Pharyngula

No quarter. Don’t ask.

Lots of people have been telling me to ignore Ann Coulter: that she says outrageous things to get attention, that addressing her antics is exactly what she wants, that the best thing to do is to starve her of the publicity. I sympathize, I really do. It’s giving her and her kind far too much credit.

However, I’ve been hearing the same argument applied to creationists for about 25 years. “Ignore them and they’ll go away,” or “Serious scientists don’t pay attention to the lunatic fringe,” they say. We tend our little gardens, and we don’t worry about what the crackpot next door is growing in his. But hey, have you noticed something?

Neglect doesn’t work.

Here’s a counterargument: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil
is for good men to do nothing.” I’ve watched good people do nothing about creeping lunacy and anti-intellectualism for decades. I watched appalled when that senile fool Reagan was elected. I was even more appalled when George W. Bush, airhead extraordinaire and utterly unqualified ignoramus, became president. The citizenry howls to destroy the science standards in our public schools, or complacently votes to lower property taxes at the expense of our children’s minds. While we’ve quietly raised a rich crop in scattered little plots, we are about to be overwhelmed by the nightmarish weeds that overrun our neighbors’. We must stand up and shout, finally…and hope it’s not too late.

Now that doesn’t mean I’d give even a penny to Coulter for her hackwork. It doesn’t mean I would dignify her position by standing together in public with her. What it does mean is that at least some of us are obligated to stand against the tide of garbage and fight it. We have to be loud and we have to be vocal and we can’t afford to just shrug our shoulders and let it all pass. If we accept the idea that we’re wasting our time criticizing patent idiots, then we might as well retire silently with folded hands and let the liars and scoundrels and frauds and kooks continue their campaigns unhindered. It’s really worked well for us so far, hasn’t it?

And for those who think Coulter is a buffoon and clown and opportunist, it doesn’t matter how cynical she is, or whether she believes her own lies. Other people do. You don’t want to take her seriously? Too bad. They do.

Comments

  1. #1 CaptainMike
    June 14, 2006

    I agree with you entirely. Ignoring people like Ann Coulter is simply dangerous.

    Maybe I should pay more attention to punditry, but I had actually never heard of Coulter until two days. In the last two days I have learned one very important thing: she scares the shit out of me.

  2. #2 Orac
    June 14, 2006

    I agree. However, some have gone too far and suggested banning her idiotic book, something I cannot countenance. The answer to hateful, vile speech is not censorship. It’s to do what you’re doing and keep countering her fallacies over and over.

  3. #3 PaulC
    June 14, 2006

    that she says outrageous things to get attention, that addressing her antics is exactly what she wants, that the best thing to do is to starve her of the publicity.

    The key fallacy in this argument is that her publicity is coming primarily from her critics. If she could effectively be starved of publicity, that would help. But until the Today show stops inviting her back and until major publishers stop promoting her hate-screeds, she will have plenty of publicity no matter what we do. Worse, she will get the kind of publicity that creates a false impression of credibility. It might help a little to counter it by pointing out that she’s wrong about almost everything and explaining why. Anyway, I doubt it hurts.

    What would help a lot more is to hold the fire under the feet of her enablers. It’s fun to point out what a lunatic she is on blogs and comment boards, but we should be organizing mass letter-writing campaigns and potentially boycotts of shows like Today that misrepresent her as a credible source on anything. Until her corporate enablers can be convinced that there is an economic price to pay they will just continue with business as usual. Note that I am not advocating censorship, just consumer feedback. If you are in the business of broadcast journalism, them misrepresenting a raging hate-monger as a pundit or critic is the equivalent of marketing a shoddy product. They can keep selling it, but I’m entitled to tell them I don’t want to buy it.

  4. #4 LBBP
    June 14, 2006

    Well put!

