Girls” for their past behavior and outspokenness. Michelle Malkin has noted that Dorothy Rabinowicz, media observer on Opinion Journal.com, rode the ‘Girls pretty hard and put ’em away wet two years ago following their bizarre accusations before the 9/11 Commission. I’m not going to defend the words Coulter has used, I’m just saying that the points she is trying to make are hardly new to the forum of public debate.

4) To decry a perceived lack of civility in today’s highly-charged, contentious, and even venomous political scene simply because people like Coulter, Savage, Belafonte, Moore, Rhodes, et al are allowed to ply their trade on the public airwaves is ludicrous on its face. Let’s face it, whether it be on South Park, The Simpsons, anything on MTV, Hannity & Colmes, whatever – people are attracted to the loud and outrageous. There’s so much media out there, and the competition for listeners and viewers is so great, it’s only natural that those who seek to push the envelope get the most attention and notoriety. It’s what made “All In The Family” such ground-breaking TV, and why George Carlin‘s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine made him so popular. People want to be shocked. People like to be shocked. It’s not right, or even perhaps the best thing, but that’s the way it is and has always been in American entertainment and politics. And today, the distinction between the two has never been fuzzier.

Think about it: what’s the real difference between Coulter accusing the “Jersey Girls” of not grieving for their husbands, or Belafonte accusing President Bush of lying and the Department of Homeland Security of “Gestapo tactics”, or the “yellow journalism” of the 19th century where ragsheets spouted the most vile gossip and rumor? The answer is, there is none – it’s just that in this media-saturated age there’s a whole lot more of it.

If political commentators and bloggers want to criticize Coulter’s comments on their face, that’s their prerogative, right, and even obligation to do. But to hold her up as some kind of monument to the decline of civil behavior and public discourse in this day and age is to miss the point entirely. If the words and/or actions of Coulter are truly injurious to someone, we have laws and courts that can take care of that kind of thing. But to say that the media or blogsphere needs to take upon itself some rudimentary self-examination and reconsider the way it treats Coulter and those like her is laughable. Whether or not her popularity is right or not, it is what it is, and no pompous hand-wringing over how “mean” or “outrageous” she or those like her may be – liberal or conservative – will put an end to it. That horse left the barn a long time ago.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 02:31 | Comments Off on The Coulter Controversy
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