Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Coulter versus Goldberg - a Battle Royale of Sorts

Apparently USA Today dropped Ann Coulter from writing a daily column for the Democratic Convention. They spiked her first column, fired Ann (they claim it was a "mutual decision"), and hired National Review's Jonah Goldberg as a replacement.

This struck me immediately as an interesting story for positively obscure reasons. Allow me to ellucidate.

Back in the early days of politics on the Internet - back in those days of yore before the first blog dredged itself from the primordial muck and published the first snarky comment accompanied by a link - my two daily visits for political news were National Review Online, and Free Republic.

I came to the scene around 1999. And at that time I was squarely in the aftermath of a little drama between a certain Lucianne Goldberg (Jonah's mom, and known as "Trixie" to Freepers), and Free Republic, which had lead Lucianne to go off and start her own political news forum. I happened to like Jonah's writing, and didn't have a clue about all the bad blood between Lucianne and Free Republic, so I blundered into some truly confusing arguments a few times before sorting things out. In short, any time a Jonah Goldberg article was posted, there was a better than fifty percent chance the thread would devolve into a heated flame-war between those who liked Jonah Goldberg and those who hated his mom. We newbies tended to be on the pro-Jonah side.

Also around that time I encountered the cult-of-personality Freepers had built around Ann Coulter. Everytime someone posted an Ann Coulter article, it was obligatory for the thread to be flooded with pictures of her - preferably very leggy pictures. She was everything a hot-headed Freeper could dream about: a beautiful, blonde, smart, conservative woman who could turn liberals to quivering jelly with a quick sacrastic phrase. One learned quickly not to take lightly the devotion to Miss Coulter. Seriously.

Which is why I wasn't entirely surprised to read that Jonah Golberg is receiving hate mail from Ann Coulter fans for agreeing to write her replacement column in USA Today.

Jonah's response is fine as it goes. And I have few doubts that some of those e-mailers are regulars who started writing nasty things to him back around 1999, when I discovered the twin cults of anti-Lucianne/pro-Coulter fervor at Free Republic. (Incidentally, Jonah's column was published today in USA Today, and daily columns will follow through the end of the convention.)

Free Republic is an interesting and vital part of the conservative movement online. I like the site greatly. But I think some of the icons of the place have become harmful to basic common sense.

Case in point: Back in the early days, when Jonah was starting up National Review Online, Ann Coulter was definitely the better writer of the two. But now?

These days, Ann has decended into a sort of Tallulah Bankhead meets Robert Novak amalgam. She can still write funny and biting commentary. But you pretty much have to already agree with her before you can understand it, let alone enjoy it. And it increasingly comes with a heavy dose of ego (did we really need Ann telling us about how pretty she is in her spiked USA Today story?).

Goldberg has become a pretty good writer, and he's improving with time. He's still funny, and can toss in the biting sarcasm as needed. But unlike Ann, his writing doesn't get stuck there.

So for my two-cents, I'll side with Jonah on this one (at least as long as Ann's cultists haven's come across this blog - those people are scary).

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