    For anyone that needs an example of just how ineffective it can be to not confront the Coulters and Limbaugh’s of the world, need go no farther than Hannity & Colmes. Colmes sits by nightly and let’s Hannity run rough-shod all over him. The net result is that Colmes gives more credibility to Hannity than if he were not there at all. Oh, sure, occasionally you will here Colmes disagree, and he may even get in the face of a guest every now and then. But, when was the last time you heard Colmes cry “bullshit!” to Hannity’s face. Never. Of course if Colmes ever did they’d kick him off the show, but at least he would have demonstrated a back bone.

  5. #5 PZ Myers
    June 14, 2006

    I agree: no censorship of Coulter, and no willing self-censorship of our own opposition.

  6. #6 RavenT
    June 14, 2006

    Quite right, Orac. It must be tiring and frustrating, for example, to keep having to counter the Holocaust deniers again and again, yet I am very glad that you and others do it.

    Censorship makes them into martyrs; shining the light on them and their vile ideas for others to see is the way to go, even if it seems an endless task.

  7. #7 PZ Myers
    June 14, 2006

    I disagree that most of the publicity is coming from her critics. That’s a selective impression, because most of us here don’t read the right-wing noise machine: but they’ve been promoting the heck out of her book. It’s climbing the Amazon best seller lists — it’s #3 right now — and it is definitely not because hordes of gentle left-wingers have been buying it.

  8. #8 PaulC
    June 14, 2006

    I just realized that what I wrote was ambiguous. I meant that most of Coulter’s publicity is positive, and that it’s a fallacy to suppose that most of the publicity comes from her critics. This should be clear from the rest of what I wrote, but I now realize it was a very bad opening sentence.

  9. #9 Blader
    June 14, 2006

    It’s ironic and weird that she’s exploiting the very same media she rales against to promote her work.

  10. #10 Elizabeth Ditz
    June 14, 2006

    I quote from the header of Scoobie Davis’s Coulter-debunking blog:

    Why pay $27.95 to make a spoiled rich kid even richer? This is a free analysis of Ann Coulter’s new book Godless: The Church of Liberalism by blogger Scoobie Davis of Scoobie Davis Online–the same guy who helped expose Coulter’s book Slander as a fraud. Read the truth about Coulter’s book for FREE!

    http://godlessanncoulter.blogspot.com/

  11. #11 Millimeter Wave
    June 14, 2006

    However, I’ve been hearing the same argument applied to creationists for about 25 years. “Ignore them and they’ll go away,” or “Serious scientists don’t pay attention to the lunatic fringe,” they say.

    As one of the commenters who earlier urged not bothering to rebut her, I’d also disagree with this position.

    It’s not that she’ll go away if we ignore her; it’s that arguing with her won’t make her go away either, and only serves to make her target audience think she must be on to something.

    It’s an unfortunate situation, but when you have this much active promotion and such shameless appeal to people’s worst instincts, there isn’t much you can do…

    Ignoring her may not be a fix, but it may just be the best that can be done.

  12. #12 Ann Homily
    June 14, 2006

    Don’t ignore her — discredit her. Discredit her the same way the Republicans effectively discredited certain left-of-center personalities — but with coolheaded intellect, not with more punditry.

  13. #13 Gerard Harbison
    June 14, 2006

    Well, here’s my review, and a shameless plug for my blog.

    http://homepage.mac.com/gerardharbison/blog/RWP_blog.html

  14. #14 MattXIV
    June 14, 2006

    The net result is that Colmes gives more credibility to Hannity than if he were not there at all.

    Coming at this as a libertarian with approximately equal distaste for both the right and the left, I find that Hannity’s dishonesty and excitability makes Colmes, and by extension liberalism, look better. Hell, Hannity managed to make Ward Churchill sound reasonable when he was on.

    Colmes’ presence doesn’t legitimize Hannity – the only people who find Hannity legitimate already embrace a conservative worldview to the extent that they don’t need token opposition. Hannity is red meat for hardcore conservatives and Colmes is there so that they have someone for conservative guests to argue with.

