Bad Journalism

So you know how Ann Coulter called John Edwards a "faggot"? Of course you do. You're surfing the World Wide Web right this second so you've probably seen some mention of it somewhere.

I could really care less about anything Coulter says. She's outrageous for the sake of outrageousness and it should be no surprise to anyone that the conservatives who applaud her, buy her books, and make her a multi-millionaire are hateful and bigoted people. The only reason this is a story is because she was sharing the same podium as some presidential nominees. Those nominees later criticized her. Big whoop. What I care about is The Washington Post's treatment of this story.

To wit:

At the end of her speech Friday, Coulter said: "I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word [expletive], so I'm kind of at an impasse."

The emphasis is mine. There's more:

...The most prominent newspaper coverage was at the bottom of a Los Angeles Times story (which used the word) and a mention in Dana Milbank's Washington Post column (which did not). Post editors decided then, and again for this story, that the controversy could be adequately explained without using the offensive word.

The Post editors are completely wrong. I'd go so far as to call them cowardly. Their decision to make a word unprintable regardless of its context is poor journalism. For people unfamiliar with the story, it makes the column a guessing game of slurs. The only hint is that the word is six letters. Granted that's a pretty big hint, but let's not overestimate the intelligence of the American public. There's a reason that papers are supposed to be written at a 4th-grade level.

Guessing that some people won't be able to guess the word may be a bit cynical (it's not like 4th graders don't know the word "faggot"), but omitting the word is an insult to the Post's readers. Who is going to be insulted by the word "faggot" in the Post? I am glad that the word is now so taboo that there's even a question of its prinatbility, but that doesn't mean that the Post can censor itself at the expense of describing a story in the clearest way possible. There are plenty of people who aren't even aware that "faggot" is now on the very short list of things you just can't say. The public scolding of Coulter could go a long way to make sure that the word remains out of bounds in public discourse. That is unless Coulter isn't even connected to the specific slur. The Post isn't making that connection.

To put it bluntly, which one of these totally hypothetical news stories is more shocking:

"Ann Coulter Calls Former President Bill Clinton a 'Nigger.'"


"Ann Coulter Calls Former President Bill Clinton a Taboo Slur Directed Towards African-Americans."

One of those headlines makes it clear how ugly and hurtful Coulter was. The other is useless. Same situation here. The Post's refusal to accurately describe how ugly and hurtful Coulter was to John Edwards and to homosexuals in general lessens the impact of the story. The Post is doing a disservice to its readers.


  1. lincolnparkerMarch 06, 2007

    I'm confused.

    You say, "The public scolding of Coulter could go a long way to make sure that the word remains out of bounds in public discourse."

    Then you scold the Post for keeping the word out of bounds in public discourse.

    If she's not allowed to say it, why is the Post obligated to print it?

    And how many 4th graders even read the Post? I'd be willing to bet more of them are on Youtube.

    And aren't they going to hate Ann when they're old enough anyway?

    And if they're saying "faggot" as a schoolyard taunt or something, shouldn't their parents or teachers tell them not to, as opposed to the Post?

    Eh, nevermind.

  2. Murder is also out of bounds in public discourse but the Post still reports it. I know that's taking your argument to a crazy extreme, but it's the job of the Post to report what happens no matter how nasty.


  3. This exlains it:


  4. You mean Ann Coulter's not a gay man herself? I always thought she was a long-distance running homosexual man, living proudly outside the closet. Look at her face. Ann's a man, baby. An ugly man.

  5. yournamehereMarch 07, 2007

    You know, there's plenty to hate about Ann Coulter without attacking her gender or orientation.
    Like that she is constantly attacking other people's gender or orientation.

  6. I agree. It's very tempting to go off on everything that's hideous about her (and there's definitely a lot to work with there). But I don't think the right response to hate speech is more hate speech. Do I think she's a nasty, skanky old broad? Yes. With an unusually large adam's apple, obvious roots, and split ends. But that's not really germaine to the fact that she's a spewer of hate and bile and people need to stop paying attention to her.

  7. She's damaged goods. I think it's relevant to ask why she and others like her behave that way. It's clear that something in her past formed her unique obsession and hatred towards gay men. Sure, people may toss a rhetorical insult when questioning her gender, orientation, and psychological well-being, but the premise is the same: why does a seemingly intellegent white well-off woman in her 40's proudly harbor such bigotry?

    Paging Dr. Frued.

  8. Rusty,

    Have you ever called anyone a "faggot" before?

  9. her mom should of had an abortion

  10. rusty, love the blog, but:

    Isn't the reaction really a bit overblown? I mean, the GBLTQ community uses "fag" playfully all the time. Also, while I think GLAAD has made a successful campaign of likening "faggot" to "nigger," I don't think them winning the PR battle has settled the argument. Substantively, homosexuality went into and out of vogue through our civilization, from persecution, to casual ambivalence, to simply looking the other way---whereas nigger is linked to a much darker history of brutal american slavery and bigotry-hatred. I realize that hate is hate and taboo words are taboo, but I reject their equivication.

  11. You are right. "Nigger" is the king of all slurs. I probably should have used a word with a slightly less problematic history like "beaner" for my hypothetical example.

    Actually, the WaPo did an article on the slur "beaner" and published the word a dozen times.


  12. I so agree. If she said it, run it. That's why it's called journalism, not PR.