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Wednesday, February 05, 2003
Eric Alterman has the first chapter to his new book, What Liberal Media? online. I will cover the first part of the chapter now (dealing with Anne Coulter's "Slander") and hit the second half (dealing with Bernard Goldberg's "Bias") a little later.

The first chapter mostly fulminates over the enormous success of two recent books alleging the liberal media really exists, "Bias" by Bernard Goldberg and "Slander" by Anne Coulter. Alterman believes the Liberal Media is "a myth to be certain but a useful one. If only it were true, we might have a more humane, open-minded, and ultimately effective public debate on the issues facing the nation." One wonders just how a "liberal media" would accomplish that, but it's a quibble.

As evidence, Alterman provides this backup:

'And even William Kristol, without a doubt the most influential Republican/neoconservative publicist in America, has come clean on this issue. "I admit it," he told a reporter. "The liberal media were never that powerful and the whole thing was often used as an excuse by conservatives for conservative failures."

Alterman tries to pull a clever switch here. He tells us that a prominent conservative (Kristol is nowhere near as influential as Alterman makes him out to be--surely Rush Limbaugh and a dozen or so other talk show hosts are more powerful) has owned up to the fact that there is no such thing as the liberal media. And yet what does he provide? A quote where Kristol says the liberal media are not all that powerful. That is not quite the same thing as saying they don't exist.

Alterman goes on to attack both "Slander" and "Bias". It is apparent that on the one hand he thinks both books trivial, but "I do not think they can go unanswered." Examples of how trivial he thinks the two books are abundant. "...both books are so shoddily written and "researched" that they pretty much refute themselves" "In fact, barely any of the major allegations in either book stands up to more than a moment's scrutiny" "Although I abhor the methods of both authors..."

Of course he does not really answer the books or their allegations. Instead he proceeds with some fairly snarky comments about Coulter. She's "a blonde bombshell pundette", a former "right-wing congressional aide" with "a mouth so vicious...", who appeared "on air in dresses so revealing they put one in mind of Sharon Stone in the film Basic Instinct. She's "malevolent" an "alleged constitutional scholar", and "has been accused of plagiarism". When comes time to actually mention the problems with her book, he suggests that we check his website (!) for appendix one--Fact-checking Anne Coulter. Okay, so I went there and the first criticism seems valid--if Jeffords in fact voted against Clinton's tax increase and in favor of Bush II's tax cuts, then she should not be claiming that he did the opposite.

But the second criticism is so silly, that even the American Prospect, which compiled the list, admits that it is not really fact checking. Coulter notes that in the immediate aftermath of September 11th, criticism of President Bush was muted. "This bipartisan lovefest lasted precisely three weeks. That was all the New York Times could endure. Impatient with the national mood of patriotism, liberals returned to their infernal griping about George W. Bush -- or "Half a Commander in Chief," as he was called in the headline of a lead New York Times editorial on November 5, 2001. From that moment on, the left's primary contribution to the war effort was to complain." As they point out it is closer to two months than three weeks from 9-11 to 11-5.

Coulter should have chosen an article to back up her "precisely three weeks claim", but it also seems obvious to me that she could have found those articles; indeed, in many of the political newsgroups on Usenet the bipartisanship of the left died within a week or two.

The third criticism isn't of something from the book, but of a comment she made on Crossfire. (So much for fact-checking the book, I guess). She guessed that the judges who ruled the Pledge of Allegiance were appointed by Democrats and not by Republicans. Note that she did not say that she knew this, she was just making a guess. As it turned out, only one of the judges had been appointed by a Democrat; the other was appointed by Nixon.

The fourth criticism reads as follows: FACT CHECK ANN COULTER!: LEXIS-NEXIS ABUSE. On page 15 of Slander, she writes: "In the New York Times archives, 'moderate Republican' has been used 168 times...There have been only 11 sightings of a 'liberal Republican.'" Coulter does not footnote her methodology in "discovering" this nugget, but we checked using both the Times's own free search page and Lexis-Nexis. Our results? Our Times search reveals twenty-two hits for "liberal Republican" since 1996 -- that is, in just the last seven years. For Lexis, we searched for "liberal Republican" in The New York Times over "all available dates" -- and got 524 documents. Coulter's claim is obviously false.

Okay, the New York Times lets you search their database, so I did. I found 149 articles by searching for "liberal Republican" since 1996, which is quite a bit more than either Coulter (11) or the American Prospect (22). I was unable to search all available dates. However, note what the American Prospect does NOT tell you--how many articles they found by searching for "moderate Republican". I got 835 articles. Thus, Coulter's essential point, that the NY Times uses the term "moderate Republican" far more often than "liberal Republican" is true. Just for fun, I tried "moderate Democrat", which only appeared in 184 articles. Apparently Democrats require the "moderate" or "good doggy" label far less often than Republicans. The term "liberal Democrat" also appeared far less often (388 articles) than "conservative Republican" (926) mentions.

There are more "errors" that the American Prospect claims to find, but these are presumably the strongest points they could make against "Slander". Pretty weak beer in my opinion.

Alterman goes on to attack Bernard Goldberg's "Bias", which I will cover in a later posting.


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