  15. #15 Coragyps
    June 14, 2006

    I understand that Coulter is appearing on Jay Leno tonight. And George Carlin is, as well.

    There may not even be a greasy spot left where she sits….

  16. #16 Millimeter Wave
    June 14, 2006

    I understand that Coulter is appearing on Jay Leno tonight. And George Carlin is, as well.

    There may not even be a greasy spot left where she sits….

    Well, I’m sure it will look that way to all of us.

    Unfortunately, any members of Coulter’s target audience that might be watching (as if they’d actually watch Jay Leno… I mean, c’mon…) will be thinking “that godammned hippy is being mean to her!!!!”

    For all the desire to counter what she says, and however easy it might appear, you’re always going to be left with the problem that those people who are even remotely in need of persuading are, by definition, completely beyond reason.

  17. #17 Orac
    June 14, 2006

    I understand that Coulter is appearing on Jay Leno tonight. And George Carlin is, as well.

    There may not even be a greasy spot left where she sits….

    Maybe not. Remember, this is an entertainment show. I’m sure there are ground rules. They want “controversy” but not too much controversy, if you know what I mean. George Carlin’s been in show business a long time, long enough to know what they are and to know the penalty for violating them. I’m hoping he’s too old and curmudgeonly to care anymore, but he might not be.

  18. #18 Cayte
    June 14, 2006

    Why not take the advice often given to women with overly persistent admirers and say no once? Rebut each gobbledy gook claim once. Then move on to something more interesting like how fish got their scales.

    IMHO too much bandwith is wasted on the crossfire between creationists and evolutionary biologists.

    DISCLAIMER: This post should not be construed as safety or legal advice pertaining to stalking.

  19. #19 Unstable Isotope
    June 14, 2006

    Perhaps we can use her craziness for our own use, which we have been too timid to do for way too long. No less than Mary Matalin went on the air to defend her. You know, the Mary Matalin that works for Cheney. We should make sure and do this ourselves, ask if Cheney and Bush believe that the 9/11 widows are glad their husbands died, plus the numerous other statements she has made. This is a tactic the right has done to the left for many years. We need to wrap Coulter so tight with the Republican party that they have to disown her. Many on the right are realizing how much she can hurt them and that’s why they are trying to disown her pre-emptively.

    As for Coulter herself, I really just pity her. Despite all her riches, she must be a very lonely person.

  20. #20 udargo
    June 14, 2006

    I disagree with the idea that it is dangerous to ignore Coulter. The only responsible, effective response to her is to ignore her. Our failure to do that fuels her career as a shock-monger.

    Coulter doesn’t represent any political movement. She’s not working to advance any practical, systematic, political agenda. She’s not a young Hitler or Lenin. She’s really not a political entity at all.

    She hijacks politics for sport and entertainment. Her only agenda is to make herself rich and famous by saying the stupidest, most grotesque and provocative things she can think of. If anybody had any doubts about that, the excerpts from her book dealing with the 9/11 widows should have cleared it up. Her only value to her fans is in how they perceive her to be offending liberals. The more we let it be known she upsets us, the more she accomplishes the only thing she’s trying to accomplish. Every time you take her idiotic comments seriously enough to be angered by them, she wins.

    And that’s all she wants. It’s not like she’s trying to accomplish something else beyond provoking you. And it’s not like she or any of her fans are interested in whether you make good counter-arguments. Her fans know the score. They know she only says what she says to upset the people they like to see get upset. It’s all a show, like those nasty reality TV shows. Your outrage is a toy she plays with for the amusement of her fans. They know the things she says are bizarre and outrageous and that she doesn’t believe a word of what she says. But you take her seriously, and so the joke’s on you.

  21. #21 PaulC
    June 14, 2006

    Unstable Isotope:

    Despite all her riches, she must be a very lonely person.

    I vaguely recall reading about research showing that that the rich really are pretty happy about it and are definitely much happier than the poor.

