Monday, April 18, 2005

Regarding Ann Coulter

A thought occurred when reading the officious Media Matters regarding Ann Coulter, and Time's fawning coverage of her. I disagree with none of the substance of their piece, but wondered of its necessity. My thought:

What IS the proper way for Time to write an Ann Coulter piece? And would Time have known how to do it, had it wanted to? It's my hypothesis that there is NO way to properly write an Ann Coulter piece, not by any magazine attempting to appear at all politically objective, anyway. Moreover, Time would not have written such a piece, even had it otherwise the inclination and ability. And the problem is that a piece properly describing Miss Coulter is completely outside of their milieu. It's just not their thing. Not for political reasons, even though that is certainly a factor also; but due to jurisdictional concerns. They just don't write those kinds of pieces. This either had to be a fluff piece, or it couldn't be done at all.

Polemic Junkies

And the problem is that, because Coulter is such a polemicist and her statements are so outrageous and offensive, she cannot be covered objectively. It is simply impossible. If you quote her absurd claims, you must also debunk the misstatements and lies; or otherwise risk implicit endorsement of them... as Times' John Cloud did, intentionally or not. And failing to cite any of her fameworthy statements also brings charges of bias, from both her attackers and admirers. But if you debunk her, you automatically enter the realm of biased polemicism. Not because fact-checking is inherently biased, but because Coulter's brand of partisanship and fervent self-imposed bias is so ingrained into her entire ideology that the truth of her facts are beyond the point. It's an objective nightmare at every turn.

The truth of her claims is irrelevant to her beliefs; their basis lies in your ability to believe them. Not because they are true, but because they are wanted to be true. And you either want to believe the facts or you do not. And if you don't want to believe those facts, then by definition, you are not on their team. In essence, belief in those facts are a form of initiation rites, or a test of will. Or a form of addiction. These people are not hoodwinked into believing Ann Coulter; they flock to her because she has what they seek. Despite popular misconceptions, drug dealers rarely create demand; they merely satisfy it. And she is nothing but a right-wing drug dealer, happily filling the crazed masses with the vitriol and certaintude they desire. And she makes millions at it.

Ideology of Inferiority

What's worse, she's not even ideological. She's not a rabid conservative tossing anti-regulatory chum to fool the masses. That's just a theme she uses as part of her attacks. Nor is she like Jonah Goldberg, a liberal Republican so desperate to empower his party that he's willing to abandon his own beliefs to spew the conservative rhetoric he believes will strengthen the Republicans. She's just a opportunist filling a niche market of hatred and ultra-snark. There are such peddlers on both sides of the spectrum, and Coulter is simply one of the more prominent members of the extremist fringes. She's not interested in helping the Republicans; she's just looking out for number one.

So objective coverage can't even conveniently pin itself to her policy goals; as she has none. When you get below her surface level of snark and attacks, you'll find at its basis is simply the desire to be snarky and attacking. Some use politics as a means to achieve policy goals. More use policy as a means to achieve political goals. Coulter's ilk use politics and policy as a means to achieve personal goals; namely making inferior people feel superior. Or more specifically, making people who feel inferior believe that they are superior to those they fear might be superior to them. Or something like that.

That is the appeal of Ann Coulter, and Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly. They're strong and smart, and their strength makes weak people also feel strong and smart. The words don't sound nearly as convincing coming out of the listener's mouth, but they don't need to sound strong coming out of the listener. They just need to make the listener feel stronger saying them. And it does. These people aren't listening for the right answers; they're listening for answers that make them feel right. The truth can't always do that, but Coulter and Hannity can. Truth is elusive and rarely comes with guarantees. But Limbaugh and O'Reilly can give them answers before they've even heard the question. And as long as they have answers, these people will continue to flock to them; truth be damned.

Objective Bias

And that's why it's impossible for Time to objectively cover Ann Coulter. It's quite likely that their specific bias might be right-leaning itself, and that this piece truly was representative of the magazine's opinions. But that simply explains why they wrote the story. I somehow doubt that Time believed that the right-wing comedian was overly neglected by the media; and that they were giving well-deserved exposure to a rising star. They made a conscience decision to highlight the weird lady due to her popularity, and that alone exposed their bias.

But their offense was not in the lightweight coverage of Miss Coulter. It was that they covered her at all. Once they made that decision, the piece wrote itself as a silly nothing which intelligent people will ignore and ignorant people will relish; but which will inform no one. You either agree with what you read in the piece, or you disagree; and all based on what you believed going into it. And no level of debunking by Time would have altered that equation. All it would do is cause those who liked it to hate it, and vice versa. But it would influence no one.

While it is always prudent to fact check these people, it should be remembered why it is besides the point. To fact check them assumes that they are trying to be truthful. But anyone can give the truth. People flock to Coulter because her "truth" feels better. You can fact-check individual statements, but that's missing the forest for the weeds. You can keep pulling and pulling them, but you'll find that it's weeds all the way down.

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