With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Does Ann Coulter Know What She's Talking About?

In her latest book, Treason, Ann Coulter, turning conventional history on its head, claims that Joe McCarthy was the victim of a witch-hunt. Does she know what she's talking about? Below are excerpts from comments about her book. But first we begin with a statement by Coulter herself.

Ann Coulter, Author of Treason (2003)

The myth of "McCarthyism" is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times. Liberals are fanatical liars, then as now. The portrayal of Sen. Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism. Liberals weren't hiding under the bed during the McCarthy era. They were systematically undermining the nation's ability to defend itself, while waging a bellicose campaign of lies to blacken McCarthy's name. Liberals denounced McCarthy because they were afraid of getting caught, so they fought back like animals to hide their own collaboration with a regime as evil as the Nazis. As Whittaker Chambers said: "Innocence seldom utters outraged shrieks. Guilt does."

At the time, half the country realized liberals were lying. But after a half century of liberal myth-making, even the disgorging of Soviet and American archives half a century later could not overcome their lies. In 1995, the U.S. government released its cache of Soviet cables that had been decoded during the Cold War in a top-secret undertaking known as the Venona Project. The cables proved the overwhelming truth of McCarthy's charges. Naturally, therefore, the release of decrypted Soviet cables was barely mentioned by the New York Times. It might have detracted from stories of proud and unbowed victims of "McCarthyism." They were not so innocent after all, it turns out.

Soviet spies in the government were not a figment of right-wing imaginations. McCarthy was not tilting at windmills. He was tilting at an authentic communist conspiracy that had been laughed off by the Democratic Party. The Democrats had unpardonably connived with the greatest evil of the 20th century. This could not be nullified. But liberals could at least hope to redeem the Democratic Party by dedicating themselves to rewriting history and blackening reputations. This is what liberals had done repeatedly throughout the Cold War. At every strategic moment this century, liberals would wage a campaign of horrendous lies and disinformation simply to dull the discovery the American people had made. They had gotten good at it.

There were, admittedly, a few rare and striking exceptions to the left's overall obtuseness to communist totalitarianism. John F. Kennedy's pronouncements on communism could have been spoken by Joe McCarthy. For all his flaws, Truman unquestionably loved his country. He was a completely different breed from today's Democrats. Through the years, there were various epiphanic moments creating yet more anti-communist Democrats. The Stalin-Hitler pact, Alger Hiss' prothonotary warbler, information about the purges and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" – all these had their effect.

But after World War II, the Democratic Party suffered a form of what France had succumbed to after World War I. The entire party had lost its nerve for sacrifice, heroism and bravery. Beginning in the '50s, there was a real battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. By the late '60s, the battle was over. The anti-communist Democrats had lost.

Source:"I Dare Call it Treason," Frontpagemag.com (June 26, 2003).

If you like the service HNN provides, please consider making a donation.

Thomas Reeves (Author of a biography of McCarthy)

In case you missed it, Ann Coulter, in her new book Treason, is calling McCarthyism a liberal myth and labelling Joe McCarthy a hero. The Far Right has gone off the cliff, folks. Arthur Herman's book on the Wisconsin Senator started this nonsense. My own biography, I contend modestly, needs to be studied by conservative journalists, along with the huge bibliography that documents McCarthyism fully.

Yes, the Venona Papers are important, but they, like the HUAC hearings on Hollywood, have nothing directly to do with McCarthy. Would that history were required in today's colleges and universities.

Source: Comment posted on the list run by Richard Jensen, conservativenet (July 1, 2003)

Andrew Sullivan

In [Ann] Coulter's world, there are two types of people: conservatives and liberals. These aren't groups of people with competing ideas. They are the repositories of good and evil. There are no distinctions among conservatives or among liberals. To admit the complexity of political discourse would immediately require Coulter to think, explain, argue. But why bother when you can earn millions insulting?

Here are a few comments about "liberals" that Coulter has deployed over the years: "Liberals are fanatical liars." Liberals are "devoted to class warfare, ethnic hatred and intolerance." Liberals "hate democracy because democracy requires persuasion and compromise rather than brute political force." Some of this is obvious hyperbole, designed for a partisan audience. Some of it could be explained as good, dirty fun. It was this formula that gained her enormous sales for her last book, "Slander," which detailed in sometimes hilarious prose, the liberal bias in much of American media. But her latest tome ups the ante even further. If biased liberal editors are busy slandering conservatives, liberals more generally are dedicated to the subversion of their own country. They are guilty of - yes - treason.

