Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Uncertain Role: Ann Coulter in the Media

Lauren Thomas

The celebrity pot-stirrer, conservative queen of controversy Ann Coulter is one of today’s most popular but confusing devil’s advocates: Although her comments are usually received as offensive or simply polemic, Coulter has nevertheless convinced many viewers around the world that her extreme opinions represent those prevalent within the Republican Party. In her essay “My Beef with Ann Coulter,” Meghan McCain, daughter of the latest Republican presidential candidate, diagnoses the damage Coulter has inflicted on a party starved of young supporters and illustrates a character whose true role in the media remains chaotically unclear.

Ann Coulter usually participates in an interview with an air of business-like, matter-of-fact sincerity while making outlandish and even offensive remarks that are seldom accompanied by humorous reassurances; and yet, if not intended to be funny, her comments can incite only outrage among most viewers, causing people to question her role in the media. The audience is consequently left to wonder whether Coulter’s insensitive “statements [are] just gimmicks to gain publicity for her books” or if “she actually believes the things she says” (McCain).

As a New York Times best-selling author, Coulter is summoned to interviews to answer to various political controversies surrounding the contents of her publications, but often the comments she ends up making on television overshadow any controversy she was originally meant to address. For example, on a live television interview with Chris Matthews on Hardball Plaza to discuss her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism, she ends up openly encouraging the U.S. armed forces to adopt a policy of attacking innocent civilians in the Middle East to gain the upper hand in the War on Terror, not offering a single hint she may be joking (Coulter).

Chris Matthews slams Ann Coulter
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MSNBC: Ann Coulter on "Hardball Plaza" with Chris Matthews. From DailyMotion.

As a result, she has angered an audience and provided no feasible solution, and the seriousness of her suggestion has eliminated even the slightest glimmer of redeeming humor. What, then, are her intentions? As McCain suggests, Coulter’s method could simply be a very effective marketing scheme, and her comments purposefully inflammatory to rush both opponents and admirers to bookstores.

However, McCain concedes that Coulter “does appeal to the most extreme members of the Republican Party” and that “the cult that follows Coulter cannot be denied,” and so her ideas are actually seriously considered and books lovingly discussed by small but vocal group of people, and because of this following, Coulter assumes the role as not just a pot-stirrer but a type of political commentator (McCain). Certainly the “dying-out,” far right-wingers revel in a voice that communicates their ideas, usually not as heinous as supporting war crimes, to a vast, usually inaccessible audience and see Coulter’s brash method of controversy as one of the only effective means left of bringing attention to their cause.
One of these responsibilities is to try and communicate one’s actual political opinions successfully and promote one’s cause, but Ann Coulter tarnishes the effectiveness of her arguments and damages the image of the Republican Party to which she “belongs” by creating, with a seemingly intentional lack of tact, unnecessary negative feelings and personal conflict. As a result, she is usually more harmful than of any help.

And Coulter does indeed have a wide audience: She is often featured on main political news programs and talk shows that are viewed across the country and world. On one of such mainstream television interviews, as Jewish host Donny Deutsch presents questions about a book Coulter wrote, Coulter attempts to establish a type of religious ethos by proclaiming herself Christian, but then proceeds to inform Deutsch that Christians like her are “perfected Jews” (Columnist).

CNBC: Ann Coulter on "Big Idea", Donny Deutsch. October 2007.

Deutsch becomes so stunned and insulted by this comment (a reaction Coulter must have foreseen) that he signals a commercial break in order to recollect his nerves, calling her comments “absurd” and “anti-Semitic” (Columnist).

Coulter has described herself in the past as a “polemicist”, or one who addresses issues others are too afraid or too indoctrinated to confront, and society needs such people to bring to light problems which might otherwise be ignored; not to mention Coulter is perfectly within her First Amendment rights to say whatever she might like about theological issues (Ann). Furthermore, Coulter’s comment is open to misinterpretation by people who don’t immediately understand her theology, for as she proceeds to explain after the fact, Jesus (also a Jew)  came to fulfill the Old Testament with the New, making those who accept Him as their Savior fulfilled, or perfected, Jews, and so the comment isn’t necessarily “anti-Semitic” (Columnist). But such a tactless, blunt comment to Deutsch fails to successfully promote any kind of issue. Instead, it creates a dark mood of tension and shifts the audience’s attention away from the actual topic at stake–what Coulter’s version of a perfect society would look like–to the negative consequences of her comments.

