Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Leftover Coulter Questions

The Ann Coulter f-word flap has come and mostly gone, but it has left some interesting questions to ponder/pundit. Among them:

Why did the mainstream media covering the CPAC conference mostly ignore Coulter's inflammatory comments about John Edward in their initial coverage? Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz has a revealing piece today exploring that issue, and there seems to be no good explanation, at least coming from the reporters Kurtz quoted.

That leads to another question being asked by some liberal bloggers: does the MSM have a double standard when it comes to covering "conservative flamethrowers" like Coulter? Kos makes that case to Kurtz, comparing the coverage of Coulter's bigoted comment to that of the Edwards bloggers' offensive anti-religious diatribes.

I can't help but think that this is another case of the liberal blogosphere's shoulder-chipped paranoid tendencies clouding their judgment. I agree that the MSM badly underplayed this story, especially given the prominence of the gathering and blase response from the conservative bigwigs there. But there's just no hard evidence that it was due to ideological or partisan favoritism.

Ironically enough, Kos offered probably the most rational explanation for why the story was underplayed and discounted his own conspiracy theory in the process when he pointed out to Kurtz that "there's the notion that this is her shtick and this is how she sells millions of books." Which is to say that Coulter is a professional food-fighter and the political press as such doesn't take her over-the-top comments seriously.

But that leaves the question of whether the two Edwards-related controversies were really comparable. I just don't see how you can credibly equate the two. Coulter is a made-for-cable free agent gadfly who has made similarly ugly comments in the past (i.e., she really didn't break new ground). The Edwards bloggers were employees of a major presidential campaign whose plight was made into a major test of the blogosphere's potency (i.e., very new and very different).

That's not an excuse for underplaying the Coulter story. It's just recognizing that Kos and company are on shaky ground in using the equal treatment argument to hold the MSM accountable for missing the boat at the CPAC conference. The case against the Coulter coverage stands on its own.

The real disparity of note here is how differently the partisans on each side responded to these different controversies. While the far left aggressively defended the Edwards bloggers up until they resigned and most establishment Democrats kept silent for fear of offending the Netroots, as soon as the Republican candidates and the conservative blogosphere saw the Coulter story threatening to get legs and inflict real damage, they did not hesitate to denounce Coulter's comments and put a cap on the flap.

(FYI: For a good example of the conservative critique of Coulter, check out Cliff Kincaid's column over at Accuracy in Media. I was particularly struck by his take on the moral equivalency issue.)

What does that say about the relative pragmatism of the two parties and their leading opiners? Are the Republicans/conservatives better at neutralizing their libelous liabilities? Or are they just less scared of the bloggers on their side? My guess is that the Kossacks will give us plenty of opportunities over the course of this campaign to test those propositions.

The difference is that Coulter criticized one person while the Edwards bloggers criticized huge swaths of the population. One is just going to be more newsworthy.
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