Monday, August 07, 2006

Media Matters - Endnotes in Coulter's latest book rife with distortions and falsehoods

Media Matters

On July 7, Media Matters for America asked Random House Inc. whether it would investigate charges of plagiarism lodged against right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's latest book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006). Steve Ross, senior vice president and publisher of Crown Publishing Group and publisher of the Crown Forum imprint -- divisions of Random House Inc. -- responded to Media Matters by stating that charges of plagiarism against Coulter were "trivial," "meritless," and "irresponsible," and defended Coulter's scholarship by stating that she "knows when attribution is appropriate, as underscored by the nineteen pages of hundreds of endnotes contained in Godless."

This was hardly the first time Coulter and her defenders have offered the large number of footnotes contained in her book as "evidence" of the quality of her scholarship. Also on July 7, Terence Jeffrey, editor of conservative weekly Human Events, defended Coulter's book on CNN's The Situation Room by citing her "19 pages of footnotes." And when similar questions were raised about her 2002 book, Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right (Crown, June 2002), Coulter repeatedly cited her "35 pages of footnotes" as evidence that her claims were accurate.

In response, Media Matters decided to investigate each of the endnotes in Godless. We found a plethora of problems.

Among other things, Coulter:

  • misrepresented and distorted the statements of her sources;
  • omitted information in those sources that refuted the claims in her book;
  • misrepresented news coverage to allege bias;
  • relied upon outdated and unreliable sources;
  • and invented "facts."

What follows is documentation of some of the most problematic endnotes in Godless.

1. On Page 175, Coulter attacked "liberals" who would "foist" sex education topics such as "[a]nal sex, oral sex, fisting, dental dams, [and] 'birthing games'" on kindergarteners. Citing a November 8, 1987, New York Times article, Coulter wrote:

But in contrast to liberal preachiness about IQ, there would be no moralizing when it came to sex. Anal sex, oral sex, fisting, dental dams, "birthing games" -- all that would be foisted on unsuspecting children in order to protect kindergarteners from the scourge of AIDS. As one heroine of the sex education movement told an approving New York Times reporter, "My job is not to teach one right value system. Parents and churches teach moral values. My job is to say, 'These are the facts,' and to help the students, as adults, decide what is right for them."9

To those who find it odd that Coulter would support her claim about "fisting" being taught to kindergarteners by quoting "one heroine of the sex education movement" and referring to students as "adults," there is a very good reason for that. The woman Coulter quoted was Dr. Beverlie Conant Sloane, then-director of health education at Dartmouth College. The Times article cited by Coulter, titled "At Dartmouth, A Helping Candor," (subscription required) was about the sex education programs available to adult students at Dartmouth -- not children in kindergarten. Not only is the article about adult students, but it is from November 1987, close to 20 years old -- hardly what would be considered to be relevant information on current sex education policies.

2. On Page 248, Coulter wrote:

In an article in the New York Times on intelligent design, the design proponents quoted in the article keep rattling off serious, scientific arguments -- from [Michael J.] Behe's examples in molecular biology to [William] Dembski's mathematical formulas and statistical models. The Times reporter, who was clearly not trying to make the evolutionists sound retarded, was forced to keep describing the evolutionists' entire retort to these arguments as: Others disagree.2

That's it. No explanation, no specifics, just "others disagree." The high priests of evolution have not only forgotten how to do science, they've lost the ability to formulate a coherent counterargument.

The New York Times article Coulter cited -- "In Explaining Life's Complexity, Darwinists and Doubters Clash" -- appeared on August 22, 2005, as Part 2 of a three-part series on the debate over the teaching of evolution. Coulter's claim that the article's author, reporter Kenneth Chang, offered "[n]o explanations" and "no specifics" from the proponents of evolution is flat-out false. Chang offered detailed explanations of how evolutionary mechanisms gave rise to blood-clotting systems, modern whales, and speciation among birds on the Galapagos Islands ("Darwin's finches"). Chang also noted: "Darwin's theory ... has over the last century yielded so many solid findings that no mainstream biologist today doubts its basic tenets, though they may argue about particulars." Finally, and most egregiously, the phrase "others disagree" appears nowhere in the article.

