The Good: It's short, Coulter correctly and unbiasedly notes some actual instances of bias, Has footnotes.
The Bad: Not at all balanced, Riddled with logical fallacies, Does not convincingly prove her thesis.
The Basics: Ann Coulter's Slander presents a poorly-argued case riddled with omissions, generalizations and simple name-calling that make it a poor choice of reading for the educated conservative exploring media bias.
Today's book review of one of the works of Ann Coulter is a timed event. Having finished reading her entire library of bestsellers, I am making my challenge in the Intellectual Olympics today a timed event. The novelty of probably being referenced by Coulter in her work, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (reviewed here!) for my review of her first work, High Crimes And Misdemeanors has long since worn off. That inspiration to read the volumes in between has led to many frustrated hours of reading poorly-written arguments written with ad hominem attacks, blatant omissions and biased characterizations to frame arguments within a narrow context that is seldom adhered to by Coulter, which has led to many hours of frustrated reviews where I've come to feel repetitive and bland. It is my hope that when I finish this review of Slander: Liberal Lies About The American Right that I shall be able to sleep tonight without dreaming of a talk show I share with Ann Coulter where I am paid based on her failure to follow the established rules of debate. In other words, I've spent enough time on Ann Coulter the last few days, I want to be able to move on.
The purpose of any review is to help a reader make a decision about whether or not to purchase something. Our job as reviewers is to objectively evaluate objects and experiences to either inspire people to pick something up or leave it on the shelf. It's pretty easy to get liberals to leave Ann Coulter's works on the shelf; despite the strong desire by many liberals to know what is going on in the mindset and Zeitgeist of the American conservatives, many have been offended by Coulter's attitude and public statements at various times. Liberals who have read her works are often left disappointed by their extreme bias to the point of intellectual disingenuity. To liberals who are thinking of picking up Slander, you can pretty much figure how this one is going in terms of respectable debate by the subtitle "Liberal Lies . . ." But for conservatives, there is a strong temptation to pick up a book like Slander in order to get the arguments to confront the intellectual adversary when one engages in debate with them. To conservatives who are looking to debate on matters of media bias, Slander will not be the best tool possible to do that.
Allow me to explain.
Ann Coulter quickly establishes the purpose of Slander: Liberal Lies About The American Right with the zeal of a debator ready to make her case that in relation to the media in the United States, "Political 'debate' in this country is insufferable. . . [and] It's all liberals' fault . . . the public square is wall-to-wall liberal propaganda" (1 - 2). The problem Coulter runs into right off the bat is that she is not living in an unfree society; there are conservative news outlets - including Coulter and Slander - and they are alive and flourishing. It only takes sixty pages for Coulter to contradict herself on this point with the first mention of Fox News, when she notes, "Outside of Fox News, the 'from the right' seat on Crossfire is one of the rare paid positions available for conservatives on TV" (60).
Conservatives considering picking up Slander and utilizing it and its arguments for debate need to understand that the fundamental problem Ann Coulter has is not that conservatives do not have media outlets, it is that by her standards they do not have enough. Coulter's argument is an explicit argument that liberals dominate the media and an implicit one that conservatives need to fight back and expose this bias and get a conservative viewpoint out.
Most conservatives reading that will realize right off the bat what the problem is: news media in the United States ought to be presenting facts, indisputable, unbiased representations of actual events as they occur. It is the job and purpose of the free press in the United States to disseminate information, not ideas. The dissemination of ideas, no matter how benign the idea, is propaganda. Coulter's book Slander is one brief - only 205 pages before the end note citations and the index bring it up to 256 pages - argument that the problem with the American media is that it has a liberal bias and disseminates news in a way that spreads liberal propaganda and that the solution is to expose the liberal domination in order to replace it with a conservative viewpoint.
The combination of the two aspects makes the book a poor work to use to attack the institutions of the media because Coulter so closely ties the problems she sees with the implicit agenda that she is promoting. Over the course of the ten chapters, Coulter explores what she sees as the wide-ranging media bias, the psychology of creating that bias, what conservatives are doing to combat that and exploring how a conservative presence would radically alter the national debate.
The problems with Slander, then come in Coulter first declaring that there is an insurmountable liberal bias and then implying that the fix is to eliminate the bias and give conservatives a free and fair voice. Essentially, those two things are what Slander is all about.
In order to establish that liberals - and Coulter begins her argument by utilizing the flawed correlation that "liberal" and "Democrat" are interchangeable. Most true liberals today - the few who are unashamed to call themselves liberal - tend to squirm at the thought of the far-too-moderate Democrats and their acquiescence to many reactionary policies created in the past few years. Similarly, Democrats - as embodied by the national Democratic Party- have systematically eliminated their liberal trappings in order to move to the center in the vain attempt to win presidential and congressional elections. Liberal and Democrat are not interchangeable, except in the biased, narrow worldview that makes such arguments as the vast liberal bias in the media even possible.
