Accuracy in Media

In the controversy over Ann Coulter’s comments about the group of 9/11 widows, there is one critical question, from the point of view of ensuring standards of accuracy in the media. How does Coulter know it to be true that, “I’ve never seen people enjoying their husbands’ deaths so much.” There is no evidence whatsoever that those women enjoyed their husbands’ deaths, and Coulter offers none. The only “evidence” for this preposterous and hurtful claim is that the women became activists and sought the media spotlight and took a political position at odds with that of Coulter. But what does that prove? 

I think Coulter probably would have been correct to say that the women appeared to enjoy the media attention. You don’t go on these shows unless you enjoy them to some degree. But enjoying a death? And the death of a loved one when fatherless children were left behind? Coulter’s comments are not only false but cruel. She has also made other disparaging personal comments about the women. 

In journalism, facts and truth are supposed to matter. Opinions are allowed, and Coulter, a columnist for Human Events and many other newspapers, is entitled to her own opinions. But why would someone offer an opinion about what was supposedly going through the minds of these women when the most obvious conclusion, based on the nature of the horrendous 9/11 attacks and the deaths that resulted, is that such a loss was a terrible tragedy that caused incredible suffering for all of those concerned. 

If the matter only involved personal opinions about people or things, Coulter’s comments wouldn’t really be newsworthy or significant. But she is claiming to have inside knowledge of the personal psychology of this group of women who lost their husbands on 9/11. That is why the comments have generated so much outrage?except from a few conservatives unwilling to criticize her. 

Coulter appears to be saying that she knows something that is both shocking and disgusting about why these women were acting they way they did. But she has no way of knowing that. Coulter may be offering only her personal opinion about what was supposedly going through the minds of these women, but she obviously has no evidence for her opinion. 

It’s possible to criticize the “Jersey girls,” as this particular group of widows was called, without making a personal judgment about what they experienced in losing their husbands. How many people, for example, remember the tough commentary on the subject offered by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal? “The venerable status accorded this group of widows comes as no surprise given our times, an age quick to confer both celebrity and authority on those who have suffered,” she wrote. 

Rabinowitz took issue with some of their claims but did so without passing judgment on their state of mind. She thought they were factually wrong and way off base about some of what they were saying about the government’s lack of preparation for and response to 9/11. 

But Coulter went further, offering crazy and morally offensive speculation about what she thought these women were thinking. The idea that these women enjoyed their husbands’ deaths runs contrary to what we would expect from people losing their loved ones in a terrorist attack. Is there any reason to suppose that these women did not grieve for their husbands? In fact, from what we know about the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath, they suffered terribly. That is what we would expect. Later, they did what you and I might do?they decided to investigate what happened that day and why it happened. They became disenchanted with the Bush Administration approach and said so. We can disagree with their approach without accusing them of abandoning the grief and suffering that resulted from losing their husbands.  

If Coulter really believes what she wrote, she should say so to the children of those widows. Does she think there will be any joy for them on Father’s Day?  

If I had to guess, and offer my own speculation, I would have to say that Coulter must know that she went too far, and that she ought to apologize for her comments. It doesn’t matter that liberals make stupid and crazy comments, too. What matters is that a conservative commentator and author ought to rise above that and acknowledge that she made a terrible mistake. That is the right thing to do. An apology would be consistent with the Christian cross that Coulter frequently wears around her neck.

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