Friday, April 22, 2005


It's Time -- To Chill

Okay, let's get this straight: Ann Coulter, author of three New York Times best-sellers, has landed on the cover of Time magazine (the week after she's named by the same title as one of the 100 most influential public figures). And she's upset about it. "Why can't they just photograph conservatives straight?!" Matt Drudge quotes her as saying.

Well, let's fast-forward past sublime and go right to the ridiculous.

There's a lot to commend about Ann Coulter. I like the fact that she is provocative. I like the fact that she drives college students so nuts that they feel they have to throw pies at her -- and
miss (obviously, being rail-thin has some advantages; conversely, note the misfortune that happened to Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan -- who thought his salad days were behind him).

This is hardly the first time liberties have been taken by magazine photographers and editors. Newt Gingrich was named Time Man of the Year in 1995. The year before the same publication had shown him as "
mad as hell" and, just in time for the holidays, as "Scrooge" (to be fair, Newsweek only portrayed him as the "Gingrich Who Stole Christmas"). Given that history, many on the Speaker's staff were pleased that the mainstream media had recognized that the rise of the Republican majority and the Contract With America was the dominant story of the year. Time sent a photographer over who took hundreds of photos. The one that ended up on the cover was this. When it finally hit the stands, Gingrich's staff was not exactly thrilled. The question was raised, why use such a close-up that seemed to accent a five o'clock shadow? Why the odd lighting? Why not a "straight", normally-lit photo? Nearly ten years later, those questions still come up.

But, do you complain publicly about it? Of course not. The fact is that Newt was "man of the year." To be upset that the ideal picture wasn't used sounds like whining.

Which is exactly how Ann sounds. Maybe it wasn't fair to use the same photographer who snapped Bill Clinton in a "Lewinsky-esque" position. But there is a sense of irony about it: Coulter's first best-seller was written in the form of an impeachment brief against Clinton.

And, fairly or not, Ann has become a success precisely because she doesn't play it "straight." She revels in being a provocateur. It has worked. She is a "crossover" success to a far greater degree than many less-ferocious conservative writers. The combination of being a leggy blonde with a quick wit and a sharp tongue is catnip for radio and TV bookers, college campuses and just about any sort of political gathering. Hey, Bill Maher loves her -- that means she's officially "cool."

Thus, it's not too surprising that a magazine would approach her, not as they would a "serious" pundit, but as an intriguing cultural phenomenon. That's not to say that Ann isn't serious -- she makes many valid, legitimate political points -- but it is to surmise how she might be viewed by an editorial director putting together a weekly magazine. Yes, it's an interesting question to ask whether a national periodical should make an unsubtle editorial comment with its choice of picture selection. It's nothing short of an American tragedy that the media seem only to single out
conservatives for this sort of treatment.

But, Ann, complaining about the picture? You're on Time magazine! Come on, wouldn't you be the first to say that whining is for liberals? Remember the old adage: There's no such thing as bad publicity.

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