In a column about the recent sexual harassment claims against Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, New York Times pundit Maureen Dowd writes:
Ann Coulter has a point when she says that feminists rewrote their own rules on sexual harassment to support Bill Clinton. It is never right for any boss, especially the president of the United States, to mess with an intern, even if she’s the aggressor.
But Coulter falters when she charges that, like Clarence Thomas, Cain is the victim of a high-tech lynching, that “if you are a conservative black, they will believe the most horrible sexualized fantasies of these white women feminists.”
What, one must ask, could Dowd have been thinking? In the first place, she is forcing us to remember her own heartless and obsessive treatment of young Monica Lewinsky, who was helpless to fight back against Dowd’s nasty comments about her imperfect body and other human shortcomings.
But for goodness’ sake. Ann Coulter? That’s who Dowd felt a need to quote so respectfully on this topic? The same woman who said, “My only regret with Timothy McVeigh is he did not go to the New York Times building”?
No need to personalize this, however. If Dowd doesn’t mind treating as a sensible and respectful source a woman who joked about the mass murder of her friends and colleagues, how about these other Coulter quotes:
- On Bill Clinton: "In this recurring nightmare of a presidency, we have a national debate about whether he ‘did it.’ … otherwise there would be debates only about whether to impeach or assassinate."
- On executing liberals: “We need to execute people like John Walker in order to physically intimidate liberals, by making them realize that they can be killed too. Otherwise they will turn out to be outright traitors.”
- On women’s suffrage: “I think [women] should be armed but should not vote. … women have no capacity to understand how money is earned. They have a lot of ideas on how to spend it. … it’s always more money on education, more money on child care, more money on day care.”
- On women’s suffrage, again: “It would be a much better country if women did not vote. That is simply a fact. In fact, in every presidential election since 1950 – except Goldwater in ’64 – the Republican would have won, if only the men had voted.”
- On homosexuality in the Clinton administration: "I don’t know if [former President Bill Clinton is] gay. But [former Vice President] Al Gore—total fag."
I actually got to know Coulter before anyone had ever heard of her. We were both hired by MSNBC when the station first began, back in 1996, to fill up airtime with our arguments while the station figured out what it was going to do with itself. Just a congressional aide at the time—to an Arab American no less—Coulter would say some of the craziest things ever said on American television up until that time—and then top herself by saying something crazier. Coulter was eventually fired by MSNBC for attacking a legless Vietnam vet on the air, but by then, conservatives, with the help of a mindless mainstream media, had already made her into a star.
Seven years into this process, back in 2002, I wrote in The Nation:
It’s degrading to have to write about Coulter again. As a pundit, she is about on a par with Charles Manson, better suited to a lifelong stay in the Connecticut Home for the Criminally Insane than for the host’s seat on Crossfire. Her books are filled with lies, slander and phony footnotes that are themselves lies and slanders. Her very existence as a public figure is an insult to our collective intelligence.
This column obviously had no impact on anything. The hot air balloon that is Coulter’s hate-filled invective continued to expand until it spawned so many imitators that it practically has its own political party. And Dowd is empowering this by pretending that the woman is worth quoting on The New York Times op-ed page on anything. Even more irresponsibly, she ignored the genuinely significant content of Coulter’s hateful remarks: “Our blacks are so much better than their blacks,” Coulter insisted. And taking it a step further, she even referred to Cain’s sexual harassment allegations as a “high-tech lynching.”
So it’s not true, as Dowd writes, that Coulter “faltered.” Coulter did her job, which is to spread hatred and stupidity in equal measure as far and wide as the media will allow. It was Dowd who “faltered” in inviting her to do so, as if sensible readers of the nation’s most important and influential op-ed page should concern themselves even for a millisecond with what this right-wing rodeo clown thinks or says about anything.
As with the late, unlamented Sen. Joe McCarthy—of whom Coulter remains an unapologetic cheerleader—she corrupts us merely by our association with her species and coarsens our culture by her very presence in it. Shame on Maureen Dowd for enabling her to do so with the imprimatur of The New York Times.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is also a columnist for The Nation, The Forward, and The Daily Beast. His newest book is Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama. This column won the 2011 Mirror Award for Best Digital Commentary.