3. On Page 87, Coulter attacked Democrats and the "pro-abortion zealots," writing:

The pro-abortion zealots demand that the Democrats swear absolute fealty to their craziest positions, and generally the Democrats are happy to comply. They need the money. In 2004, pro-abortion groups gave over $1.4 million in hard money to candidates for national office -- more than twice as much as did pro-life groups. Emily's List is a political fundraising group that gives money only to female candidates who support abortion. In 2004, Emily's List raised $34 million. By comparison, the National Right to Life Committee raised only about $1.7 million.14

As it happens, Coulter's figures about Emily's List and the National Right to Life Committee were accurate. But the citation Coulter gave was a July 1, 2004, letter to the editor (subscription required) former Planned Parenthood president Gloria Feldt wrote to the Chicago Tribune (though Feldt's name appears as "Febit" in Coulter's endnote). Nothing from the excerpt above appeared in Feldt's letter. Feldt's letter read as follows, in its entirety:

Steve Chapman's June 24 column disregarded my remarks about the position and practices of Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

For more than 88 years, Planned Parenthood has been a trusted provider of confidential and compassionate reproductive health care. Informed consent is our hallmark. We fully support providing women with scientifically accurate medical information. What we do not support is equating speculation with scientific fact in order to advance some politician's ideology. Women are entitled to medically accurate information, not biased scripts mandated by Congress to their doctors. The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act to which Chapman refers would require doctors to communicate opinions as though they were medical facts.

4. On Pages 106-107, Coulter claimed affirmatively that the Clinton administration destroyed evidence uncovered by Able Danger, a now-defunct military intelligence unit that some congressional Republicans have claimed -- without evidence -- identified Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as a terrorist over a year before the attacks occurred. Coulter wrote:

Able Danger wasn't "historically significant" in the sense that the intelligence gathered by this operation did not stop the 9/11 attack. It could not have prevented the attack, because the information produced by Able Danger was destroyed by the Clinton administration.7

Coulter's source for this claim was a February 16 Washington Times article, titled: "Probe fails to find pre-9/11 Atta data." The article, however, merely noted that Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), one of the congressional Republicans baselessly claiming that Able Danger had identified Atta, "has said the Clinton administration destroyed Able Danger documents, shut down the program and prevented intelligence officers from sharing the information with the FBI." Coulter's endnote omitted her true source, citing only The Washington Times in support of her assertion that the Clinton administration destroyed Able Danger information. In fact, The Washington Times simply reported the unsubstantiated claim by a Republican member of Congress that the Clinton administration destroyed the data.

5. On Page 132, Coulter cited the September 30, 2003, edition (subscription required) of Roll Call's "Heard on the Hill" in attacking Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's (D-MA) military service:

After [former Rep.] Tom DeLay [R-TX] joked to a Republican audience, "I certainly don't want to see Teddy Kennedy in a Navy flight suit," [Vietnam war veteran and former Sen. Max] Cleland [D-GA] fired off a nasty letter -- a letter, no less! -- to DeLay saying, "This country deserves more patriots like Senator Kennedy, not more chickenhawks [sic] like you who never served."

Most Democrats shy away from citing Kennedy's "military service" with such bravado. The "military service" at issue consisted of Kennedy's spending two years in NATO's Paris office after he was expelled from Harvard for paying another student to take his Spanish exam.39

Coulter's endnote simply read: "Ed Henry, 'Heard on the Hill,' Roll Call, September 30, 2003." That Roll Call article, "The Importance of Being Earnest," by Henry, then a Roll Call senior editor and columnist who is now CNN's White House correspondent, did indeed address the back-and-forth between DeLay and Cleland, but at no point in the story were the details of Kennedy's military service or college career mentioned, as Coulter's citation indicated.

6. On Page 158, Coulter cited a study from the education journal Education Next in claiming that private-school teachers earn 60 percent less than public school teachers. Coulter wrote:

In 2002, Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association (NEA), complained that teachers don't make as much as engineers ($74,920) or lawyers ($82,712). But I'm thinking, Why stop at engineers and lawyers? Why shouldn't kindergarten teachers earn as much as Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts? A better benchmark comparison for public school teachers might be private school teachers. Teachers in the private sector earn about 60 percent less than public school teachers.7 And their students actually learn to read.

