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Fact Checking Ann Coulter

I've encountered a lot of scholarship errors in books (and elsewhere) and learned to watch out for false claims. Even if a book gives a lot of footnotes, it can easily still be wrong. I often check the sources for claims, rather than trusting footnotes, and I've caught problems. I've written about the bad scholarship of the Cato Institute, the Ayn Rand Institute, the New York Times, Thomas Sowell, Robert Zubrin, Alex Epstein, Steven Mosher, Isaac Kramnick, Fred Pearce, Matthew Connelly, Robert McGee, and Ari Armstrong.

I didn't have to look for scholarship errors to find any of those. I just read things normally and investigated issues that stood out to me. With Coulter, I did the same thing when reading her books. I investigated several of her claims. The difference is, with everyone else I found an error within the first few issues I investigated. With Coulter, I never found an error, so I decided she was a good scholar.

But Coulter's weekly column rarely gives sources for its many factual claims. I find that uncomfortable. I was concerned I was being too trusting by reading her column and generally believing its facts. Plus, I disagree with Coulter on some important issues (like psychiatry). When you have substantial disagreements with someone, that indicates you think about the world in some different ways, so it's good to tread carefully. Perhaps she treats factual accuracy differently than I do (I know many people take it less seriously than me). So I decided to fact check Ann Coulter more thoroughly.

To be objective, I used a random method. I'd already tried checking things that stood out to me. This time I investigated 10 random footnotes from her books. For each one, I picked a book, then I selected a chapter with a random number generator, then I went to the footnotes for that chapter and selected one with a random number generator. Whatever was randomly chosen, I committed to investigate it and reach a conclusion, even if it was hard; reselecting any footnotes would compromise objectivity.

This is not a perfect approach. If 1% of Coulter's footnotes are mistaken, I could miss it. Maybe she approaches her columns with a different respect for scholarship than the books I'm checking (why?). Maybe she has mistakes with no footnote. If I missed something, please tell me (with specifics!). Leave a comment below or email me [email protected]

In my experience, I often find scholarship errors within the first three things I check for an author. Because errors are so common, I think a spot check like this is valuable. If you doubt how common errors are, I recommend you fact check some other authors. Plus, I've already read Coulter's books and checked a few claims I found suspicious, so adding random checking provides good variety and objectivity. And, while reading, I already had the opportunity to spot claims in her books that should have a footnote but don't, or notice other issues.

I checked 10 randomly selected footnotes from 5 Ann Coulter books. For each one, I present my analysis below and I score Coulter's scholarship from 0 to 5 points. Her final average score was 5, which is perfect. (I decided on the scoring system before I started.) I found no scholarship errors. Well done!

In addition to fact checking Coulter myself, I also reviewed other people's criticism and fact checking of Coulter. Click through for details; in summary, their own scholarship was terrible. Also, my friend fact checked one random Coulter cite I gave him, which was correct.

Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America

Cite: Chapter 12: 29. Lynn Sweet, “Dems Seek Strategy Against ‘Birthers,’ ” Chicago Sun-Times, August 5, 2009.
The Democratic National Committee called the Tea Party movement “rabid right-wing extremists” and “angry mobs.”29
(Yellow quotes are from Coulter's books, teal quotes are from her sources, red indicates other quotes.)

Here, Coulter has given two quotes. I found the article here. It has the text Coulter quoted:
The Obama-controlled Democratic National Committee is portraying its foes as on the political fringe, accusing "Republicans and their allied groups" of "inciting angry mobs," calling them "a small number of rabid right wing extremists."
The only difference is Coulter added a hyphen in "right-wing". I think that's a reasonable English style change, not a misquote.

The article's source is the author personally speaking with Democratic Senator Dick Durban and providing quotes. Good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 25. Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 170–71.
Reminiscent of France’s “Cult of Reason,” the Nazis planned to replace Christianity with the “Reich Church,” based on a 30-point plan drawn up by Nazi leader Alfred Rosenberg. Crosses were to be stripped from churches, cathedrals, and chapels and replaced by the swastika. Bibles, crucifixes, and saints would be forbidden from the altars, which would instead display a copy of Mein Kampf and a sword.25 (If they had thought of it, they might have put Christ in a jar of urine.)
I got the book. Page 170 says:
Rosenberg was an "outspoken pagan" who, during the war, developed a thirty-point program for the "National Reich Church."
Five of the thirty points are given in the book on page 171. Coulter gets everything right:
18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of Saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.

30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels ... and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
But what about this book's source? I was worried for a second because there's no footnotes. But it does have endnotes with sources, they just go by page number and brief quotes rather than by footnote number. There are five reasonable-looking sources given for pages 170-171.

