Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Shameful Silence

New York Observer
A Shameful Silence
On Coulter’s Spewing
By: Joe Conason

With the predictable regularity of a locust plague, Ann Coulter and her enablers at the once-reputable firm of Random House have issued yet another volume of fascistic entertainment. Now the hard-drinking, trash-talking, fortysomething bachelorette bills herself as a Christian moralist, in holy battle against the liberal heathens.

That whiff of brimstone in the air may only be the match she is striking for her next cigarette.

But her version of “Christianity” turns out to be a strangely modern and convenient faith, which encourages heaping scorn on bereaved widows, bearing false witness against them on television and publicly gloating over the ill-gotten profits thus attained. Leaving behind the golden rule of the Gospels to “do unto others as you would have them do to you,” she embodies a new rule of gold: You can never be too rich, too thin or too vicious.

Too vicious, however, is the only way to categorize Ms. Coulter’s attempted assassination of the 9/11 widows known as the Jersey Girls, whom she accuses of “enjoying” the horrific deaths of their husbands in the World Trade Center inferno. She harangues them as “broads,” “witches” and “millionaires,” guilty of being “self-obsessed” and “reveling in their status as celebrities” while they are “lionized on TV and in articles about them.”

Coming from an energetic publicity seeker like Ms. Coulter, who still whines bitterly about her elongated cover shot in Time magazine, those insults are an exercise in self-parody.

She goes on to complain that the widows, by telling their personal stories of loss, were able to shut down their critics with sentimentality. But that charge too is obviously false, since she is now reaping profits and publicity by savaging them. She is also a hypocrite, having freely brandished the name of her late friend Barbara Olson, tragically killed on 9/11, to lend impact to her own arguments.

The truth about the Jersey Girls—Kristen Breitweiser, Patty Casazza, Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie van Auken—is that they loved their husbands deeply, of course. They and their children continue to suffer from the loss that Ms. Coulter so heartlessly mocks. The truth is that in their suffering, these courageous women joined with other widows and family members to demand a serious investigation of 9/11. Together, they organized, researched and lobbied for thousands of hours to win the appointment of an independent commission, against the determined political opposition of the White House. The truth is that their success was an important victory for every American, without regard to party or ideology, and a vindication of grassroots democracy. The nation owes them all a debt of gratitude.

What is most disturbing about this episode is not that these women can be victimized by a brutal bully like Ms. Coulter, nor even that the mainstream media, which abandoned traditional standards of fairness and decency years ago, would eagerly assist her. That is our hideous political culture. What is most disappointing is the abject dereliction of the prominent politicians who worked so closely with the Jersey Girls.

John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, the Senate sponsors of the bill that created the 9/11 Commission, both believed that an independent investigation was essential for reasons of honor and national security. They both know that they could not have prevailed against the White House—and the Republican Congressional leadership—without the help of the widows.

In the fall of 2002, when their bill passed the Senate and the House, Mr. McCain acknowledged the efforts of the widows and their comrades. “I also want to put in a special word for the families,” he said after thanking his fellow statesmen. “Without their unstinting support and efforts, we would not be where we are today.”

In the summer of 2004, when the commission’s reform recommendations were debated, Mr. Lieberman praised all of the 9/11 families, including a special acknowledgment for the Jersey Girls. “I continue to be awed and inspired by your ability to turn your personal tragedies into better public safety for this nation,” said the Connecticut Senator.

And in the fall of 2005, when Mr. McCain needed citizen support for his worthy amendment to ban torture in the war against terrorism, the Jersey Girls rallied to his cause. He was glad enough of their support then.

But that was then, and this is now—and these two pious politicians remain silent in the face of a malevolent attack visited on their erstwhile friends. Both men know that it is a lie to call these women partisans or profiteers. Both know that these women—and the families they helped to lead—brought honor and purpose to a legislative process that is often petty and corrupt.

Shame on the silent Senators. And please, let’s hear no more from either of them for a while about tolerance, respect and decency.