Meghan McCain compares this typical Coulter chain of events to a “watching a train wreck”, but is not so much concerned for Coulter’s image as for that of the Party about whose future McCain has a deep personal interest (McCain). By directly associating herself with a political party, Coulter abandons a role of lone polemics to adopting a public image as a supporter and spokesperson for Republicans, and as a result, everything she says can and will be held against the Party, at least by the many who don’t know any better. 


Finally, Coulter ignores the responsibility of focusing on the promotion of her own views and instead seeks to villainize the other side, even at the expense of the Party and her own credibility. McCain is repulsed by Coulter’s commitment to “hate and negativity” and describes as “extreme” the “public statements she makes about liberals” (McCain). The very titles of her books convey Coulter’s commitment to demonizing opponents: All but one of the seven contain the word “liberal” or “democrat” in a negative sentence, such as, If Democrats Had Any Brains They’d Be Republicans or Guilty: Liberal Victims and their Assault on America (Biography). Clearly her primary method to raise Republicans is to bring down liberals by casting them in the most negative light possible. Ann Coulter: If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans.

And the Republican Party is not the only entity that suffers from these scare tactics; Ann Coulter herself undermines her own ethos as an educated Christian by villainizing people for things that have no basis in fact. For example, Coulter recently attacked the minister Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, by saying he “wasn’t a Christian” but a Jewish person in disguise because he is an opponent of school-led prayer, and advertises that "the first person to post Barry Lynn's bar mitzvah photos or birth announcement wins a free copy of [her] latest book." (Lynn). Perhaps some opponents of separation would chuckle at Coulter’s comment, and Lynn good-heartedly tries to cast the incident in a comedic light by responding with a picture of himself as a child with alien parents (Lynn).

Barry Lynn

Lynn, Barry. 13 August, 2009.

But the damage is done: Coulter has conveniently forgotten that practicing Jews also engage in prayer at least three times a day, and senselessly accusing a person of not truly being a member of a faith of which they are an ordained minister is a serious insult.

Coulter thus reveals a tendency to not work within logic or even show respect to or cooperation with leaders of her own religion, and this alienates her from educated Christians who make up a large portion of this country’s population and consequently damages her credibility.

Ann Coulter’s role in today’s media is frustrating to people across the political spectrum. Though she obviously wishes to make a large imprint on political life, the brash manner in which she attempts this feat destroys her credibility among those who wish for logical and productive political discussion. Instead of effectively acting as a comedian or legitimate commentator, she has achieved an unstable hybrid role that threatens to flood political culture not with logical argument or consideration, but with degeneration and chaos.

Works Cited
“Ann Coulter.” Goodreads. Goodreads, Inc., n.d. Web. 7 Mar. 2010. .

“Biography: Ann Coulter Biography.” Bio: True Story. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. .

“Columnist Ann Coulter Shocks Cable TV Show, Declaring ‘Jews Need to Be Perfected by Becoming Christians.’” Fox News Online. Fox News Network, LLC, 11 Oct. 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2010.,2933,301216,00.html

Condon, Stephanie. “Ann Coulter: Sarah Palin’s Created More Jobs Than Obama.” CBS News: Politics. CBS Interactive, Inc., 20 Feb. 2010. Web. 28 Feb. 2010.

Coulter, Ann. “Hardball Plaza.” Interview by Chris Matthews. Hardball with Chris Matthews. MSNBC. 26 June 2007. Television.

Lynn, Barry W. "When Ann Coulter attacks: my latest interaction with America's 'public intellectual'." Church & State 62.8 (2009): 23. Academic OneFile. Web. 29 Mar. 2010.

McCain, Meghan. “My Beef with Ann Coulter.” The Daily Beast. RTST, Inc., 9 Mar. 2009. Web. 8 Mar. 2010.

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