The study Coulter cited -- "Fringe Benefits" -- actually found that, "Starting pay in private schools begins at 78 percent that of public schools, rises to 92 percent of public school pay by a teacher's 12th year, and declines thereafter." It is unclear where Coulter arrived at her "60 percent less" figure, but it certainly did not come from the source she cited.

7. On Page 195, Coulter wrote:

Until Michael Fumento wrote about Hwang Mi-soon, the South Korean woman who began to walk again thanks to adult stem cells, there was no mention of it in any document on Nexis.56

Coulter was claiming that Michael Fumento, a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and former Scripps Howard columnist, was the first to write about South Korean Hwang Mi-Soon, who was treated in 2004 with stem cells extracted from umbilical cord blood after she had been paralyzed for close to 20 years; Hwang was later able to walk with the help of braces and a walker. Coulter cited Fumento's October 20, 2005, Scripps Howard column to support her assertion, though she did not provide the parameters she used in her Nexis database search. But a Media Matters Nexis search of all news outlets in the database during all available dates for "Hwang Mi-soon" revealed 47 articles, 36 of which, mentioning Hwang's newfound ability to walk, were published prior to October 20, 2005. Additionally, a week before Fumento's Scripps column was published, Deroy Murdock, another Scripps Howard columnist and a commentator to Human Events, mentioned Hwang's operation in an October 13, 2005, column, titled, "Embryonic stem cell research unneeded." Among those articles were:

  • The first article to appear in the Nexis database about Hwang is a November 28, 2004, Agence France Presse article titled, "Paralyzed woman walks again after stem cell therapy" -- published almost one full year before Fumento's column.
  • The New York Post published "Stem-Cell Gal's 'Miracle' Steps" about Hwang on November 29, 2004.
  • CBS News ran a segment on Hwang on the CBS Evening News on December 1, 2004.

Interestingly, Coutler would have to be aware that her claim was bogus, because her first reference to Hwang, in the paragraph preceding the excerpt cited above, annotated a Korea Times article, "Stem Cell Research May Be Money Game," published on July 8, 2005 -- almost three and a half months before Fumento's column. Additionally, Coulter misattributed the article to "Hankook Ilbo" -- which a Google search reveals is the Korean name for The Korea Times. The article was in fact written by Korea Times staff reporter Kim Tae-gyu. Like the three articles mentioned above and the other 33 articles published before Fumento's column, The Korea Times article is available on Nexis.

8. On Pages 199-200, Coulter attacked "atheists" who "need evolution to be true." Citing what she presented as two Washington Post articles from May 15, 2005, Coulter wrote:

Although God believers don't need evolution to be false, atheists need evolution to be true. William Provine, an evolutionary biologist at Cornell University, calls Darwinism the greatest engine of atheism devised by man. His fellow Darwin disciple, Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins, famously said, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist."1 This is why there is a mass panic on the left whenever someone mentions the vast and accumulating evidence against evolution.

The Washington Post articles Coulter cited are actually one article by Michael Powell, with the headline, "Doubting Rationalist," accompanied by the subhead, " 'Intelligent Design' Proponent Phillip Johnson, and How He Came to Be." But nowhere in the article will one find the Dawkins quote Coulter cited.

9. On Page 231, Coulter continued her attack on evolution's "cult members," writing:

The cult members are especially dazzled by the similar DNA in all living creatures. The human genome is 98.7 percent identical with the chimpanzee's.3 On the basis of this intriguing fact, psychology professor Roger Fouts of Central Washington University argues that humans "are simply odd looking apes"4 in a book titled Next of Kin: What Chimpanzees Have Taught Me About Who We Are.

Both of Coulter's citations for this passage were of a January 22, 2004, Guardian (London) article titled "The code that must be cracked." This article, however, did not quote Fouts saying humans "are simply odd looking apes" -- indeed, Fouts, nor his book, were even mentioned in the article.

10. On Page 222, in addressing the Chengjiang fossils of the Cambrian period, Coulter quoted a New York Times article, "Spectacular Fossils Record Early Riot of Creation," (subscription required) as stating that the fossils appeared "as though they were just planted there." The phrase, "as though they were just planted there," appears nowhere in the Times article. This was not the only place Coulter misused or fabricated quotes to support her attack on Darwin's theory about evolution, as Media Matters has documented.

