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Coulter's questionable corrections

By Bryan Keefer
October 23, 2003

Ann Coulter, whose error-filled work has recently come in for increasing scrutiny, is firing back at her critics in a new syndicated column. And, while she admits to correcting a few of the numerous errors in her book Slander, some of those corrections are no better than her original mistakes.

In the column, Coulter dodges most of the criticism of Slander, relying instead on twisted parsings of criticisms, straw-man arguments, and ad hominem attacks on critics (similar to her response to our criticism of her latest book Treason in a recent radio interview with Alan Colmes).

In a few places, however, Coulter does respond substantively. She notes that she made "about five inconsequential errors" in Slander, which she corrected in later editions. However, two of her corrections don't stand up to close scrutiny. She claims to have corrected her false assertion that the New York Times failed to print a front-page story about the death of NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt until three days after it had taken place (the Times printed a front-page story on his death the day after it happened). Coulter calls this mistake "the only vaguely substantive error the Ann Coulter hysterics have been able to produce". However, all Coulter did was delete the sentence making that assertion; the offending paragraph still implies that the Times didn't print a story until the third day:

The day after seven-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion Dale Earnhardt died in a race at the Daytona 500, almost every newspaper carried the story on the front page. Stock-car racing had been the nation's fastest-growing sport for a decade, and NASCAR the second-most-watched sport behind the NFL. More Americans recognize the name Dale Earnhardt than, say, Maureen Dowd. (Manhattan liberals are dumbly blinking at that last sentence.) Demonstrating the left's renowned populist touch, the New York Times front-page article on Earnhardt's death three days later began, "His death brought a silence to the Wal-Mart." (paperback edition, page 261; original in hardcover edition, page 205)

Coulter makes an equally misleading correction to a comment about media coverage of former Vice President Al Gore. In the first edition of the book, she writes that "the press maintained radio silence on stories embarrassing to Gore." She continues, "In a highly publicized stop at Monticello during Clinton's 1993 inaugural festivities, Gore pointed to carvings of Washington and Benjamin Franklin and asked the curator: 'Who are these guys?' He was surrounded by reporters and TV cameras when he said it. Only one newspaper, USA Today, reported the incident." (hardcover edition, page 138) However, as The American Prospect's weblog Tapped pointed out, at least four US newspapers - USA Today, the New York Times, the Washington Times, and Newsday - reported the incident, in addition to the Evening Standard of London and an Associated Press wire story that may have been picked up in other papers.

Unfortunately, even when correcting herself, Coulter still can't get her facts right. On page 176 of the paperback edition Coulter corrects the count to "three newspapers," ignoring the Washington Times and the Associated Press stories. Nor does she correct Gore's quote, which actually read "Who are those people?"

In his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, Al Franken notes that Coulter incorrectly claims that Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas is the son of Socialist president candidate Norman Thomas (he is actually the grandson of Norman Thomas). Franken turns it into a joke about Coulter's use of endnotes, intentionally making the correct relationship difficult to find by placing it in an endnote at the back of the book. Coulter evidently missed the joke, since she claims in her column that "Franken drones on for a page and a half about how Norman Thomas was not Evan Thomas's father - without saying that he was Evan's grandfather." (Franken also notes that Thomas was the socialist candidate for president six times, not four as Coulter claims - she did not correct this).

Throughout Slander, Coulter represents quotations from sources or views attributed to those sources as being from media outlets themselves, an extremely disingenuous practice. In her latest column, she defends her actions:

I wrote: "For decades, the New York Times had allowed loose associations between Nazis and Christians to be made in its pages." Among the quotes I cited, one came from a New York Times book review. The quote made a loose association between Nazis and Christians. New York Times book reviews are printed in the pages of the New York Times. The Times allowed that quote to run in its pages. How else, exactly, are you suggesting I should have phrased this, Ed?

Coulter is selectively quoting herself. On pages 114-115 of the hardcover edition of Slander, she introduces the quotes with "For decades, the New York Times has allowed loose associations between Nazis and Christians to be made in its pages. Statements like these were not uncommon: 'Did the Nazi crimes draw on Christian tradition?' ... 'the church is "co-responsible" for the Holocaust' ... 'Pope Pius XII, who maintained diplomatic ties with Hitler.'" [ellipses in original] In context, she is clearly implying that those statements are the editorial position of the Times - a fact she obscures in her column. As Franken points out, the first quotation summarized an issue under debate - the full quote continues, "Or did Nazism draw instead, as the Roman Catholic Church has argued, on pagan ideas that were distinctly anti-Christian?" And he also notes that Coulter's second quotation is a statement attributed to another writer.

Coulter's corrections do little to correct her numerous misrepresentations and distortions. Nor does she deal with the flawed methodology that she used for a number of claims based on results in the Nexis news database. The trivial number of corrections to Slander, as well as Coulter's refusal to engage her critics on most of the substantive issues they have raised, suggest that she's more interested in advancing her political agenda than factual accuracy.

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