Lethally blonde

Ann Coulter has made a career out of saying the
unthinkable. Last week the bestselling American author
caused outrage when she described the widows of 9/11
as 'witches' who revelled in their husbands' deaths.
Mixing soundbites with short skirts, this former
lawyer has become the most extreme - and popular -
polemicist in America. How did that happen? 

Gaby Wood
Sunday June 11, 2006
The Observer 


Ann Coulter has a stalker. She doesn't like to dignify
his actions by talking about him, but she'll tell you,
if you ask, that he's what the FBI class as the most
dangerous kind - John Lennon's assassin was one of
these. They're the sort that start out as fans and
turn into your worst enemy.

Feelings about Ann Coulter run high and extreme. Often
described as 'the Republican Michael Moore', Coulter
is possibly even better equipped than Moore to offend
people, because, it seems, she is 100 per cent
shameless. Actually, make that 99 per cent. 'I've
always told my friends,' she says, 'if only I could be
a black Jewish homosexual - then we could really have
some fun! Then I could say anything!'

Luckily, she is a woman, which puts her in a so-called
minority and gives her considerable ammo (literally -
she is very much in favour of guns, partly on account
of the stalker). James Wolcott described her in Vanity
Fair as 'the Paris Hilton of post-modern politics'.
Eric Alterman, columnist for the Nation, calls her
'Rush Limbaugh in a miniskirt' (Limbaugh is a popular
right-wing talk radio host). Sean Penn has an Ann
Coulter action figure on his desk - which he uses to
put out his cigarettes. Press a button and the doll
speaks: 'Why not go to war for oil? We need oil. What
do Hollywood celebrities imagine fuels their private
jets? How do they think their cocaine is delivered to

Coulter's weekly column is published in Human Events,
once Ronald Reagan's favourite paper. It is read by
few outside the conservative heartland, yet she has
achieved a notoriety that suggests a far greater
circulation. Liberals love to hate her, some
conservatives hate her, but every time she writes a
book - and Godless, published this week, is her fifth
- it's an instant bestseller.

She's a little like Batman, or the Joker. You don't
hear from her for a while then suddenly you can't miss
her. This is a can't-miss-her moment. On Tuesday she
went on the Today Show, NBC's morning programme,
defending the passage of Godless that concerns the 11
September widows who lobbied for the creation of the
9/11 commission. She describes them as 'witches' who
have cashed in on their husbands' deaths.

On Wednesday she took up the entire front page of the
New York Daily News: 'Coulter the Cruel', it blared,
next to a picture of Coulter smiling as if she'd just
been crowned Miss World. On Thursday Hillary Clinton
fought back against what she called a 'vicious,
mean-spirited attack'. Perhaps, Clinton suggested,
Coulter's book should have been called 'Heartless'. At
a public reading in Long Island a town councilman
presented Coulter with a letter requesting an apology.
Triumphantly, she tore it up. Ah! The book tour had

'This is of course exactly what she wants,' says Joe
Klein, who tells me that she inspired a character in
his Primary Colors. He adds: 'She's a really cancerous
example of the American political disease. You know,
there's a whole generation of people in this country
who think a serious political discussion is Ann
Coulter and Michael Moore yelling at each other. It's
driven serious, nuanced conversation out of the

Her effect, however, has to be carefully calibrated -
yes, she's a loudmouth right-winger, along the lines
of Limbaugh and broadcaster Bill O'Reilly, and far
more iconic than both of them. But is she no more than
a jester? How dangerous is she?

'She's not dangerous,' Joe Klein clarifies. 'The
phenomenon she represents is dangerous'. Alterman
agrees: 'The effect is to make racism and other forms
of chauvinism acceptable in polite society. You're a
killjoy if you take her seriously.'

The night the Twin Towers fell she wrote a now famous
column suggesting that 'We know who the homicidal
maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing
right now. We should invade their countries, kill
their leaders, and convert them to Christianity'. She
took a whole lot of people with her. She is, as blog
king Mickey Kaus, self-described 'neoliberal' and
friend of Coulter, says, 'one of these people who's
had the so-called Fox effect, of rallying voters to
the polls that nobody thought existed'. Coulter became
a pied piper for a certain kind of patriot.

