Earlier this week, we featured an interview on the radio program I co-host and produce, talking with Ann Coulter. At a writers’ group meeting I attended the day before, several of the members who heard about the upcoming interview took me aside and voiced concerns... about my safety, and certainly about my sanity.
Unwarranted concerns, as it turned out: once she realized I was going to let her actually complete a sentence --which was a unique experience for her in a media interview-- I was delighted to find that the lady was witty & fun, as well as pretty darned sharp in her insights.
Seriously, tho-- I suspect there's a lot of people holding a negative image of Ms. Coulter who have:
a) never read what she actually wrote, or back-checked the footnoted addendum she includes in her books
b) have only seen her on TV or print articles in the almost-inevitable confrontational mode that stems from a spark-flyin' clash of two ideologies
The latter is, I admit, a tad disturbing to me, since it's usually Ms. C on the Right and the interviewing "journalist" vigorously representing the other side of the political spectrum-- but I freely admit I am an aging fart who wants to hear what the interviewee has to say so I can make up my own damn mind about it.
Of course, with Ms. Coulter, there's the inevitable flap about her "tone;" recently, even Bill O'Reilly called it abrasive. Wow-- what do you have to do to get Bill to chide you for the way you say something?!?
Nonetheless, I recall hearing the same sort of hand-wringing comments about Mike Royko's writing about Mayor Daley The First, about the NYT's Frank Rich on President Bush The Second, and --certainly during his first term-- from almost everybody in media about Reagan The Last.
The difference: These writers were/are generally described as "incisive" --usually, by their journalistic peers-- which is a somewhat less pejorative label. Whatever; I'm cynical enough to admit that being either abrasive or incisive helps the ratings ...and certainly sells books. If you want to draw a big crowd, start a fight on any street corner, eh?
Still, the semantics-- "abrasive" versus "incisive"-- clearly seem to pivot on the preconceptions and/or ideology any particular reader has already brought to the party.
And that's somewhat sad, because the focus fixes on the messenger rather than the message, the biases rather than the materials.
<grin> I've run a few nonscientific experiments on this subject myself: presenting the same information or content to different groups or individuals... but prefacing the presentation for different groups by creating a context of audience irritation, audience favorability, or audience neutrality. Only rarely do individuals or groups seem able to overcome prexisting attitudes in what turned into wildly differing judgments of the identical materials presented to each. Not surprising, of course-- but always entertaining & interesting, not to mention occasionally revelatory.
It was said of Christopher Marlowe (I think) that he could "insult a king-- and the king would reward him for his fine words."
But whoever it was, he had a unique talent. Most of us just play to our strengths and biases, and preach to our preexisting congregations.
And --on a multitude of levels, given the issues that face all of us at this time-- that seems a shame.
So kudos to Ms. Coulter, who shows no fear in taking her messages --agree with 'em or not-- to the public marketplace of ideas.
(The interview is available as a streaming audio at: www.MoneyAndMoreOnline.com on the "Recent" page.)