A few nuggets: "As a rule of thumb, Democrats opposed anything opposed by their cherished Soviet Union. The Soviet Union did not like the idea of a militarily strong America. Neither did the Democrats!" Earlier in the same vein: "Whether they are defending the Soviet Union or bleating for Saddam Hussein, liberals are always against America. They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant." And then: "The myth of 'McCarthyism' is the greatest Orwellian fraud of our times. Liberals are fanatical liars, then as now. The portrayal of Sen. Joe McCarthy as a wild-eyed demagogue destroying innocent lives is sheer liberal hobgoblinism. Liberals weren't hiding under the bed during the McCarthy era. They were systematically undermining the nation's ability to defend itself, while waging a bellicose campaign of lies to blacken McCarthy's name."

Coulter does not seek to complicate her view of liberals with any serious or lengthy treatment of the many Democrats and liberals who were ferociously anti-Communist. Scoop Jackson? Harry Truman? John F Kennedy? Lyndon Vietnam Johnson? She doesn't substantively deal with those Democrats today - from Senator Joe Lieberman to the New Republic magazine - who were anti-Saddam before many Republicans were. She is absolutely right to insist that many on the Left are in denial about some Americans' complicity in Soviet evil, the guilt of true traitors like Alger Hiss or the Rosenbergs, who helped Stalin and his heirs in their murderous pursuits. And part of the frustration of reading Coulter is that her basic causes are the right ones: the American media truly is biased to the left; some liberals and Democrats were bona fide traitors during the Cold War; many on the far left today are essentially anti-American and hope for the defeat of their country in foreign wars....

One of the most reputable scholars who has studied the McCarthy era in great detail, Ron Radosh, is appalled at the damage Coulter has done to the work he and many others have painstakingly done over the years. "I am furious and upset about her book," he told me last week. "I am reading it - she uses my stuff, Harvey Klehr and John Haynes, Allen Weinstein etc. to distort what we actually say and to make ludicrous and historically incorrect arguments. You might recall my lengthy and negative review in The New Republic a few years ago of Herman's book on McCarthy; well, she is ten times worse than Herman. At least he tried to use bona fide historical methods of research and argument." Now Radosh has endured ostracism and abuse for insisting that many of McCarthy's victims were indeed Communist spies or agents. But he draws the line at Coulter's crude and inflammatory defense of McCarthy. "I think it is important that those who are considered critics of left/liberalism don't stop using our critical faculties when self-proclaimed conservatives start producing crap."

Source: The London Sunday Times (July 5, 2003)

Joe Conason

"Slander" is defined in Bouvier's Law Dictionary as "a false defamation (expressed in spoken words, signs, or gestures) which injures the character or reputation of the person defamed." The venerable American legal lexicon goes on to note that such defamatory words are sometimes "actionable in themselves, without proof of special damages," particularly when they impute "guilt of some offence for which the party, if guilty, might be indicted and punished by the criminal courts; as to call a person a 'traitor.'"

So how appropriate it is that in the rapidly growing Ann Coulter bibliography, last year's bestselling "Slander" is now followed by "Treason," her new catalog of defamation against every liberal and every Democrat -- indeed, every American who has dared to disagree with her or her spirit guide, Joe McCarthy -- as "traitors." And like a criminal who subconsciously wants to be caught, Coulter seems compelled to reveal at last her true role model. (Some of us had figured this out already.)

She not only lionizes the late senator, whose name is synonymous with demagogue, but with a vengeance also adopts his methods and pursues his partisan purposes. She sneers, she smears, she indicts by falsehood and distortion -- and she frankly expresses her desire to destroy any political party or person that resists Republican conservatism (as defined by her).

"Whether they are defending the Soviet Union or bleating for Saddam Hussein, liberals are always against America," according to her demonology. "They are either traitors or idiots, and on the matter of America's self-preservation, the difference is irrelevant. Fifty years of treason hasn't slowed them down." And: "Liberals relentlessly attack their country, but we can't call them traitors, which they manifestly are, because that would be 'McCarthyism,' which never existed." (Never existed? Her idol gave his 1952 book that very word as its title.) ...

The likelihood is that Coulter's many avid fans are as conveniently ignorant of the past as she seems to be. So the rubes who buy "Treason" will believe her when she accuses George Catlett Marshall, the great general who oversaw the reconstruction of Europe, of nurturing a "strange attraction" to "sedition" and of scheming to assist rather than hinder Soviet expansion.