11. On Page 48, Coulter suggested that The New York Times' news reporting was biased against former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (R). Coulter wrote:

As the New York Times admitted in one of the rare articles during the nineties not calling Giuliani an "authoritarian,"36 "[W]hile constituting less than 3 percent of the country's population," New York City alone "was responsible for 155,558 of the 432,952 fewer reported crimes over the three years."

In her endnote for that passage, Coulter listed three editorials. On page 48, however, she claimed they were "articles," and that the Times often referred to Giuliani as "authoritarian." Additionally, one of the editorials Coulter pointed to, "The Legal Aid Crisis" (subscription required), from October 5, 1994, read as follows:

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's retaliatory cancellation of the Legal Aid Society's contract with the city at first looked authoritarian and even dangerous at a time when he is urging the police to crowd the courts with more defendants.

But Mr. Giuliani's action has a firm foundation in fiscal reality. The city faces a big budget deficit. Public-employee unions are being told they cannot have raises. It follows then that the legal professionals who already cost the city $79 million a year should know that this is not a year for negotiating the 4.5 percent raise they are demanding.

Therefore, on top of referring to editorials as "articles," Coulter highlighted a Times editorial that said Giuliani "looked authoritarian," but actually wasn't.

As for her claim that the first article she cited was "one of the rare articles during the nineties not calling Giuliani an 'authoritarian' "; in order for it to be true, it would have to be the case that, at the very least, a majority, if not an overwhelming majority, of the literally thousands of articles The New York Times published during the 1990s that mentioned Giuliani also referred to him as "authoritarian." Yet she managed to identify only two editorials that did so.

Coulter also used the wrong date for the editorial "Mr. Giuliani's Energetic First Year," dating it November 25, 1997, in the endnote. According to Nexis, this article was published on January 3, 1995.

12. On Page 67, Coulter attacked the "mainstream media" for being biased against former President George H.W. Bush during his 1988 presidential campaign against former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis. Coulter wrote:

Despite being sentenced on two consecutive life terms, [Donald] Robertson was released under Michael Dukakis's furlough program after only eight years in prison. He never came back. Bradford Boyd was serving time for rape when he committed first-degree murder in prison. Still, he was furloughed. While out on furlough, he viciously beat a man, repeatedly raped a woman, and then killed himself. (On the plus side of the ledger, Boyd hasn't committed any crimes since then.) The mainstream media didn't find these stories, [Cliff] Barnes [victim of convicted murderer William Horton] did. They were too busy writing articles about Bush "Slinging Mud on the Low Road to Office,"2 and "Republicans Riding to Victory on Racism,"3 and "Bush Tactics Turn Ugly."4 According to the vast majority of media stories on the 1988 presidential campaign, it was an 'ugly' tactic for the Bush campaign to mention the Massachusetts furlough program.

Once again, Coulter was not citing news articles, but opinion pieces that she falsely claimed were "articles." Coulter cited three op-eds to support her claim about what the mainstream media were "too busy" doing -- a November 4, 1988, Newsday column by Mary McGrory; an October 31, 1988, Financial Post (Toronto) column by Allan Fotheringham; and an October 30, 1988, Newsday column by Murray Kempton, respectively. Moreover, the McGrory column was published three days after the 1988 election, and the Fotheringham column was published in a Canadian paper -- which raises doubts as to how much effect they could have had on the Bush campaign or the American electoral scene.

As for her claim that "the vast majority of media stories on the 1988 presidential campaign" alleged that "it was an 'ugly' tactic for the Bush campaign to mention the Massachusetts furlough program," she offered no citation at all, though from her use of quotes one would assume she meant that, in more than 50 percent of the stories written or aired by the media during the 1988 campaign, the Bush campaign's use of the Massachusetts furlough program was both discussed and referred to with the word "ugly." This is plainly false.

13. On Page 211, Coulter falsely attributed the quote, "[t]he probability of life originating at random is so utterly minuscule as to make it absurd," to Francis Crick, co-discoverer of DNA's double-helix structure, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 1962; however, the quote actually belongs to Fred Hoyle, a British mathematician and astronomer.