And if you search for this material on Google you get lots of hits with these points, some of which give more sources. For example:
(The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by William L. Shirer, p. 240 in some editions, p. 332 in others. Chapter headed "Triumph and Consolidation", subsection "The Persecution of the Christian Churches")
He even checked the page numbers for different editions! That Shirer book is actually one of Bonhoeffer's sources. Let's see if there are any Amazon reviews criticizing Shirer's scholarship. There are 16 1 star reviews out of 930 reviews. Looking through them:
This review is not of the excellent scholarly work of William Shirer but of the Kindle version of this book
The serious flaw in this book is the extremely poor editing by the publisher [for the Kindle version]
The book is excellent..a classic. There is a problem with the new audiobook service and the Kindle Fire HD.
Lots of 1 star reviews are either about problems with the e-book or the audio book. One guy wants to defend Nietzsche from charges of anti-semitism, but I didn't find his comments persuasive. Someone says Shirer's book is outdated and there is new information available, but doesn't point out specific mistakes. Someone even says:
The simple fact is if I want an anti Nazi soapbox filled with opinion and no facts, I will read a political blog or something along those lines.
Shirer's book is anti-Nazi? Fine with me. These Amazon reviews look like what you would expect for an accurate book that offends a few people. I'm giving Coulter full credit.

Score: 5/5

High Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Case Against Bill Clinton

Cite: Chapter 4: 9 John M. Broder, “Testing of a President: The Investigation,” New York Times, March 7, 1998.
Jordan told the grand jury that he personally gave the president regular progress reports on his efforts to get Lewinsky a job. He partially confirmed Clinton’s statement that Betty Currie was the one who referred Lewinsky to him. Yet he also explained that he assumed the referral was made at the president’s request.9
Here's the article.
Mr. Clinton, in his deposition, acknowledged talking to Mr. Jordan about finding a job for Ms. Lewinsky. And Mr. Jordan has told his lawyers and the grand jury that he personally kept the President up to date on his job search efforts.

...

Mr. Jordan has said that it was Mrs. Currie who referred Ms. Lewinsky to him. But his attorney, William G. Hundley, said this week that Mr. Jordan assumed that Mrs. Currie was acting at the President's behest.
The footnote does have the material for all three of Coulter's sentences, and she presented it accurately. A problem I've seen before is a section of text makes multiple claims and then gives a footnote for one of the claims. Then the other claims have no source. But Coulter did it right.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 12: 6 Investigators for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on “Filegate” in 1996, discovered this.
This was not the sort of thing that tended to promote the appearance of innocent bungling. In addition, a six-month gap in the log used to sign out the sensitive files from the White House Security Office was never explained. One page of the looseleaf log ends on March 29, 1994, and the next page picks up again with September 21, 1994.6
I'm not very happy with this cite because it doesn't give any source to look up. But there is information online:
(e) Secret Service entry logs indicate Craig Livingstone's access to the White House residence when he had no logical reason for being there, other than perhaps to share FBI files with its occupants. Indeed, a "check out" log of FBI files from his office shows a six (6) month "gap" -- from March 29, 1994 to September 21, 1994 -- where there are no entries, reminiscent of the eighteen (18) minute gap in the Nixon tapes during Watergate. See Secret Service Entry Logs, attached as Exhibit 9.
Looks like Coulter had it right. I'm still not happy about the lack of a source I could directly check, but I'm hesitant to subtract any points when she was factually correct. To resolve this, I searched for newspaper articles from the time. If it was common knowledge, then I'll give her full credit.

LA Times:
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the gap troubling and asked former White House aide D. Craig Livingstone to explain missing entries in the log between March 29, 1994, and Sept. 21, 1994.

...

"There was a period of time evidently that the log wasn't kept," Livingstone testified.
Well, OK, Livingstone admitted it himself, in Senate testimony, and it was in a major newspaper. And it's not that hard to find, even 18 years later.

Score: 5/5

Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama

Cite: Chapter 14: 62. Mark Hosenball, “The Death-Threat Debate,” Newsweek, October 27, 2008. Available at http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2008/10/18/the-death-threat-debate.html.
The Obama campaign responded to Newsweek’s inquiries about the candidate’s lie by saying that even if the report wasn’t true, “what is true is that the tone of the rhetoric at McCain–Palin campaign events has gotten out of hand.”62
I like cites with URLs! Coulter's quote exactly matches the webpage. The source is, "An Obama campaign spokesman told NEWSWEEK". Looks good.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 15: 18. Mark Mooney, “Obama Aide Concedes ‘Dollar Bill’ Remark Referred to His Race,” ABC News, August 1, 2008. Available at http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/Politics/story?id=5495348&page=1#.T_bYV45Sbao
Maybe he’d be the first Hawaiian on a dollar bill. Apparently, there were limits to the press’s credulity and eventually, the Obama campaign admitted that, yes, the dollar bill line was about race.18
Another URL, and another correct cite. Easy one.
But Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged on "Good Morning America" Friday that the candidate was referring, at least in part, to his ethnic background.

