When Ann Coulter Attacks

My Latest Interaction With America’s ‘Public Intellectual’

I don’t know what a “public intellectual” is, but Ann Coulter is frequently referred to as one. If this is true, I am hoping that I am not a “public intellectual.”


Ann has occasionally taken potshots at me in the past. In writing an obituary for Dr. Jerry Falwell, she said that the only disagreement she ever had with him was that when he laid blame for the attacks of Sept. 11 on various groups, including gays and feminists, he did not personally cite Sen. Edward Kennedy and Barry Lynn as the precipitating cause.


And after Hurricane Katrina (no, she did not blame me for the weather), Ann suggested that “Barry Lynn’s church” probably didn’t do much for the victims. (Actually, the United Church of Christ, in which I am ordained, gave $4.4 million since 2005 in disaster relief, and the church even organized trips to New Orleans for volunteers to personally help the victims.)


A few weeks ago, Ann took her most recent jab at me. I noticed while checking my e-mail one morning that several people had forwarded me one of her columns. Why? Had she become a convert to church-state separation “gospel”?


Not quite.


Ann had written a column about people who hate their own kind – as in Southerners who concede the racism of the area, Vietnam veterans who talked about atrocities, and ministers (well, one to be precise) who are anti-religion. In the paragraph about me, she suggested not only that I wasn’t a true minister, but also that I wasn’t a Christian. 


Ann wasn’t suggesting I had violated some scriptural prohibition or that I didn’t believe in some doctrine. She meant I was not Christian, but Jewish. She said, “The first person to post Barry Lynn’s bar mitzvah photos or birth announcement (mazel tov!) wins a free copy of my latest book.”


How does one respond to this?


I suppose I could have held a “tea party” in protest or even started screaming during some Congressperson’s forum on health care. Or I could just use my vast interlocking media conglomerate of a radio talk program, a Beliefnet debate blog and the Americans United’s Web site for a spirited defense.


That’s just what I did. In a blog, I confronted Ann with the truth. It included a photo of a birth certificate and the earliest known photograph of my parents and me at a New Jersey beach.


The birth certificate was an ancient one from Cameroon that someone had found in the trash. I blurred the actual name of the holder and printed in bold letters “BARRY WILLIAM LYNN.” The photograph was a phony “Photoshopped” picture of two large-headed space aliens holding their “son,” an alien with my face superimposed. 


I noted in the blog that my purpose in all of this was to correct her misinformation. After all, I would not want her scholarly credentials sullied. (Of course, this is a joke, too, because her recent books on Joe McCarthy and evolution have been savaged by historians and scientists for their loopy conclusions and ridiculous “evidence.”)


Comments on the blog were interesting. Some just noted that I had a great sense of humor or that ridicule was a good weapon. Others, however, noted that I had not taken her “attack” seriously enough and that she and Rush Limbaugh are too dangerous to be treated lightly.


I know what the latter group was getting at. Obviously, plenty of people do listen to Ann and Rush (and even Glenn Beck) and think they are brilliant policy analysts and acute observers of the human condition.


I believe that people who give up real scholarship and their own common sense and listen to people like Ann are pitiable. But Ann is a symptom of a much bigger problem.


It is often said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. This distinction was apparent as I watched a recent recording of AU’s Rob Boston having a debate with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Fox News. 


The subject was a Florida case where several school officials were being considered for criminal prosecution after violating a federal court order against continuing officially sanctioned school prayer. 


The Fox team (including Huckabee who is now the host of his own show) described the most recent prayer as occurring at an event where only adults, no students, were in attendance. That is flatly false.


Huckabee said that he could understand that murder is a crime, but not praying. This also is completely disingenuous. The criminal matter (if it is followed through) is about willful violation of a court order. That is a crime by any standard short of anarchy.


Arguably, the level of public discourse in this country has hit a new low. The late William F. Buckley Jr.’s “Firing Line” (which I did a number of times) was a wonderful opportunity to have two uninterrupted hours of actual debate. Charlie Rose’s late night show on many PBS stations is an honest effort to give people a chance to hear what real thinkers have to say. We need more of this. 


What we are getting, though, are more “short form” shout-fests. I am just waiting for a Fox show to feature Ann and a chimpanzee in which Ann says: “If we really descended from apes, why are you still here?” And the monkey just smiles wistfully.


Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.