Sometimes new books are released with a bang.
The author makes the rounds of the morning news and late night talk shows, excerpts from the manuscript appear in a glossy New York-based magazine and advance reviews show up in all the right places.
On the other hand, sometimes a new book is released with something less than a whimper, arriving in bookstores with little fanfare, modestly promoted if at all -- yet it still becomes a best seller.
Ann Coulter's first book, "High Crimes and Misdemeanors," is a good example of the latter construct in action. Almost universally condemned by the smart set, it nevertheless flew off the shelves as it was hailed by word of mouth.
If Coulter's new book were just another conservative public policy tome, it would likely have been greeted with the same coolness as her first. This book is a frontal assault on the American news and information business' self-important media types. It challenges the objectivity they try so hard to project, so much so that the people that she skewers are queueing up to interview her, looking for a chance to respond to her thesis.
The book is hot.
"Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right" (Crown Publishers, $25.95, 256 pages) is an in-your-face examination of how the country's media institutions and journalists are active and, at least from Coulter's viewpoint, something more than neutral participants in the way public policy issues are debated and distorted.
The book is almost certain to be one of the best-selling books of summer 2002. For the same reasons it is already selling well -- it hit the No. 1 spot on Amazon.com's list the day Coulter was interviewed by NBC's Katie Couric -- it will also likely be one of the most under-reviewed works. The same people whom she accuses of deliberately distorting the debate do not want the book to be taken seriously.
"At a time when Democrats and Republicans should be overwhelmingly congenial," Coulter writes, "American political debate has become increasingly hostile, overly personal, and insufferably trivial. And it's the fault of the liberals."
This thesis has already provoked vigorous debate in the places where the free exchange of ideas flourishes.
As she puts it, "Cultlike in their behavior, vicious in their attacks on Republicans, and in almost complete control of mainstream national media, the left has been merciless in portraying all conservatives as dumb, racist, power hungry, homophobic and downright scary."
A number of media stars have reacted angrily to her assessment, denouncing it out-of-hand without bothering to examine the examples she sets forth.
As Coulter writes, the outcome of the 2000 presidential election is still in dispute in some quarters.
In her eyes this is not an accident. Keeping the idea alive that former Vice President Al Gore was the actual winner of the election has become a cottage industry on the left.
Coulter encapsulates all of the theories into a brief recounting of the charges leveled by journalists -- not political partisans but supposedly objective reporters -- at Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the Supreme Court, and the Bush campaign.
She paints a very convincing picture of how the major news organizations in America legitimized the impression the Democrats wanted to convey that a conspiracy was underway to steal the election -- beginning the very next morning.
As almost everyone knows by now, Bush cousin John Ellis worked on the Fox News Channel's election desk. The cousins talked by telephone several times on election night.
At 2:16 Wednesday morning, Eastern Standard Time, Fox called the state of Florida -- and the election -- for George W. Bush.
Because Fox News Channel is not explicitly liberal in its reporting and outlook, journalists, media critics and some politicians label it right wing and conservative.
The conventional press treated the suggestion that Bush cousin John Ellis called Florida for Bush -- an effectively handed him the White House -- as a serious charge. The not-too-subtly delivered inference was that this was nepotism at its worst, abetted by Ellis' ideologically-sympathetic employers, FNC head (and former Bush 41 media strategist) Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch, the principal owner of the network.
What is lost in this grand theory, as Coulter explains, is that there were not too many votes that shifted as a result of Fox's decision, since 2:16 a.m. on the East Coast is 11:16 p.m. on the West Coast and most all polling places are closed.
It is indisputable, however, that the other networks -- the ones not thought of as right-wing or conservative -- along with the Associated Press originally awarded the state to Gore while the polls in Florida were still open.
Coulter explains it thus: "The networks' open partisanship on behalf of Al Gore on election night was far more egregious than anything they impute to John Ellis in their neurotic, legalistic fantasies. By prematurely and incorrectly calling Florida for Gore, the networks actually cost Bush votes." Some studies suggest that the decision to award Florida to Gore while polls in part of the state were still open could have denied Bush as much as 20,000 additional votes.
"Ellis's position on the Fox News decision team became part of an all-out media witch hunt. Noticeably, the nation's editorial pulpits expressed absolutely no interest in the network's incorrect projections for Gore. It was only the correct call for Bush that led to blinding outrage," she writes.
As much as the targets of Coulter's criticisms may try to deny them, she helpfully backs up her assertions with facts -- something she says the elite media repeatedly continues not to do. Citing the alleged media obsession with portraying Republicans as either mean or dumb, she recounts how former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich was portrayed on the cover of Time magazine as the "The Grinch" about to steal Christmas, that is welfare, from the poor down in Poorville.
When Bill Clinton signed welfare reform into law, after the Republicans led by a perseverant Gingrich passed it in Congress, it suddenly wasn't such a mean thing to do anymore -- even though Clinton had been cheered from the sidelines when he vetoed almost identical reform laws twice before signing it the third time.
And, as Coulter shows, when the numbers came in showing the program to be a bigger success than even its staunchest advocates had predicted, it all suddenly became a Bill Clinton/Democratic Leadership Council initiative from the get-go.
Whether the journalists Coulter cites on the television networks, at the New York Times, the Washington Post and other major newspapers are active liberal partisans or just don't like conservatives, she appears to have their number. No one, not even the most hardened liberal, could read "Slander" without recognizing that something, somewhere is amiss. She presents too many examples for any rational person to conclude otherwise.
It is a common conservative complaint that "the media" does not treat them or their issues fairly. "Slander" makes a convincing case that the critics on the right, whatever else they may be, are not full of hot air.
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