Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Clouding the Issue 

Atrios points us to this interview with the author of the Ann Coulter/Time cover story. Note that I refrain from saying "Ann Coulter worshiping, lying sack of shit John Cloud", because he'd just start whining about how unfair that is. You know. How unfair it would be to give him the Ann Coulter treatment. But the piece is pretty hilarious, since Cloud proceeds to sink his foot in his mouth all the way up to his ass, and I thought I'd dissect some of his bigger outrages here.
Brian Montopoli: First things first: Why did you write the story? Did you pitch it, or did the editors come to you and say, "We want to do a cover on Ann Coulter?"

John Cloud: Last summer, you know, we put Michael Moore on the cover. And, by the way, at that time we didn't get quite the reaction, certainly not from the left, which seemed rather pleased with the cover we did on Michael Moore. You get it from both sides.
Hm. You mean the cover that asked, "Is Michael Moore Good for America?" That cover? Perhaps we didn't complain because, well, Michael Moore was on the cover. Never mind that the story tried to trash him. It's so hard to get any coverage of liberals in the so-called "Liberal Media."
As for how the story got suggested, I suggested it after the election. Ann Coulter [it seemed to me] had epitomized the way politics was discussed last year during the election.
Note the square brackets around "it seemed to me." Cloud didn't offer this qualifier the first time around. Looks like someone -- either Cloud or the editor or reporter -- stuck that in there so he wouldn't seem like quite as big a putz for making an absolute statement.
It was slash-and-burn, on both sides.
So... the last election was partisan, nasty, mud-slinging and vile. Yeah, that's shocking, deep-digging, cover-story news. Anyway, how come the Democrats get slammed in the media for doing the name-calling, and Coulter gets a cover story?
Her side won, rather decisively,
Ahemn. Horseshit
and it seemed the right time to figure out who was this force behind the way our political dialogue was being conducted.
So... why wasn't Karl Rove on the cover? Oh, yeah, right. He isn't pretty.
Ann Coulter is the person who is shaping the tone of this dialogue in many ways, and I thought it was time to examine her.
Should I even touch that one with a ten foot push-poll? No one takes Coulter seriously, on either side. The right recognizes as the shrill embarrassment that she is. The left just recoils in disgust at her comments. The previous two statements are my personal opinions from strictly anecdotal evidence -- which I will identify as such. Cloud will not. But, answer this question: if Coulter is "shaping the tone of this dialogue," why doesn't she have her own show on Fox or MSNBC or CNN? She's being marginalized within her own media -- the pretty chick with the saucy mouth.

Whew. Pardon me while I go wash my hands. Now, to continue... the reporter inquires as to whether the Coulter Cover has cheapened Time image, to which Cloud responds:
Well, this is just absurd. A few weeks ago, we put Jeffrey Sachs' book on how to end poverty on the cover. I mean, is that going to be a huge seller for conservatives? We did a piece on television indecency that basically concluded that the FCC had gone too far in regulating television. That was on the cover recently.
The "two rights undo a wrong" theory of journalism, apparently. Perhaps Sachs and the FCC were actual news stories, I dunno, just a hunch. And note the subtle "we're not conservative" defense in the choice of pointing out Time's response to the FCC. Not a surprising position, considering that the rag is part of a huge media empire that would very definitely suffer bottom-line issues were the FCC to keep pushing those fines.
I don't pick the covers, unfortunately -- I don't have that much power here --
A tad arrogant, aren't we?
but we did Michael Moore on the cover last summer, we've done, over the years, incredibly flattering covers on Hillary Clinton, on both of the Clintons, multiple times.
Prepare the one note symphony. "We covered Moore, so it's okay. We covered Moore, so it's okay." Repeat ad infinitum.

As for the Clintons, if someone would like to research, I'd bet that the stories were not all that flattering. Or, rather, I'll bet those pieces were "balanced," meaning plenty of rightwing commentators were asked to offer their smears... er, opinions of the Clintons.
We did Ann Coulter because she's an interesting figure.
Paging Sigmund Freud...
I could not care less what conservatives or liberals think of Time magazine's covers,
Which you don't select, and you certainly don't suffer any economic backlash when subscribers, right or left, tell the mag to piss off.
and if people read my work over the years -- I've been a journalist for ten years -- and if you read that body of work I think you'll see that I'm not trying to kiss up to conservatives.
Of course, prior to this piece and the attendant brouhaha, did anybody know who the hell John Cloud was?
And if you look at Time magazine, even over the last month, this idea that we're kissing up to conservatives is wrong.
Okay, let's have a look at the last month of covers...