Entire chapters of other people's books (Alterman's,
and liberal radio host Al Franken's) have been devoted
to pointing out her factual errors. Coulter has
written a book taking down Bill Clinton (High Crimes
and Misdemeanors); one about the so-called collected
lies of the left (Slander); a collection of previously
published columns (How to Talk to a Liberal); a volume
celebrating the work of Joe McCarthy (Treason).
Godless is an expression of her religious views, and
takes in the obvious issues: abortion, science, the
death penalty ...

Some of Coulter's more charming opinions are that the
country would be better off if women couldn't vote,
that in December 2001 America should have attacked
France, and that the death penalty should be brought
back everywhere. She supported apartheid in South
Africa, she has gently suggested that Timothy McVeigh
should have blown up the New York Times building, she
believes that defending the right to abortion is akin
to defending slavery. Airlines, she says, should have
- and flaunt - a policy of racial profiling: 'You are
now free to move about the cabin - Not so fast,

I am due to meet Ann Coulter for lunch, but there has
been some confusion over the location. Her PR emails
me to apologise. 'As you might imagine, her schedule
is very hectic, and I do not have total control over
her until next week,' she writes, effortlessly
confirming my suspicion that Coulter is in fact an
automaton. Total Control? How does that work? One
week, her book publicist; the next, Dick Cheney? I
soon learn that this idea is ridiculous. Coulter would
never let a moderate like Cheney get his hands on her.

When I arrive at the restaurant, Coulter is sitting
down, which is just as well because had I seen at
first how tall she was, I might have fainted.
Coulter's look is that of someone who has paid close
attention to the hairstyles favoured in Stepford, and
to the eyeliner worn by the evil android in
Metropolis. Her motto might as well be: you can never
be too rich, too thin, too blond, too tall, or too
rude. She has a mane of expensively blond hair, the
crane-limbed body type of a pterodactyl, and a smile
that seems entirely un-Machiavellian. Now I

All the interviews I've read involve the interviewer
(usually a liberal man) wanting to dislike her and
coming away with some excuse for her behaviour, on the
grounds that she is actually quite nice in person. And
it turns out to be true that she makes everything seem
like a joke. She loves to argue, she smiles and laughs
with every answer she gives. She's like a puppy
waiting to be thrown a ball. Look, she says, I'm just
doing this for fun. I'd rather be a married
stay-at-home mom, but until that happens, taunting
liberals seems like a good way to fill up my day.

After we've ordered our drinks, I ask Coulter whether
she thinks she owes her success to a conservative
following, or to liberals' need for a bogeyman.

'Oh, that's a good question,' she chuckles. 'One of my
favourite liberal friends has laughed about how it's
just like clockwork: they attack you, and all it does
is give you publicity, and they can't help themselves
- they just keep attacking. Liberals hate me because I
understand them better than they understand
themselves. They pretend not to get the joke.'

As the first plane went into the World Trade Centre,
Coulter was in a cab on her way to LaGuardia airport.
She was listening to the radio she always carried with
her, before i-Pods were invented. 'At first I thought
it was some shock jock joke,' she says now, 'but then
everyone was pulling the same joke'. When the second
plane hit, she leaned forward and told the cab driver
the news. He didn't react. He was a Muslim. Coulter
was instantly alarmed.

After spending all day in a bar in Queens (the bridges
were shut, the subway had stopped, she couldn't get
back into Manhattan) she wrote her infamous 9/11
column on her laptop, and hasn't changed her view
since. Was that her position before, I wonder?

'No, I never cared about the Muslims,' she says of the
people she more frequently refers to as 'ragheads'.
'It seemed like a morass - that's why so many popular
jokes are based on peace in the Middle East. I
thought, it's a morass, other people are dealing with
it, I'll write about Clinton.'

'But you don't think America should intervene on other

'No, I wouldn't have intervened in Bosnia, in fact I
think it's questionable whether we were on the right
side on that. I don't want to be the world's
policeman. But when they start flying planes into our
skyscrapers, then it's time for a little tough love.'

'Do you feel like your personal involvement led you to
those views?'

'No, I don't think it is personal. It's not a personal
thing because my city's been hit. Most of the rest of
America is more anxious to fight the terrorists than
New Yorkers are.'

