October 16, 2007

Stop taking Ann Coulter seriously.

By now everyone under the sun has been subjected to commentary and analysis of Ann Coulter’s latest faux pas. Cable news channels have been devoting hours to her. The Anti-Defamation League has released numerous press statements. Traditional media outlets have joined the maelstrom too: The Los Angeles Times attempted to rouse its readers to action with a column titled, “Coulter’s anti-Semitic comments too dangerous to ignore.” In some dark recess of Cambridge, MA, Alan Dershowitz is probably wrapping up a book on the issue, and an exclusive Larry King interview with Coulter is sure to be in the works.

For those who have been living under a rock, the whole controversy started last week when Coulter appeared on the The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch and started raving about the benefits of living in an all-Christian society. After some give-and-take with Deutsch, Coulter encouraged Deutsch (who is Jewish) to come to church with her and informed Deutsch that Christianity is just “perfected Judaism.”

Offensive? Yeah.

But this is just more of the same from Coulter. This woman derives all her popularity from the controversies she creates. She’s become the Paris Hilton of punditry.

Coulter has the unique skill of saying things that shock and disturb mainstream America—an ability that she has used to her full advantage. Her books are extremely popular. Godless, in which Coulter argues that 9/11 widows are “enjoying their husbands’ deaths,” debuted number one on the New York Times bestseller list. Six of her seven books have appeared on the Times’s list.

Now, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that there might be some connection between her popularity and her ability to generate hullabaloo. But if you take a couple minutes to compare the dates, it’s uncanny how she almost always tends to offend the nation right around a book release. In fact, by this point, her formula for success is pretty tried and true:

Step 1: Write a terrible, inflammatory, and offensive book that vilifies liberals and/or sanctifies radical conservatives. This time the book is called If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans.

Step 2: Say or write something absolutely offensive and absurd. Earlier this month, Coulter was probably trying to make headlines when she told the New York Observer how the country would be better if women didn’t have the right to vote (because they tend to vote Democrat), but that one didn’t get much traction in the media, so she decided to go the anti-Semitic route. She pulled the same stunt in 2002. After the publication of Slander she told the press that it was too bad that Timothy McVeigh didn’t bomb the New York Times offices. When Godless was released in paperback, Coulter went onto Deutsch’s show and claimed that Bill Clinton showed some “level of latent homosexuality,” and then told Chris Matthews the next day that Al Gore was a “total fag.”

Step 3: Laugh all the way to the bank. These controversies only hype up the release of her already-popular books and add to her right-wing street cred.

If you pay close enough attention, her absurd statements tend to always have a shred of credibility when you look at it from the perspective of, say, Rush Limbaugh. I mean, if I’m a right-wing Christian who has never devoted more than 10 seconds to the idea of religious tolerance, I’m going to find Coulter’s arguments with Deutsch pretty compelling. Similarly, if I’m a Republican who hates Bill Clinton with all my heart, I’m going to find her accusation that he’s gay amusing and the corresponding backlash from liberals pretty funny.

But, more importantly, the reaction her comments get from the mainstream media tends to prove her point. When “godless” columnists and pundits call for newspapers to stop publishing her columns she only becomes more of a folk hero to her fan base. When NPR-loving bookstore owners consider not selling her books, Coulter’s jihad against all things liberal starts to seem valid to her demented readers.

The crazy thing isn’t that Coulter keeps doing this—And why would she stop? It’s ingenious—it’s that the press plays along. Newspapers continue to print columns that only enhance her popularity. Pundits invite her on their shows in an attempt to show the error of her ways, but in the end she always seems to win.

It’s time to end this silly charade. Feigning ignorance really shouldn’t be enough anymore. The media is free to continue rallying its liberal base by attacking Coulter, but acquiring readers by capitalizing on controversy is really no different from what Coulter does. It’s ridiculous that the media can simultaneously cover this woman’s actions and still claim some sort of moral high ground.

It’s time to stop acknowledging Coulter and start marginalizing her.

Alec Brandon is a fourth-yeara in the College majoring in economics. His column appears every other Tuesday.