By Chez Pazienza: Years ago, when I worked for NBC, there was an upper-level manager who gave me a great piece of advice when it came to dealing with people. I was a likable enough guy overall but had a reputation for occasionally throwing the switch that would thrust me into hot-head mode at warp speed, particularly when the pressure was really on. His thoughts on this little phenomenon stay with me to this day: “The more influence you have, the smaller the weapon you have to swing to get what you want.” The point is that when you’re low on the food chain, you sometimes have to be bellicose and use a sledgehammer to make yourself heard, but when you’ve already got respect, a title, an audience, whatever, all you really need is a scalpel. You can afford to operate with precision. The flip side of this is that when you’ve risen to the point where your words and actions actually have impact, there’s a hell of a lot less you can get away with.
Case in point: Ann Coulter.
Yes, I know — the mere mention of her name following some fucking stupid, willfully incendiary thing she’s said just gives her the reaction she’s looking for and prolongs her bilious, inexplicable presence on the political media landscape and role as a person whose opinions we should supposedly give a crap about. She’s a professional provocateur and nothing more, someone utterly devoid of shame or compunction who lobs fireballs simply for the sake of gleefully basking in her enemies’ helpless indignation and for the praise and financial reward it brings her from the asshole sociopaths who find her entertaining. I generally tend to ignore Coulter’s obnoxious ranting because, well, fuck her — but I’ve got to admit that her instantly infamous comment last night following the third and final presidential debate surprised even me. For those lucky enough to not have seen it, it of course came in the form of a tweet — since Twitter is now the official dispensary for any and all forms of verbal diarrhea — and was as follows:
Because that’s where we are: It’s now alright to call the President of the United States a “retard” and not have to worry about being immediately and entirely ostracized from the political discourse, to say nothing of polite society. I get that things have gotten vicious out there and I fully acknowledge that I’ve contributed to it on occasion — and God knows Coulter’s been spouting invective like this for years, steadily getting worse and worse the more she realizes that she’ll never be made to suffer for it — but there has to be some point where we draw the line. I was never a big fan of George W. Bush and I made that abundantly clear, often insulting his intellectual incuriosity, which inversely correlated, almost directly, to his moral certitude; despite that, I never heaped an insult as contemptuous as Coulter’s on him because I respected the office he held even if I felt that he himself had shown it an almost staggering level of disrespect.
My issue, I should go ahead and say now, is more with the direction Ann Coulter aimed the word “retard” than her use of the word. I realize I’ll take some flak for this, but as with all language — even crude language — I don’t think anything is completely off-limits at all times (see: my response to the Coulter tweet last night). We’re far too sensitive, weak-kneed and eager to be offended in this country these days. I’ve written about it over and over again so I won’t delve too deeply into this specific subject, but when it comes to a word, comment, or joke that people find offensive, you have to take into account the intent as well as the impact. You have to consider the source. And that’s why Coulter’s ongoing shtick reminds me of that piece of advice I was given so long ago: She’s not just some idiot pounding out a word or two on a laptop in front of his TV, nor is she a comedian; she’s someone who’s bizarrely been given an astonishing and undeserved preeminence among the political media. Put it this way: Yes, I’ve used the word “retard” on occasion on my site, but I’m not regularly asked to appear on NBC’s Today show, ABC’s This Week, and every cable news channel on the dial as if I’m a serious and knowledgable political pundit.
To Coulter’s credit, she knows exactly who’s responsible for her ongoing success and media ubiquity, and it’s not her; it’s the press outlets that continue to book her no matter how many times she insults them. She may be completely full of shit and utterly devoid of even a single political credential that would make her views valuable, but one thing she does very well is expose the bald-faced hypocrisy of the supposedly responsible media. She does it simply by virtue of her presence on shows like The View or Good Morning America, shows she slams constantly in the pages of her ridiculous books and yet still manages to secure invitations to. Ann Coulter knows that, as ratings-bait, she’s simply too enticing for these shows to pass up. She knows that a contentious confrontation with her makes for great TV, which will translate into great numbers and therefore great revenue for whichever network she appears on.
Ann Coulter knows that for all the supposedly high standards the mainstream media collectively boast of upholding, any TV producer will gladly throw his or her ethics and better judgment under the bus for a carrot as tempting as the one she offers, even if noses have to be held in the process. By this measure, Coulter doesn’t need to “win” the argument in the traditional sense when she faces down, say, a Whoopi Goldberg or a George Stephanopoulos. All she has to do is show up and she’s already won. No matter how entirely her adversary or interviewer may eviscerate and expose her on national television, that person lost the minute Coulter walked into the studio. She’s an obscene carnival barker who says things just to get attention, but the media outlets that continue to give her that attention are the ones truly to blame for her still being with us as a pop culture phenom. Because they just can’t resist her.
Tomorrow, fraudulent, self-obsessed buffoon Donald Trump will once again con the media into doing his bidding by promising to release a bombshell piece of information about President Obama that will shock the world. It’ll be bullshit, of course — nothing more than another one of Trump’s idiotic publicity stunts — but the press will all be there like the good little amnesiac lapdogs they are. And so Trump will go on doing it because there’s never a downside; there’s never any real punishment; the dumbshit townies never catch on to the boy who cried wolf. Coulter’s the same. She’ll keep upping the ante, practically daring the responsible press to finally declare her persona non grata, knowing full-well that it’ll likely never happen. Sure, her playground bully rhetoric and tactics will always appeal to the swaggering assholes on the right who stroke themselves silly anytime one of their kind says something that gets a rise out of liberals and leads rational people to impotently demand an apology that never comes. But trust me: Coulter needs more than that. She needs those rational people to notice her and bestow upon her the authority that will make her comments matter. All the mainstream media have to do is withhold that attention. Tell her to fuck off and, like Trump, relegate her to the fringe where she belongs.
She just called the President of the United States a retard. If that doesn’t get her ass finally handed to her, I’m not sure anything will.
Here’s your chance, responsible media. I dare you to take a stand for once.