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Books | Government | Media

October 23, 2006

Taking on Ann Coulter

Joe Maguire wrote a book targeting the right-wing polemicist—and lost his job at Reuters as a result.

David Kesmodel

In Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter, author Joe Maguire dissects the statements and writings of conservative ideologue Ann Coulter, by claiming she's misstated facts and challenging her assertions about both the left and right. In his acknowledgments at the back of the 204-page book, published by HarperCollins imprint William Morrow, Maguire, age 39, thanks his friends and family but saves his final thank you for "Coulter, for being such an easy target."

Joe Maguire
Joe Maguire
Maguire, a veteran financial journalist, quickly got attention for the book when it came out earlier this month, but not in the way he would have liked. Soon after he showed the galleys to his superiors at the Reuters news agency, where he edited markets coverage, they fired him. The New York Times reported that Reuters had given Maguire conditional approval to do the book. Asked by the Times why things had changed, the company cited the Reuters Trust Principles, which focus on "integrity, independence and freedom from bias."

Maguire began working for Reuters in April and got a book deal in June. He has worked for Standard & Poor's, Bloomberg News, and Dow Jones & Co. (Disclosure: Though our paths didn't cross, Maguire and I are both former employees of the Wall Street Journal Online, owned by Dow Jones.) Gelf interviewed Maguire by phone Monday to find out what happened with his job at Reuters, what his next gig will be, why he set out to systematically fact-check Coulter, and whether he thinks she's hot or not. Here's an edited version of the interview:

Gelf Magazine: What made you decide to do this book?
Joe Maguire: Even though I've been a financial journalist for a long time now, I've always been sort of politically aware. It's just something I grew up with. I had read a couple of Ann Coulter books, and given the depths to which this country's political discourse has sunk because of people like her—and not just people on the right, but people on the left—I thought it was time to stand up and say, hey, let's take a closer look at the sort of stuff that's being put out there by people like Ann Coulter and decide whether anything she says is true.

GM: How long did it take you to write the book?
JM: About six weeks.

GM: Six weeks? Did you sleep?
JM: Not really. It really was dawn until the very late evening for several weeks. It's a fairly short book. And when you've worked at news wires, six weeks seems like an eternity.

GM: When did you first discuss doing this book with your superiors at Reuters?
JM: It was just shortly after I had been offered the deal by William Morrow. In a sense, I sort of considered it a courtesy that I was asking for permission. I hadn't been at Reuters for that long—I wasn't sure of all the protocol—but in the end, journalists write books. That's part of what we do. This was an entirely personal endeavor. In fact, one of the conditions that I had agreed to with Reuters was that I would not associate the Reuters name with it in any way. And I was meticulous and vigilant in doing that. Even in the author's bio, to my detriment, it does not say that I worked for Reuters. I'll never confuse myself with Bob Woodward or Frank Rich or any of those guys, but the fact is that when Bob Woodward writes a book, no matter how slanted or polarizing it is itself, or polemical, the Washington Post loves to have their name on that. Reuters does not.

GM: What other conditions were there?
JM: I would not be in violation of the Reuters Trust Principles, which govern your objectivity and fairness as a Reuters journalist.

GM: Did your bosses know that your book would be critical of Coulter?
JM: Yes. Let's face it, you'd have to be naïve to think a book about Ann Coulter would not be one of two things. It would either be in praise of her, or … let's use your word, critical. Initially, by the way, one of the other conditions was this book would not be the outright political satire that I had initially thought it was going to be. It's not political satire in any way. Reuters didn't want an outright satire, and as it turns out, neither did William Morrow, so to me, it made perfect sense to then say, OK, I'm not going to write a satire. It is truly a work of journalism. Yes, it's jokey and opinionated at times, but really what it does is look at Ann Coulter's arguments, deconstruct them, and show how misleading they are. That, to me, is good investigative journalism.

GM: What were the events that led to your being fired?
JM: A meeting was called [regarding the book] with a manager and a human-resources representative. They had not yet read the book. They knew the title. I gave them a galley copy, I encouraged them to read it, and we met the next day. That was the last day of my employment, let's put it that way.

GM: Why were you fired? Did they say?
JM: You would have to ask them if there are larger reasons, but they felt that I had not met the conditions we had agreed upon. I felt I did. There was a dispute.

GM: Did they know what the title would be?
JM: Yes. People knew that was going to be the title. Not everyone knew, but of course I don't speak to everyone in the organization. Incidentally, the title as I explained to them, is a play on her most recent title (Godless: The Church of Liberalism). It was actually a title suggested by the publisher. They thought it's funny, it's catching and it's a play on her title, and I thought, you're right.

GM: Did the book turn out differently than the way you'd explained it to your editors?
JM: No—in my mind, it didn't. It is a piece of journalism. Again, for lack of a better term, it's wise-assed in some places, and certainly doesn't suffer Ann's foolishness gladly, but that doesn't disqualify it as journalism.

GM: Were you surprised by their reaction?
JM: Of course I was. I loved my job, and it was completely unrelated to politics. The fact is, Reuters doesn't really write often about Ann Coulter, and I struggle to understand how my opinions, such as they are, about Ann Coulter, would affect my driving the coverage of the global bond market or global currency markets.

GM: The New York Times reported that about 20 Reuters employees took an unscheduled group coffee break from the busy newsroom to show solidarity with you. How did that make you feel?
JM: It's nice to have friends. I wish the compulsion from them to do it wasn't there. Again, I enjoyed my job and the last thing I want is for anyone to get in trouble on my account.