April 18th -- the Time 100 special issue, all about "The lives and ideas of the world's 100 most influential people." Right underneath that, it highlights a few of them, in this order: Condoleeza Rice, Martha Stewart, Jon Stewart, Clint Eastwood, Oprah Winfrey and Karl Rove. That's three conservative, two liberal, and one undetermined. The authors: Henry Kissinger, Donald Trump, Tom Brokaw, Sean Penn, Gloria Steinem and James Carville. Damn that liberal media. I still haven't figured out how Condi hit the top of the cover list, although I'd hope she was nowhere near the top ten on the inside.

April 11th -- the special commenmorative Pope John Paul II issue. I'm sure there was plenty of criticism of the dead Pope and his conservative policies in here, right?

April 4th -- The End of Life -- Who Decides?, jumping all over the conservative cause (and non-story) of the week.

March 28th -- The FCC article mentioned by Cloud, completely with cover shot of model posting as a shocked and disgusted TV viewer. Content be damned, the cover leans toward the idea that, yes, your media has gone way too far.

March 21st -- Hail Mary. And no, this ain't a football issue. To quote the cover text: "Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus." All I can say to that one is, "What the fuck?"

Anyway, I don't see a whole lot of conservative standard-bearing on those covers, do you? Oops. Let me take off the sarcasm hat... We return now to our feature presentation, the Cloud interview. After questioning Eric Alterman's sources in the conservative accusation above, he goes on:
I think maybe Eric and Ann are in the same bunch. They also, by the way, use the same language. He calls Ann Coulter a name-caller, but he doesn't do anything in that screed against me except use sort of fancy name-calling. He says [the piece] is a "moral, professional, intellectual abomination" without making an argument about the actual substance of the piece.
I'll bet that this one is an outright lie. I can't find Cloud's source...
Instead, he picks up something from David Brock's Web site [Media Matters] and reprints it on MSNBC's website. Now David Brock is a very famous hater of Ann Coulter. They used to be friends, they're not friends anymore. He is also a serial liar.
Examples, Mr. Cloud? That's the standard to which you hold Mr. Alterman.
David Brock wrote a whole book saying, 'Oh, my other books? They were lies.' So I don't think David Brock has a lot of credibility on the question of Ann Coulter. And what they are doing is a smear job. That's his other history -- David Brock has a history of smear jobs. And this is a smear job against me personally.
Ah yes. Defend your work by attacking one critic via the work of another. Notice how he cleverly spun the discussion away from the original question? Did the article tarnish Time's reputation? I don't see the answer to that one in there...
BM: I realize you don't have a lot of faith in what the Media Matters people have been saying. But the one line [from the Time article] that seemed to upset a lot of people on the left was, "Coulter has a reputation for carelessness with facts, and if you Google the words 'Ann Coulter lies,' you will drown in results. But I didn't find many outright Coulter errors." I looked at the Media Matters stuff on Coulter. There were a lot of examples of what seem to me to be errors. Even if you don't think highly of David Brock, how do you respond to that?

JC: This one sentence in a 5,500-word piece has been worried over more than any other. Which is fine, I'm happy to defend it. My piece does not say that there are no Ann Coulter errors. In fact, I offer some Ann Coulter errors that we haven't seen before, and I quote people like Ronald Radosh at some length on the problems with the more recent book of hers, which is Treason. David Brock, who knew Ann Coulter from years ago, goes to a book that's years old, and prints some mistakes from that book, and of course [there are] mistakes. And a lot of them are corrected. If you go out and you buy a copy of Slander now, you won't find those mistakes in it, because the publisher has corrected them.
So... it's okay if Coulter corrects her earlier "mistakes" (cough... lies) but, see above, wrong when Brock does it? I'd buy Cloud's argument in favor of his article if he hand't just used the opposite argument against a critic. Later, Cloud says:
My story was not primarily about picking apart ... all 1,000 of Ann Coulter's columns or the hundreds and hundreds of pages that she's written in her books. My job in this story was not to be a fact-checker.
Well, I wonder what's missing under that ellipsis and, again, who made the change after the fact. And if you're profiling someone, why aren't you picking apart their writings? Didn't Cloud earlier use Coulter's supposed influence on the political debate as a defense of writing the article? Well, fine. Then why the hell aren't you analyzing what she's written as part of that article, given your thesis? Finally, the "my job in this story was not to be a fact-checker." Um... did you miss that class in Journalism School, John? You know -- the one where you learn, "Thou shalt not submit bullshit to a national news magazine"?

And etc. You can read the rest of Cloud yourself here, but you get the idea. He's giving a sloppy defense of a sloppy job, trying to divert the issue -- and nowhere does he succeed in actually defending the idea that Coulter was a newsworthy or interesting subject to cover.

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