"The thin blonde line"

The online feud over Ann Coulter's firing by the National Review continues.

Published October 3, 2001 7:39PM (EDT)

The fallout -- and publicity boomlet -- in the wake of Ann Coulter's "firing" continues. Coulter, Red vs. Blue readers will recall, parted ways with the National Review in the aftermath of a column calling for the conversion of some foreign countries to Christianity.

Amid a media firestorm -- including an appearance on Bill Maher's "Politically Incorrect" in which Coulter claims the National Review censored her, and an interview with the Washington Post in which she claimed NRO had fired her and called the editors there "girly-boys" -- an online hoo-ha ensued.

The latest salvo was fired Tuesday by National Review Online editor Jonah Goldberg, who offered his readers an explanation about "L'affaire Coulter."

"In the wake of her invade-and-Christianize-them column, Coulter wrote a long, rambling rant of a response to her critics that was barely coherent," Goldberg wrote. "She's a smart and funny person, but this was Ann at her worst -- emoting rather than thinking, and badly needing editing and some self-censorship, or what is commonly referred to as 'judgment.' Running this 'piece' would have been an embarrassment to Ann, and to NRO."

Goldberg pulled no punches in saying goodbye to Coulter in his column Wednesday. "The problem with Ann's first column was its sloppiness of expression and thought. Ann didn't fail as a person -- as all her critics on the Left say -- she failed as WRITER, which for us is almost as bad. So let me be clear: We did not 'fire' Ann for what she wrote, even though it was poorly written and sloppy. We ended the relationship because she behaved with a total lack of professionalism, friendship, and loyalty," he wrote, adding, "in Ann's mind, she constitutes the thin blonde line between freedom and tyranny, and so any editorial decision she dislikes must be a travesty."


The Coulter ruckus has led to multiple threads on online bulletin board sites, and created a wide range of responses from fellow journalists. As the United States prepares for possible strikes in Afghanistan, and American journalists are lining up to sneak into the war torn country, the letters to Jim Romenesko's Media News site are overwhelmingly dedicated to Coulter.

Among those rallying to Coulter's defense was Keith Olberman, formerly of Fox Sports and MSNBC. "I have never liked Ann Coulter, never had her as a guest on my program at MSNBC, and firmly believed that she was at the forefront of those who happily distracted political discourse in this country from vital issues and towards trivia, with what are in retrospect obvious and tragic consequences," Olberman writes. "But two questions about the National Review Online flap, which need to be asked in her defense, occur to me. First ... who at National Review decided the column should run in the first place? What happened to that part in this process? Second, as somebody who lost two college classmates in One World Trade and had a friend or colleague on each of three of the four airplanes: Where is the human factor in dealing with Ms. Coulter? In the wake of her friend Barbara Olson's death, isn't a little slack deserved here? Shouldn't that have been the first reaction, instead of an immediate pile-on?

Others were less forgiving. "Aside from the not so trivial issue of whether Coulter can write her way out of a paper bag, invective, like humor, needs to be carefully aimed," answered Mark Gisleson. "The 'new right' has a tin ear for humor and invective. Coulter is finally paying the price for her radical intemperance, and, if it's hypocritical of the National Review to dump her now, it doesn't mean they're wrong."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression ... was that the National Review Online fired her skinny blonde butt not so much for the content of her columns -- completely over the top and utterly inappropriate though that content was -- but because her response to a perfectly reasonable editorial decision was to lash out publicly against the magazine's editorial staff," writes Stewart Mason. "I'm pretty sure that if I were publicly insult and malign one of my editors, I'd find myself on the street tout suite, which is as it should be."

The Coulter rift has created a true divide between conservative bulletin board sites as well, with Free Republic posters supporting Coulter and Lucianne staffers siding with Goldberg, son of the board's hostess, Lucianne Goldberg.

The Lucianne staffers posted a quote criticizing Coulter on the site's home page Wednesday, but Lucianne readers were conflicted. "Good. She has truly lost it in the last year, progressively slipping into a one note (abortion) flake," writes one Lucianne poster. "Conservatives should lament her passing but applaud NRO."

There were few signs of such ambivalence among posters to the Free Republic, however, who extended the internecine struggle among conservatives to include Salon's own David Horowitz. "Worse than Goldberg is David Horowitz, who 'hired' Coulter as soon as she got the boot from NRO," writes a Free Republic poster. "His explanation was that her 'invade their countries, and convert them to Christianity' was 'tongue-in-cheek.' Yeah, right. At least Coulter has the, uh, cojones to say what she really believes -- as stupid as it is."

For more Red vs. Blue, click here.

By Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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