Coulter's argument is based on omissions, broad generalizations, unsupported statements that are presented as facts and an tendency to resort to churlish name-calling as opposed to maintaining an air of intellectualism and honest debate. Because it comes up so quickly in Slander, I shall start with the problematic ad hominem attacks. Ad hominem is a logical fallacy (problem with establishing an argument in debate) wherein the person making an argument abandons the argument to attack their opposition instead of attacking their position. It is ironic that in the very same page that Coulter brazenly declares that "Prevarication and denigration are the hallmarks of liberal argument. Logic is not their metier. Blind religious faith is" (2) that she commits her first ad hominem attack by stating, "We read letters to the editor of the New York Times from pathetic little parakeet males and grim, quivering, angry women on the Upper West Side of Manhattan hoping to be chosen as that day's purveyor of hate" (2). It took two pages for Coulter to abandon serious intellectual debate and simply start insulting her opposition. Coulter carried through the Slander a tendency to simply insult those who do not agree with her, including moderate Republicans - on page 50 she refers to Jim Jeffords as a "half-wit." And like most of the Ann Coulter library, she continues - or given that I've read her works backwards from the current work back to Slander, establishes - to reference Edward Kennedy and the drunk driving death associated with him at almost any opportunity, whether it is relevant or not. This does no service to conservatives.
Omissions plague Slander as well. Keeping in mind that the book came out in 2002, a year when President George W. Bush's approval rating was high, Republicans controlled the House of Representatives and the Presidency and the Supreme Court was staffed by a majority of conservatives. Coulter fails to mention that the party she most supports is the one in power and she writes as if conservatives are constantly under siege. So, for example, in establishing her idea of "wall-to-wall liberal propaganda," Coulter references the popularity of news programs on CBS, NBC, The New York Times, and Time Magazine - never mentioning that Time is generally considered a center-right publication. She even quotes Time's Jack White on page 58 who suggests that there is a right bias in the American media! But the omission aspect here is troubling. Coulter's worldview for the "wall-to-wall" liberal bias in the media is supported by citing four news outlets in a market of hundreds. Of course she does not mention the viewership of Fox News; it's not a small percentage of the population! In other words, acknowledging how many people watch Fox News undermines Coulter's assertion that the United States is all liberal news programming, all the time. Such omissions do no service to the argument or the conservatives who rely on Coulter to make a coherent and clean argument.
Coulter also makes a number of statements that are broad ranging and yet are utterly unsupported by any facts. In addition to referring to news reported by "liberal" sources, Coulter frequently uses the words "lie," "lies," and "liars" without actually proving that the statements made are actually lies. She substitutes her opportunities to elaborate on what she perceives as lies to simply spread her own propaganda, like when she states, "Republicans may resent the fact that unions give so much money to Democrats, but they don't hate the worker. Who would be more likely to have a beer with a trucker: Tom DeLay or Barbara Boxer? Democrats actually hate working-class people" (31). That last sentence is the type of remark Coulter makes consistently that assumes facts not in evidence. Indeed, it's a pretty easy assertion to contradict, especially if one wants to apply greed as the only motive for relationships. But the middle sentence is one that actually made me curious. Who would be more likely to have a beer with a trucker: Tom DeLay or Barbara Boxer? What kind of objective testing did Coulter actually do to make her implied argument that conservative Tom Delay would be more likely to have beer with a trucker? There's no evidence that she did, just like she presents no evidence that Boxer has not had a beer with a trucker or that DeLay has (the cynic in me says that as white upper class folk neither would be more or less likely to voluntarily, randomly have a beer with a working-class person, save during an election year, but I have absolutely no facts supporting that and that it might be worthwhile to note here that many working-class people assume a prejudice - i.e. "they don't want to have a beer with the likes of me" - on behalf of the wealthy and would not even ask them to have a drink with them). This sort of statement that implies that conservative politicians and conservatives in general are fundamentally different and somehow better than their liberal counterparts is prevalent through much of Slander and it does not service to the conservatives to have them cite such statements as facts when they lack any backing.
Slander, then becomes Coulter railing against what she perceives as the liberal media and arguing that somehow the conservatives would do better. She undermines her own point up until the very last lines where she states, "Conservatives already know that people they disagree with politically can be 'charming.' Also savagely cruel bigots who hate ordinary Americans and lie for sport" (205). This is the sum total of her reason for believing conservatives ought to run the media and it pretty effectively illustrates how Coulter undermines her own argument as a proudly conservative commentator. She does no service to conservatives here!
I wanted to close by quickly noting something of significance here. There are very few openly liberal publications, all of which are news commentary publications (whatwith news reporting publications always declaring they are unbiased) and it is disappointing that Coulter does not address this with more academic curiosity and professionalism. The openly-liberal The Nation is mentioned only twice in Slander and then one of the two mentions is simply a citation from it. Magazines like The Nation, which is almost constantly begging its readers for contributions just to stay afloat, have vastly lower circulation (and presumably readership) than Fox News has viewers. At least The Nation is honest about its place in American discourse, not claiming to be "fair and balanced" as Fox News does.
In establishing her case, Coulter wisely notes that "When arguments are premised on lies, there is no foundation for debate" (3). On this we may agree. The problem is that it does not matter whose lies one uses to create the foundation for a debate - liberal or conservative - if the foundation of an argument utilizes untruths either by transmission or omission, the premise and debate that follows is flawed. Ann Coulter's
For other books by Ann Coulter, please check out m reviews of:
Guilty: Liberal “Victims” And Their Assault On America
How To Talk To A Liberal (If You Must)
High Crimes And Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton
For other book reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here.
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.