Her duped readers will believe that Marshall and President Harry S. Truman opposed Stalin only because Republicans won the midterm elections in 1946. They probably won't know that Truman confronted the Soviets in the Mediterranean with a naval task force several months before Election Day; or that the new Republican majority cut Truman's requested military budget by $500 million as soon as they took over Congress in January 1947, nearly crippling the American occupation of Germany and Japan; or that Truman, Marshall and Dean Acheson had to plead with the isolationist Republican leadership to oppose Russian designs on Greece and Turkey.

Her deceptive style is exemplified in an anecdote she lifts from an actual historian and twists to smear Truman. She writes: "Most breathtakingly, in March 1946, Truman ostentatiously rebuffed Churchill after his famous Iron Curtain speech in Fulton, Missouri. Immediately after Churchill's speech, Truman instructed his Secretary of State Dean Acheson not to attend a reception for Churchill a week later in New York."

In that passage -- footnoted to James Chace's magisterial 1998 biography of Acheson -- Coulter demonstrates that she is both an intentional liar and an incompetent writer. The pages she cites from Chace explain quite clearly that Acheson (who was not then Secretary of State and would not be promoted to that office until 1949) was urged to avoid the New York reception by Secretary of State James Byrnes, not Truman. The British apparently didn't notice that "ostentatious rebuff," since they immediately invited Acheson and his wife to a cordial lunch with Churchill in Washington. And as for Truman, Chace notes that it was he who had invited Churchill to Missouri, his home state, to deliver the speech -- which the American president read in advance, assuring the former prime minister that his strong warning about communist intentions would "do nothing but good."

So replete is "Treason" with falsehoods and distortions, as well as so much plain bullshit, that it may well create a cottage industry of corrective fact-checking, just as "Slander" did last year. (The fun has already begun with Brendan Nyhan's devastating review on the Spinsanity Web site. So far the Spinsanity sages have found "at least five factual claims that are indisputably false" in "Treason," along with the usual Coulter techniques of phony quotation, misleading sourcing, and sentences ripped from context or falsely attributed.)

Such heavy-handed deception was precisely the sort of tactic employed by McCarthy himself against Acheson and all his other targets. In his book "McCarthyism: The Fight for America," for instance, he charged that the Truman aide had "hailed the Communist victory in China as 'a new day which has dawned in Asia.'" Of course, Acheson had neither said nor written anything of the kind.

To Coulter, McCarthy is simply a great man worthy of her emulation. In her alternate universe, he isn't the slimy traducer Americans have come to know and despise. He's bright, witty, warm-hearted and macho, a sincere farm boy who exposes the treasonous cowardice of the urbane Acheson, Marshall and other "sniffing pantywaists." She seems to regard him as kind of a Jimmy Stewart type, albeit with jowls and five o'clock shadow and a serious drinking problem.

And he never, ever attacked anyone who didn't deserve it.

"His targets were Soviet sympathizers and Soviet spies," Coulter proclaims without qualification. But elsewhere she says that he wasn't even really trying to find either communists or spies, but only seeking to expose "security risks" in government jobs. Whatever his mission, it was noble and succeeding admirably until 1954, when "liberals immobilized him with their Army-McCarthy hearings and censure investigation."

Actually, McCarthy was brought down by his own televised misconduct during those hearings -- and by the outrage not of Democrats but of Republicans, including President Eisenhower and a caucus of courageous GOP senators. (Among the latter was the current president's grandfather, Prescott Bush of Connecticut, whose vote to censure McCarthy is another little fact that Coulter forgets to mention.)

The truth is that some of McCarthy's targets were or had been communists -- and therefore by definition "sympathizers" of the Soviet Union -- but he never uncovered a single indictable spy. There had been dozens of Soviet agents in government before and during World War II. But those espionage rings had been broken up by the FBI well before McCarthy showed up brandishing a bogus "list" of 57 or 205 or 81 Communists in the State Department.

Yet the Wisconsin windbag amassed sufficient power for a time to destroy innocent individuals, most notably Owen Lattimore, described smirkingly by Coulter as McCarthy's "biggest star" and the man he once named as Stalin's "top espionage agent" in the United States. "Somewhat surprisingly," as Coulter is obliged to note, Lattimore's name has yet to be found in Moscow's excavated KGB archives or in the Venona cables decrypted by U.S. Army counterespionage agents. The dearth of evidence against Lattimore matters not at all to Coulter, however. Though the eminent China expert was neither a spy nor a communist, he certainly knew and worked with some communists -- and worst of all, he disagreed with the far right about U.S. policy toward China.

Source: Salon (July 4, 2003)

Related Links