GM: What is it like going from being a newsperson to being a subject of news?
JM: It's been a fascinating two weeks. It's funny. The New York Times broke the story, obviously, and as I was on the phone with the reporter there, it really was a somewhat out-of-body experience. I thought that I am always on the other side of this phone call. It was interesting to be the frustrating party instead of the frustrated one. And I repeatedly apologized to the reporter, saying, "I know this is hard, and there are certain things I can't tell you right now." It was interesting to get a taste of my own medicine.

GM: Has being in the news for getting fired helped book sales?
JM: Unquestionably. I'd like to think it would have sold decently anyway. But after the Crooks and Liars blog picked up the Times story, I, no kidding, watched the book on Amazon.com go from around No. 5,000 [a ranking of the most popular books on Amazon, updated hourly] to as high as No. 54 in a matter of hours, and Crooks And Liars is obviously one of the more popular liberal blogs. But I had no idea of the power that it had.

GM: How would you describe your own politics?
JM: I'm certainly on the lefter side of the divide. I certainly wouldn't call myself a liberal. I think I tend to be more libertarian than anything else. I'm certainly almost an outright absolutist when it comes to the First Amendment, and I will defend Ann Coulter's right to say anything she wants. But I will also defend my right to stand up and point a finger and say, "You're lying." In fact, I consider that my civic duty. But let's face it: We have a two-party system in this country, and when you believe the things that I do, there's only one clear party that I can vote for consistently, which is not to say that I do it blindly.

GM: What do you hope readers will get from the book?
JM: This isn't about taking down Ann Coulter. This is about asking people to take a closer look at the pundits and the talking heads that we have on TV and really, instead of taking things at face value, questioning everything. After September 11, we all wanted to be on the same page and we all wanted to give people the benefit of the doubt. To put it bluntly, look what happened. The White House press corps kind of rolled over, and now we're in a mess, and it's not unpatriotic to question authority. In fact, it's completely patriotic … I picked Ann Coulter because the book has been written about Michael Moore, and the book has been written about Bill O'Reilly and the others, and the book hadn't been written yet about Ann Coulter. And when I see her on TV and I hear her lying, it kind of drives me nuts.

GM: You were unable to get Coulter to do an interview. Why do you think she didn't want to participate?
JM: It's probably for a couple of different reasons. No. 1, I'm sure she's smart enough to know that this wasn't going to be some work in praise of her, but the bottom line is she probably loves when people write things like this about her. You know, the spotlight is the spotlight to her. That was a risk I was certainly aware of—am I sort of feeding the Ann Coulter beast here?—but in the end I decided it was worth the risk.

GM: Have you heard from Coulter or any of her representatives since the book came out?
JM: I have not.

GM: What other obstacles did you encounter in doing the book?
JM: Not to be a wise guy, but plowing through the rest of her canon of literature was certainly an obstacle. As someone recently said, reading the four (most recent) Ann Coulter books was a stunt worthy of the Jackass movies, but I assure you, it was way more painful than that. Because when you read her books, they're constantly infuriating.

GM: In one brief and humorous section, you deal with whether Coulter is "hot or not." What's your take?
JM: That was sort of thrown in there because Chris Matthews had had it on his show. The fact is, what I think of her is immaterial to whether or not I think she's lying. But it becomes an issue when she uses it as an issue. She certainly tries to play on her looks and has made statements like she was the original blonde or whatever, but on the other hand says, "Why should I listen to George Clooney just because he's good-looking?" Watch her on TV the way she flips her hair and bats her eyelashes. Clearly she is using whatever sex appeal she has to make her point. Whether or not I think she's hot doesn't matter.

GM: So you're not going to give me your take?
JM: I'd rather not. I'm being kind, by the way, in not doing so. How's that?

GM: Whom do you see as your primary audience?
JM: Obviously, it's Ann Coulter's detractors. Obviously people on the left, but what I would really like to do is, if it's five, if it's 10, even if it's one of her ardent supporters … to have them really take a closer look. You need to take a look at what's being said and how it's being said and decide for yourself if you agree with it.

GM: What was most enjoyable about doing the book?
JM: I love to write. It's funny because someone asks me what was the most surprising thing you found when going through Ann Coulter's stuff. It's really how good with language she is. She's a sort of evil genius, if you will, to her own nefarious purposes. But I think she really does get off on writing, and so do I.

GM: Do you plan to write another book?
JM: Well, given that I don't have a job, I guess I'd better. It's been a crazy couple of weeks, so I haven't been able to assess my situation, but yeah, I would love to do this for a living, because it is so much fun.

GM: Do you plan to pursue a job in business journalism again?
JM: Oh, sure. Actually, I was supposed to talk to a guy today about doing some freelance stuff. I don't have any outright job offers, but I haven't even updated my resume yet. I think I'm kind of cut out to cover the financial markets. The markets open and close everyday so the day is finite, which I kind of like.

David Kesmodel is a freelance writer in Chicago. He's working on a book about domain names.

Related on the Web

•Crooks and Liars' audio interview with Maguire.

•Maguire chatted with readers of firedoglake.

Related in gelflog

Pondering Coulter's toilet humor.

David Kesmodel

David Kesmodel is a writer in Chicago. He's writing a book on the history of domain names.







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Article by David Kesmodel

David Kesmodel is a writer in Chicago. He's writing a book on the history of domain names.

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