Puff Piece?

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Ann Coulter isn’t rich and (in)famous because the MSM has been soft on her. Precisely the opposite is true. Every time the mainstream media writes a story about the outrage caused by one of her extremely deliberate insults, Coulter sells more books and lands another lucrative speaking gig. The chronicling of that outrage, which many Swampland commenters share, fuels her notoriety, which in turn enhances her status among fans. It’s hard to say who hates the MSM more these days — conservatives or liberals — but conservatives have been doing it longer. What they see when the MSM writes about Coulter is that she annoys the media. And many of them love her for that.

The short article I wrote on Coulter two years ago was part of the TIME 100. Yes, I was assigned the piece. I wasn’t bureau chief at the time, but that’s irrelevant because I had no problem writing it. She was chosen for the TIME 100 because of her influence — for better or worse. And contrary to what some readers insist, the article was not fawning or uncritical. I called her “malice incarnate to her critics” and the “right-wing pinup of partisan vitriol.” I listed some of her worst offenses to date. And, of course, I said she was “irresistible and influential, whether you like it or not.” She’s irresistible not in the adorable sense but in the literal sense, no matter how you feel about her. I’m sure as many people who despise her as appreciate her rushed to their computers to click on the video of her latest outrage the minute they heard about it. The whole point of the piece was that some people love her and others loath her. You or I may count among the latter, but it’s simply incontestable that she has a large following out there. Here, from the April 18, 2005, issue of Time, is the piece:

To Ann Coulter, liberals are worse than wrong; they are traitors out to destroy the American way of life. That view is at the core of her columns, her TV appearances and her best-selling books. But it is not just her perspective that has made Coulter, 43, an icon to her fans and malice incarnate to her critics. It is the way she delivers it–in ferocious, lucid, hyperbolic bursts of invective. It helps too that she is a tall, thin, attractive blond who favors miniskirts and furs. Coulter is the right-wing pinup of partisan vitriol.

She has been an avowed conservative since her grade-school teacher preached against the Vietnam War (she argued back). Armed with a law degree, she arrived in Washington in 1995, just as a new G.O.P. Congress, a scandal-prone Democratic President and the explosion of cable-TV shoutfests were about to converge into punditry’s perfect storm. A star was born. Her penchant for the outrageous cost her a perch at MSNBC in 1997 after she told a disabled Vietnam vet, “No wonder you guys lost.” After 9/11, she reacted to Muslims who celebrated the attacks by writing, “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” National Review Online soon dropped her syndicated column.

In her books, Coulter can be erudite and persuasive, as when she exposes the left’s chronic softness on communism. But her signature is her gleeful willingness to taunt liberals and Democrats, to say out loud what some other conservatives dare only think–that Bill Clinton is a “horny hick,” for example, and his wife “pond scum.” It’s what makes Coulter irresistible and influential, whether you like it or not. –By James Carney