Coulter thinks conservatives are in a minority in the
United States. 'Oh, we definitely are,' she says
emphatically, 'in places like the Department of
Justice, the CIA, the State Department ...' she pauses
for a millisecond. 'I think we probably have the

What Coulter would like to see is: No Democrats. There
would still be a two-party system, but it would be
composed of Republicans, and moderate Republicans.
'And then,' she says, 'America would be safe. And I've
got to say,' she adds, as she is presented with a
plate of beef carpaccio, 'the way the Democrats are
going, I think that's not as much of a pipe dream as
it seems.'

She couldn't be President herself, she says, because
she couldn't 'do the diplomacy thing'. 'Here's Bush
going around talking about Islam being a religion of
peace - I mean, I know he has to say that, but come
on! No. I could not do that. Those words aren't coming
out of my mouth.'

In Coulter's ideal world, George Bush would be the
leader of the opposition.

I had prepared to meet Ann Coulter with the aim of
finding out how on earth any human being could turn
out to be so extreme. What was her upbringing? When
had she formed these opinions? Why was she so angry?
It was only when we were sitting in the restaurant
that I realised my approach was all wrong.

I looked up over the starched white tablecloth at the
starched white collars of the other patrons. I looked
out at Madison Avenue and its innumerable blond
shoppers. There was nothing unusual about Ann Coulter.
Chances are, if any of these Upper East Siders -
neighbours of hers - were as acid-tongued or as
unconcerned about decorum as she is, they would be
like that too. 'One thing people say to me more than
anything else,' she says, 'besides "you're taller than
I expected" - is: you say exactly what I'm thinking,
and you say the things that no one else will say.'

When I ask who she thinks espouses these views, she
shrugs and says, 'you've seen the maps'. As simple as
that: wherever the America is conservative-coloured
[on the political map], people agree with her. 'She's
not so exceptional, and that's the shock,' an
acquaintance later tells me, 'People disguise
themselves as more sentimental, but what they really
feel is probably closer to what she says. It's quite
wrong to think [her position] is a redneck

Coulter was born in 1961 in New York then moved to
Connecticut, birthplace of both Colt and Winchester
gun manufacturers. Her father was a WASP lawyer who
made his name as a union buster, and her 'Southern
Belle' mother looked after Ann and her two elder
brothers. It was a 'really nice', 'boring', 'happy'
family, she says. Every Friday, they would come into
the city and go to the Philharmonic. As a family they
never talked about personal things. 'It's not
necessarily all about politics but when you're with
smart people, you're talking about things at a higher
level,' Coulter expands, 'You're talking about ideas,
telling jokes, it's not: this is what happened to me

'Who looked after your emotional welfare?' I ask.

Coulter laughs out loud - a laugh that means: what
will these idiot liberals think of next? 'Wasps aren't
into that,' she says. 'In fact, if I ever used the
words "emotional welfare", I would be sent to my room
without dinner.'

She went to Cornell University, then to law school in
Michigan. In 1994 she was hired as a legal adviser to
Paula Jones in her sexual harassment case against Bill
Clinton. But don't mistake her for a feminist. 'It
wasn't feminists who came along and made what Clinton
did to Paula Jones illegal,' she says, 'That's been
illegal in this country since 1492.'

She wasn't simply acting in Jones's interests,
however. Coulter has been quoted as saying that 'we
were terrified that Jones would settle. It was
contrary to our purpose of bringing down the
President.' She got a job working for a Republican
senator, and helped to write the country's laws - some
of which, she says gleefully, the New York Times is
complaining about even now ('I toughened up the
provision on removing criminal aliens from the United

But there was one thing she wasn't so good at when she
was a Senate staffer: 'They did figure out pretty
quickly that I should not be the one meeting with

Why not?

'I started threatening to mace them.'