    As much as I’d like to think Coulter is as miserable as she deserves to be, I suspect she just laughs herself silly every night thinking about all the “marks” she’s been able to con. When you’re a sociopath, you never feel alienated; you don’t give a rat’s ass.

  22. #22 Caledonian
    June 14, 2006

    How well has the strategy of opposing the evil worked for you? Public acceptance of various forms of creationism just keeps climbing. Coulter has never been more popular. Limbaugh keeps chugging on.

    Some fires you just have to let burn out. Prevent them from reaching more fuel, and they expend everything within reach.

    Isn’t this insistence on battle of yours really just a form of impatience that isn’t willing to wait for your enemies to destroy themselves?

  23. #23 Ed Darrell
    June 14, 2006

    She hijacks politics for sport and entertainment.

    That coarsening of culture, the denigration of discussion of great issues to cheap one-liners, is a threat to our democracy, and consequently a threat to the policy-making processes that have generally functioned to improve our living standards and levels of protection of human rights in this nation.

    PZ is right, Burke was right. Justice is the foundation of freedom. Justice requires constant vigilance by all citizens. If we do not make a point to disavow the politics and views of people like Ann Coulter, those views sucker in others who take our silence as assent.

    Ann Coulter’s urinating on our Constitution, on our Declaration of Independence, and on our flag, is repugnant. Her views tear at the fabric of human rights protection. All humans should repudiate those views.

  24. #24 tikistitch
    June 14, 2006

    As a scientist with some training in psychology, I’d say there’s room not only for countering Coulter’s silly misinformation with the truth, but also for analysis of Coulter herself, as well as her fan base. As Kathy Griffin remarked, why the heck did she show up for a morning TV program wearing a cocktail dress?

  25. #25 George
    June 14, 2006

    I’m in favor of responding to her attacks but also believe we should forcefully counterattack. The best defense is a good offense. They need to be put on the defensive by our side.

  26. #26 PaulC
    June 14, 2006

    Caledonian

    Coulter has never been more popular.

    I’m not sure this is true, but I don’t have the stats. I believe she is now less credible than she was in the past, particularly before she spazzed out after 9/11. There was a time when she was treated as a sort of serious “constitutional scholar” albeit a partisan one. That was during the Bill Clinton lynching proceedings. She’s now treated correctly as a pure partisan who makes lots of shocking statements. I don’t know if it has helped or hurt her popularity but it has removed her from certain venues, notably National Republic Online, which fired her back in 2001.

  27. #27 Caledonian
    June 14, 2006

    I did say popular, not respected.

    I know how good it feels to be a righteous Crusader, but it ultimately only reinforces the madness you intend to combat. You cannot fight appeals to emotion with more appeals to emotion.

  28. #28 Arun Gupta
    June 14, 2006

    Of course, all the sycophantic tendrils of the Republican Noise Machine have chimed in about the “far left” and ‘extremist” Daily Kos. Little do they seem to realize that the more they rant about blogs and this site, the bigger and more relevant we become. This site is a direct creation of conservative bloggers obsessed with everything on here. If the site was important enough for them to monitor, it must be important. Right? And so now the heavies join in — Hannity and Limbaugh and O’Reilly, and all they’re doing is making the site even more relevant. So, um. thanks guys.

    (The left could’ve learned the same lesson regarding Coulter. The more we protest her and bitch about her, the more books she sells and TV appearances she books. There’s no better way to kill an opponent in politics than to ignore him or her. If no one pays attention to you, you are no longer relevant.)

    Markos Moulitsas Zúniga
    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/6/14/17485/8292

  29. #29 Jethro Gulner
    June 14, 2006

    I agree that simply ignoring people like Coulter or the Creationists or Holocaust deniers or Moon Hoax proponents does nothing to make them go away and can often allow them to grow in popularity.

    On the other hand, going through a lot of effort to refute their positions may draw a lot of attention to them.

    Can we simply take the middle ground and say “everything [person X] says is totall BS. Don’t buy their book unless you like arguing with the people at the book store when you try to get your money back.”

