I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Why respond to Malkin?

By Hume's Ghost

I ended my previous post on Michelle Malkin's "salute" to "Coultermania" with a promise to explain why such things merit a response, which is what I intend to do here. The topic is one I find difficult to narrow down (and compose a decent entry on in a day), so I might ramble a bit. Please bear with me.

As Glenn noted yesterday, the primary reason to respond to Malkin, Coulter, Hannity, et all is that they are influential. Let me try and put a personal face on that reason.

Not too long ago a friend of mine told me she was trying to become more politically informed. To do so, she continued, she had begun reading Ann Coulter's How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). Think about that for a moment. This was an individual who did not know much about politics, was a non-ideological independent and the first person she could think of to learn more about politics from was a hate-mongering hack. This should have never happened, because Coulter should have been exposed for the vile, bigoted, intellectually bankrupt propagandist that she is by journalists a long time ago. In this regard, my friend was failed by a mainstream media which is more interested in using Coulter as a figure to drive up ratings than they are in doing their jobs of promoting a responsible national discourse.

This is why I respond to Coulter and her apologists like Malkin, because I don't want their hate corrupting people like my friend. In the comments of Glenn's post, I linked to this entry I had previously written about why eliminationist rhetoric is not a joke as an explanation of why I write about extremists. You'll notice that it contains a link to a post that Alonzo Fyfe wrote after his wife was sent an e-mail from a co-worker which fantasized about the deaths of liberals. The co-worker thought it "too good not to pass along."

We must answer Coulter and her ilk, because unanswered their hateful rhetoric creeps into society, meant to divide us from our friends, family, and fellow Americans. The reason these pundits are incapable of disagreeing with someone without first labeling an opponent as liberal, Democrat, socialist, far left, moonbat, communist etc. (and the same can go for those who do the reverse) is because their tribal binary logic requires them to identify an outgroup, a "them" to be excluded, or worse, eliminated. This is why Glenn discovered that he was a "leftist" and/or a "liberal" for his opposition to the Bush administration. Sarcastically explaining this tactic, Glenn wrote

[T]hey label the argument and the person making it "leftist" and "liberal" and - presto! - no more need to address the arguments or consider its substance because it’s all been shooed away with one fell swoop of name-calling cliches.
In a post commenting on this I noted that the name-calling tactic is actually a common propaganda technique. The Propaganda Critic website describes name-calling thusly:

The name-calling technique links a person, or idea, to a negative symbol. The propagandist who uses this technique hopes that the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence.
To which I added that this tactic is facilitated by the line of books demonizing "liberals" and it is often coupled with eliminationism, because "the more the symbol, with all its negative associations comes to represent the group, the less that the group is perceived as human, the easier it is to rationalize injustice committed towards the group." The rhetoric of these media transmitters, both by repackaging extremist views for mainstream consumption and by engaging in the ritual defamation of those with whom they disagree, serve to shift mainstream political discourse towards the extreme. I'm passing over this subject briefly but will direct your attention to Dave Neiwert's seminal essay Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism: An exegesis (from which the transmitters link is taken) which exhaustively explains why and how American values are being transformed and corrupted by the right-wing extremism that the likes of Coulter and Malkin help to diffuse into every day discussion.

As a quick example of the process of transmission, let's look at Malkin for a case in point. Michelle claims that conservatives "zealously police their own ranks" to guard against extremism. I already wrote a post about her apologetics for Coulter's extremism, but what about Malkin herself? Does she transmit extremist views? Yes, she does. As Alex Koppelman has noted, Malkin keeps in her blogroll, an organization that has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group with ties to white supremacism and which runs Malkin's syndicated columns.* The interesting thing about Koppelman's link is that he frames his post with a rant from Bill O'Reilly about how "far left" extremists are allowed on television to push their views but right-wing extremists like the KKK aren't, followed by O'Reilly bringing on Michelle Malkin who gives extremist views a soft face for palatable mainstream consumption . This is a microcosm of the way in which our media legitimizes right-wing extremism. Which brings me back to Coulter.

The fact that Coulter is on tv in the first place means that something is seriously wrong with our society. Peter Daou, who called Coulter's appearance on the Tonight Show "a dangerous inflection point in American politics," recognizes the absurdity of having a hate-mongering bigot like Coulter on, but he shied away from making the "obvious comparisons." The obvious comparisons need to be made. So here it is: Coulter talks about "liberals" the way racists talk about blacks, the way the Nazis talked about Jews. Her "jokes" are predicated on the notion that the elimination of a set of humans are funny, her "jokes" are funny the way anti-Semitic "jokes" like this were funny, which is to say, they are not not funny. They are disgusting and deadly serious.

In the clip of her appearance on the Tonight Show, Coulter mentioned that she let her "smartest liberal friend" whom she told would be "smarter than any liberal I'm going to be on tv with" read her book. Could her bigotry be any plainer? Substitute in any other group that's been hated against in history and see how that sentence sounds.

Yet, Coulter, a hypocrite who has written a book called Slander (denouncing "liberals" as liars) and who now unequivocally states that Bill Clinton being a rapist is a "universally accepted fact" can get a whitewash piece in Time magazine, one of the largest American news publications. Why is this woman on television and syndicated across the nation? Strip away her petty insults and what is left? What does she contribute to the national dialogue other than hate? Are we to believe Godless is an answer to A Theory of Justice by John Rawls?

This woman who has the nerve to assert that God endorses her politics alone has apparently never read Exodus 20:16: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor." She asserts that "liberals" are "godless". Apparently, Jimmy Carter, possibly the most devout President in US history, didn't get the memo. She asserts that evolution is a "liberal" religion which has no evidence supporting it. Scientists beg to differ.

So what does it say about us as a culture that Ann Coulter can occupy the national stage? The Green Knight, a liberal Christian blogger, answers

Only a society that has ceased to value that reasonable context of discussion (in other words, only a society that no longer really cares about itself) could enthusiastically make significant room for someone like Coulter, who rakes in profits by making up lies and "entertaining" people by demanding the deaths of those she hates. And American society today makes room not only for her, but also for an entire right-wing movement for which eliminationist rhetoric has become the norm. This is a society that no longer trusts itself, that is incapable of seeing its citizens as citizens and therefore as worthy of respect.
So it behooves us to answer and expose Coulter's puerile drivel so long as our national media continues to legitimize her and her compatriots.This isn't a partisan issue, it's a human decency issue, as principled conservatives recognize. If we want to stop the rot of our democratic institutions, then we must counter the putrid rhetoric of Coulter, Malkin, and company which acts as corrosive acid dissolving the bonds of our democratic society, dividing the country into "Us" versus "Them".

*Correction - I had previously said Malkin wrote for VDare. That's not the case, they run her syndicated column.

UPDATE: To further highlight the necessity of responding to Coulter and co., take a close look at the Spinsanity article I provided above (the hate-mongering hack link). It was written in 2001, and begins by lamenting:

The last few years have witnessed the emergence of a new class of pundits. Many, regrettably, are prodigies in the aggressive political jargon that pervades our political discourse.
It then goes on to expose, step-by-step, the formulaic "rhetorical manipulation" that Coulter uses in her work. You can see in that article that they had already addressed what would comprise the next five years of Coulter's writings. But look at the closing paragraph (bold emphasis mine)

Why is Coulter so important? Even though most people haven't heard of her, she and other relatively young jargon-slingers like David Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin are gaining stature. As a result, the rise of aggressive political jargon is likely to continue, with predictable and pernicious consequences for American political discourse.
That was in 2001. Plenty of people have heard of Coulter and the "relatively young jargon-slingers" now. Ignoring them does not work.

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