'I suppose the question that often comes up is, does
she really believe these things or does she say them
for effect?' says Mickey Kaus. 'And I've come to think
she really believes them. She says the same things in
private. They are as sincere as any beliefs any of us

John Cloud, who profiled her for a cover story in Time
last year, ended up thinking she was so funny it must
be some kind of stand-up routine, that she was like a
right-wing Ali G. Coulter tells me that she once went
on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and Leno came into
the green room holding a copy of her book. 'You know,'
he said to her, 'I've heard some of these jokes
before, but now that I'm reading your book, I see that
they kept dropping the punch line - this is very

That is exactly the sort of response that some of
Coulter's opponents think is to blame for her
popularity. Eric Alterman was hired at MSNBC with Ann
Coulter 10 years ago in what was her first media job.
'I couldn't believe the crap that was coming out of
her mouth,' he says. Alterman watched Coulter get
fired during a commercial break, after she had mocked
a paraplegic Vietnam vet. 'These people think it's all
a joke,' Alterman says, 'like the guy who wrote the
cover story for Time last year - that 5,000 word love
letter - and decided it was all ironic.

'Well, I don't give the mass audience that much credit
for irony. She's told an awful lot of lies that are
very damaging, and have terrible consequences. There's
a kind of daisy chain in the media that's allowed her
to reach this level, with Hillary Clinton responding
to her comments about 9/11 widows. Hillary Clinton
shouldn't have to wipe that stuff off her shoes. The
gatekeeper function of the media has entirely

In May 1999 Harpers magazine threw a party at Keith
McNally's hip restaurant, Pravda, for Christopher
Hitchens's book about Bill Clinton. For that night at
least, it was the epicentre of the liberal
intelligentsia. Ann Coulter showed up; everyone was
appalled. 'But then they were fascinated by her,' one
partygoer recalls. 'People fell over themselves
wanting to talk to her - especially the older men.
It's one of those things: if you're attracted to
someone, who cares about politics?'

This, Alterman argues, is Coulter's 'great talent - to
make people like her and think there's no consequence
to saying we should be committing mass murder in the
Middle East.' Coulter's friend Jon Ledecky says; 'As a
platonic friend, it's interesting to see intelligent
and handsome men transformed into slobbering groupies
when they meet her.' Coulter herself tells me that
every boyfriend she's had in the past five years has
been a fan: 'a total stranger who walked up to me in a
bar or in the street.'

I ask why her relationships never last long.

'This reason or that reason,' she says.

'It's not because they're afraid of you?'

'Oh no.'

Currently popular in Washington is a blog with an
unprintable title. It takes the form of a fictional
sex scene in which the liberal narrator picks Ann
Coulter up at the farmer's market in Los Angeles and
takes her home. (By the way, Coulter really does have
fans in Hollywood. When the creator of 24 - one of her
favourite shows - threw a party for her there,
promising to introduce her to all the right-wingers,
she assumed 'there would be five of us sipping sodas',
but when she got there, it was 'a huge party'. Anyway,
back to the sex blog.) They get to his place, and turn
each other on by fighting over politics.

'With every point I expressed that ran counter to a
view she held, she removed one article of clothing,'
it reads. 'Soon she sat on my couch naked.' They
climax: 'I repeated every Karl Marx quote I could
think of until I reached my own "historic

See what I mean about her appealing to both sides?

Every Sunday, Coulter goes to church. A mega-church.
In the middle of Manhattan. The pastor packs it with
600 to 800 people four times a day, she says. Once,
she even tried to convert a Muslim boyfriend to
Christianity there. I ask Coulter if she's ever had a
crisis of faith.

'Only when liberals don't attack me enough,' she says
with a smile. 'Then I think: what was the matter with
that column? I thought it was good.'

Quotable Coulter

On 9/11

'If Chicago had been hit, I assure you New Yorkers
would not have cared. New Yorkers would have been
like, "It's tough for them, now let's go back to our
Calvin Klein fashion shows. "'

On Muslims

'The question is not, 'Are all Muslims terrorists?'
The question is, 'Are all terrorists Muslims?' The
answer is yes .'

On her Muslim ex-boyfriend

'The relationship was complicated by his interest in
committing jihad. I took away his box cutters. '

To a Vietnam veteran

'People like you caused us to lose the war.'

On Princess Diana

'Her children knew she was sleeping with all these
men. That just seems the definition of "not a good

On women

'America would be a much better country if women did
not vote.'

On the French

'A bunch of faggots.'

On her critics

'The more vicious they are, the happier I am.'


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