When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told "GMA" it meant, "He's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 4: 33. Jim Dwyer, “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids,” (New York) Newsday, January 8, 1992.
The only definitive proof that the paint attacks were hoaxes was that the police, the mayor and the New York Times suddenly dropped the subject, never mentioning the white-paint attacks again. Needless to say, there would be no investigation into whether the alleged victims had wasted police resources by falsely reporting a crime.

The shoe-polish hate crime had made the front page of the New York Times and the cover of New York Newsday in massive in-depth interviews with the “victims.” The Times’s story, titled “Victim of Bias Attack, 14, Wrestles with His Anger,” was 1,228 words long.32 Newsday’s account, written by the most easily fooled journalist in America, Jim Dwyer, clocked in at 1,016 words and was titled “Race Victim’s Mom: I Wanted a Better Life for My Kids.”33 The racist attack was talked about in France, Toronto, Seattle, Chicago, on the MacNeil Lehrer NewsHour, in endless stories on National Public Radio and still today, in Anna Quindlen’s living room.
I quoted a lot in this case to make the context and issue clear. This article is tough to find. The only thing Google found was from Coulter's book. Archive.org found nothing. Newsday's website search is broken. Searching for the author "Dwyer" brings up a bunch of sports articles that give an error when clicked on. Jim Dwyer may have won a Pulitzer Prize while at Newsday, but their link to his articles is broken.

But I eventually managed to find it. Coulter's cite is correct except for two punctuation changes. The version I found online has the apostrophe moved to the wrong place and has quotes around the dialog from the mother:
Race Victims' Mom: `I Wanted A Better Life For My Kids'
I don't see a meaningful problem. And the visible text of the article fits what Coulter was talking about.

Score: 5/5

Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right

Cite: Chapter 2: 3. Editorial, Las Vegas Review-Journal, January 14, 2002.
The California Coastal Commission was forced to intervene to demand that the Hollywood left stop blocking access to the beach. Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club, expressed shock at the arrogance of what he called "some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu."3
The issue here is the Hoye quote. Although the Las Vegas Review-Journal deleted the article from their website, the Internet Archive still has a copy:
"Some of the best, most liberal people in Malibu turned their backs on me over this issue," said Steve Hoye, former head of the Malibu Democratic Club and now a champion of open beaches, to the Los Angeles Times.
I think their source is this L.A. Times article. Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Cite: Chapter 8: 12. Jo Mannies, "Bradley Touts New Book, Ideologies; Public Trust Tops Priorities in New Appeal," St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 9, 1996, p. 1C.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Bradley's run-of-the-mill, tax-and-spend liberalism as "his cerebral approach to politics."12
The article is behind a paywall. I paid.
His personal disclosures, in the book and in interviews, are a departure for Bradley, a private man known for his prowess in basketball and his cerebral approach to politics.
Coulter's quote is correct.

Score: 5/5

Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism

Cite: Chapter 6: 78. Lawrence Van Gelder, "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer," New York Times, October 25, 1995; William Glaberson, "F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild," New York Times.
The New York Times has variously referred to the Guild as "a nation-wide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights" and "a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes."78
These articles were easy to find and the quotes are correct. Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer:
Mr. Cammer was also a founder and active member of the National Lawyers Guild, a nationwide organization noted for its concern with liberal causes and civil rights, as well as a volunteer lawyer in the civil rights movement in the South in the 1960's.
F.B.I. Admits Bid to Disrupt Lawyers Guild:
The Guild, a national lawyers organization that has long been associated with the labor movement and liberal causes, was tarred for years with charges that it was a "Communist front" organization.
Ann added a hyphen in "nation-wide". That's fine. Otherwise the quotes are exact.

Score: 5/5

Congratulations to Ann Coulter for her perfect score. It's great – and too rare – to see high quality scholarship.

EDIT: I want to be extra clear about a misconception some readers have had. Of course checking random cites is not comprehensive. First, I checked anything that stood out to me as suspicious or interesting, like I do with everyone. Other people never pass that phase 1 checking. Then for phase 2, I checked random cites for Ann Coulter as a supplement. I wanted to be extra hard on Coulter, rather than treat phase 1 checking as adequate. Coulter passed both phases, her rivals all failed in phase 1.

Elliot Temple on June 18, 2014

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