14. On Page 49, Coulter repeated the long-since debunked claim that former President Bill Clinton turned down an offer from the Sudanese government to hand over Osama bin Laden to the United States in 1996. Coulter wrote:

To this day, Democrats demand that we credit Clinton for the plunging crime rate in the nineties -- which did not begin to plunge until Giuliani became mayor of New York. Clinton may have tried to socialize health care, presided over a phony Internet bubble, spurned Sudan when it offered him Osama bin Laden on a silver platter,39 sold a burial plot in Arlington cemetery to a campaign contributor, engaged in sex romps in the Oval Office, been credibly accused of rape by Juanita Broaddrick, obstructed justice, had his law license suspended and gotten himself permanently disbarred from the U.S. Supreme Court, and pardoned a lot of sleazy crooks in return for political donations on his way out of office -- but, we're told, at least he was terrific on crime!

Coulter's endnote quoted two articles from October 2001 -- one from the Associated Press and one from The Guardian. However, as the portions Coulter quoted in her endnote indicated, neither article in any way lent support to her claim that Clinton rejected an offer from Sudan to turn over bin Laden. From Coulter's endnote [emphasis added]:

See, e.g., Jennifer Loven, "Clinton Says Answer to Terrorism is Support of Current Administration," Associated Press, October 10, 2001. ("Clinton also confirmed a failed U.S. attempt in 1996 to have Osama bin Laden arrested in Sudan and placed in Saudi Arabian custody and a CIA-sponsored plan to have Pakistani commandos hunt him down in 1999, abandoned after a military coup there. Bin Laden is the prime suspect in last month's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.") Michael Ellison, "Attack on Afghanistan," The Guardian (London), October 11, 2001. ("Mr. Clinton confirmed in a speech to executives at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC that the US had failed in 1996 to have Bin Laden arrested in Sudan and that a CIA-sponsored initiative to have Pakistani commandos snare him three years later was abandoned because of a military coup in that country. A US cruise missile attack on Bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan in 1998 missed their main target.")

Of course, the reason neither of the articles supported Coulter's claim is that, according to the 9-11 Commission, there is "no reliable evidence to support" the allegation that Clinton was even offered bin Laden by the Sudanese government, as Media Matters has documented. This claim first surfaced in an August 11, 2002, article on right-wing news website NewsMax that distorted a speech Clinton made in 2002. The 9-11 Commission found that Clinton "wrongly recount[ed] a number of press stories he had read," and had "misspoken" in his 2002 speech.


Media Matters' analysis of the endnotes in Godless revealed that Coulter routinely misrepresented the information of her sources, as well as omitted inconvenient information within those same sources that refuted her claims. Coulter relied upon secondary sources to support many of her claims, as well as unreliable or outdated information.

In addition to demonstrating her poor scholarship, this analysis also made clear Coulter's lack of respect for her readers, who she clearly assumed would believe anything she wrote, as long as there was a citation attached to it.

Following the publication of Slander, similar errors in the book's scholarship were documented. Just as Ross defended Godless by pointing to the book's endnotes, so did Coulter in defending Slander in 2002.

On June 26, 2002, Coulter appeared on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and stated, "I have footnotes. I do back this up." The very next day, on CNN's now-defunct Crossfire, Coulter quipped, "I wrote a book [Slander], you know, thousands of facts, studies, quotes -- 35 pages of footnotes ..." On July 15, 2002, Coulter was a guest on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity asked Coulter, "How many pages of footages" in Slander? Coulter replied:

Thirty-five. And we had to cut it down. I have a mainstream publisher -- was not used to publishing a right-winger. And they were wondering what all the footnotes were about. I had to explain to them -- I will be Aldridged [sic] otherwise. I must have substantiation for everything. But we tried to cut out as many as we could.

Two days later, on MSNBC's Buchanan & Press, Coulter stated, "I have 35 pages of footnotes to back it [Slander] up." That same week, on July 19, 2002, The Daily Telegraph (London) quoted Coulter defending her book's scholarship: "My invective is backed up in my book [Slander] with 35 pages of footnotes and examples." And once again, Coulter defended her scholarship on CNN, this time on Talkback Live. She stated on August 22, 2002: "I have a 200-page book [Slander] with thousands of examples and 35 pages of footnotes. So, if you want the evidence, it is in my book."

In response, one of Coulter's editors, Doug Pepper, stated, "If a mistake is found in any book, we change it."

Media Matters would like to take this opportunity to ask of Coulter's Godless editors, Pepper and Jed Donahue: Will the errors in Godless be corrected?

—S.S.M. & R.S.

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