  30. #30 udargo
    June 14, 2006

    That coarsening of culture, the denigration of discussion of great issues to cheap one-liners, is a threat to our democracy, and consequently a threat to the policy-making processes that have generally functioned to improve our living standards and levels of protection of human rights in this nation.

    I agree, Ed, that this coarsening of culture and denigration of discourse is a threat to our democracy. But that’s a byproduct of what she’s doing. It’s the toxic emissions resulting from the engine that drives her, if you will. And you do not combat it when you engage her and celebrate her as a contributor to public discourse, and thus fuel her engine. You combat it by refusing to acknowledge it as legitimate discourse and refusing to allow her to play her game. A game that denigrates discourse because it exploits sincere political beliefs for the entertainment value of shocking and upsetting sincere people.

    She’s not interested in debasing public discourse. That’s not her goal. She doesn’t care one way or the other about such things. It’s just a side-effect of her pursuing her true goal, which you assist when you engage her.

    She knows she’s talking out of her ass. Her fans know it. And they laugh at us when we take her seriously. Because we’re the only ones who are. And when we do that, we are the ones who are actually denigrating discourse.

  31. #31 G. Tingey
    June 15, 2006

    I just used the tag provided by PZ to register on “RightWingNews” and call COuter a liar over evolution and Global Warming.

    Everyone else do the same, please?

  32. #32 arensb
    June 15, 2006

    I’d love to see Coulter on the Daily Show. I can imagine her saying something outrageous, and Jon answering, “I like the way you’ve tied liberalism and communism. But you know what would be even better? Liberals with rabies and laser beams coming out of their eyes. And instead of global warming, use Godzilla.”

  33. #33 Chris
    June 15, 2006

    I followed O’Brien back to his lair and responded to him there, if anyone’s interested. In the spirit of the original post, I declined to let any stupidity pass unchallenged.

    It’s too bad Carlin didn’t step up to the plate; given his reputation as a bit of an attack-dog comedian in his day, it does sort of give the impression that he didn’t see anything worth attacking. I suspect backstage arm-twisting by Tonight Show producers etc. (“Nice retirement gig you got here. It would be a shame if anything was to happen to it.”), but maybe he just mellowed as he got older – some people do.

    If he relaxes too much he’ll become a has-been…

  34. #34 PaulC
    June 15, 2006

    I think Carlin is in some sense a has-been, but only because he’s a victim of his own success. He said things that were shocking 30 years ago. They weren’t evil or hateful things either–just words that went against our arbitrary standards of propriety.

    Ann Coulter manages to be shocking in an age when it’s more of a challenge, but only by making the most hateful, polarizing statements she can think of, often with specific targets (e.g. 9/11 widows). It’s to Carlin’s credit that he doesn’t go this route. I guess he could also be shocking if he espoused atheism openly on the Tonight show as several here have suggested. The problem is that it wouldn’t have been funny.

    It’s nice to have Carlin as an avuncular figure of the left–kind of like Vonnegut, who I know got into some trouble around here. I liked Carlin in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, for instance, but even then I didn’t think he was all that funny. I was also kind of astonished to sit down with my toddler to hear him narrating Thomas the Tank Engine; not a great display of his comic edge. Maybe his comedy just is’t my cup of tea. However, it’s unsurprising to me that he took a non-confrontational stance. Leno is supposed to be entertainment. People wait forever to get tickets and some people might have wanted to see the other guests and acts. Coulter or not, Carlin knew better than to show up and piss on anybody’s parade.

  35. #35 greensmile
    June 16, 2006

    PZ: I have linked here because I want to DO something about this toxic dance of faux conservative outrage and the media.
    Depending on the level of interest and insights that readers supply in the comments, I may try to go MoveOn one better with a tool/website that lets liberal’s be heard loud and clear in the offices where the advertising checks get written to support dreck such as Anngry Coulter lays on us.

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