ABC's Jake Tapper: It's Unfair Ann Coulter's Being Misquoted, But So Is Bill Maher

On his Political Punch blog, ABC correspondent Jake Tapper is calling out the media who have misquoted Ann Coulter -- but he also suggests Coulter has mischaracterized leftist comedian Bill Maher:

Conservative provocateur Ann Coulter is often unfair, and cruel. But that doesn't mean we in the media are allowed to treat her with equal dishonesty.

Coulter on Monday's Good Morning America, asked about the time she used an anti-gay slur to impugn former Sen. John Edwards, D-NC, said: "I did not call John Edwards the F-word. I said I couldn't talk about him because you could go into rehab for using that word. But about the same time, you know, Bill Maher was not joking and saying he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. So, I've learned my lesson. If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."

I've seen major media outlets only quote that last sentence -- "If I'm going to say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."

That's not fair.

Even if you think Coulter is vile, even if you believe her joking about Edwards' death at all is inappropriate, to quote just that last bit isn't an accurate representation to viewers or readers of what she said.

Just because she is one-sided and dishonest does not mean the media is allowed to be when we cover her.

But while we're on the subject of out-of-context quotes, let's take a look at what Bill Maher actually said. Because Coulter was not quoting him accurately. He decidedly did NOT say he wished the Vice President had been killed in a terrorist attack.

Earlier this year, Maher asked why Arianna Huffington of the liberal website the Huffington Post removed postings expressing disappointment that Cheney had not been killed in an assassination attempt in Afghanistan. Others thought it was "hate speech"; Maher thought they should have the right to say that.

When pressed on the matter, Maher said, "I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people would not be dying needlessly tomorrow."

Asked MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, "If someone on this panel said that they wished that Dick Cheney had been blown up, and you didn’t say --"

"I think he did," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass.

"Okay," said Scarborough. "Did you say --"

"No, no," said Maher. "I quoted that."

"You don’t believe that?" asked Frank.

"No, I’m just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live," said Maher. "That’s a fact."

Now, you might disagree with that thought, but it is NOT - as Coulter would have it - either a joke, nor is it a declared wish that Cheney would die in a terrorist attack.

While Tapper is right that Maher didn't say he wished Cheney would die, it's clear that he said that the world would be a better place if he were dead -- and more importantly, that he was a supporter of the free speech of people who cracked about wanting him dead. Maher's audience laughed at the idea of the bomb missing Cheney, to add more transcript:

Maher: What about the people who got onto the Huffington Post – and these weren’t even the bloggers, these were just the comments section – who said they, they expressed regret that the attack on Dick Cheney failed.

Joe Scarborough: Right.

Maher: Now…

John Ridley: More than regret.

Maher: Well, what did they say?

John Ridley: They said “We wish he would die.” I mean, it was (?) hate language.

Barney Frank: They said the bomb was wasted. (laughter and applause)

Maher: That’s a funny joke. But, seriously, if this isn’t China, shouldn’t you be able to say that? Why did Arianna Huffington, my girlfriend, I love her, but why did she take that off right away?...

Ridley: It’s one thing to say you hate Dick Cheney, which applies to his politics. It’s another thing to say, “I’m sorry he didn’t die in an explosion." And I think, you know…

Maher: But you should be able to say it.

I think it should be obvious to everyone in the talk-show wars that death-wish jokes are more trouble than they are worth, and that free speech doesn't mean that some speech isn't deplorable, and it's our right to speak out and deplore it.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis