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One Last Thought About Lithwick's Column:
I'm glad to see that Eugene and I are on the same page on the issue of Lithwick's writing. While we're on the topic I thought I would add one more oddity about her latest column: the ending. Here it is:
Clearly, critics on the right are hoping to nudge the justice back into the fold with all the unremitting scorn and abuse. Note to Ann Coulter's breasts: It's not working.
  Again, this is very zippy. It also sneaks in another mention of Ann Coulter's breasts, which creates the impression (among other things) of a connection between the end and beginning of the piece.

  There's just one problem: Lithwick knows that her statement is false. It is rather hard to believe that Ann Coulter, Tom Parker, and the Wall Street Journal editorial page have unleashed their "unremitting scorn and abuse" against Justice Kennedy with the subjective intent of "nudging" him to vote in a way that they like. Indeed, the entire point of Lithwick's column is that conservatives have an irrational instinct to lash out and blame Kennedy for everything, no matter what he does. If that's right, it makes no sense to suggest in the last paragraph that this irrational lashing out is actually an effort to persuade Justice Kennedy to change his votes. Still, the conclusion makes conservatives look silly and mentions breasts. So it stays in.

  Anyway, I hope I'm not being too critical. I have enjoyed Lithwick's writing a great deal in the past, and I know she can be very sharp. But I think a little less zing and a little more effort to be accurate and true would improve her columns considerably.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. One Last Thought About Lithwick's Column:
  2. Lithwick on Coulter on Kennedy:
  3. Dahlia Lithwick on Conservatives:
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
It strikes me, and this is not the first time I've noticed this, that the generic feminist (if you can call it that) sensibility with regard to not objectifying women has a distressing tendency to vanish when the women in question do not tout the Party line. Ann Coulter is quite the objectionable character on a regular basis. The same is true of any number of women, left, right, and center. We do not, in general, bring their anatomy into the discussion when describing how or why their arguments are objectionable -- this would be considered crude or chauvanistic.
6.9.2006 3:59am
percuriam:
She makes no attempt at rebutting Coulter's arguments. I agree with Orin, I did not read Coulter's citation to Kennedy as being an attack on him (at least not in this case).

Then again, Kennedy was Orin's former boss. Too bad he can't tell us whether Kennedy is a liberal sheep in conservative clothing.
6.9.2006 8:09am
BobVDV (mail):
Besides, everyone knows that the books are sold -- if not written -- by Ann Coulter's legs (see, e.g. Time magazine cover) not her breasts.
6.9.2006 8:16am
Spoons (mail):
I'm trying to figure out why Orin and Gene are being so careful avoid "unduly" harsh criticism of Lithwick. I have a masochistic streak, so I've read a lot of her stuff. I found this piece to be typical of the shallow, misleading, and/or dishonest reasoning I get in her pieces.
6.9.2006 8:53am
wm13:
Spoons, Lithwick has stellar academic credentials. Most law professors are very reluctant to be too critical of anyone like that. (In contrast, many practitioners consider clerkships etc. to be silly. Dedication, diligence, and management and interpersonal skills are what really matters in life.)
6.9.2006 9:35am
Medis:
I've heard some self-described "conservatives" theorize in the past that Justice Kennedy is particularly concerned with his reputation, so perhaps it is not so ridiculous to suggest that some such people would believe that "scorn" could "nudge" Justice Kennedy.
6.9.2006 10:26am
nc3274:
Three observations suggesting that you may indeed be "too critical," given the context of the piece (a Slate article, not an academic venue):

(1) A trivial point. Coulter's use of sexuality to promote herself and her books is a running gag at this point. Maybe Lithwick's use of it is a cheap shot, but you've made a vastly bigger deal of it than Lithwick does.

(2) A slightly less trivial point. Lithwick doesn't use the word "irrational" (meaning without rational motivation) to describe the ostensible criticisms of Justice Kennedy. I read the piece as suggesting that they are "unprincipled," which leaves room to conclude that the reason for doing so is to shame him back into the fold. She doesn't say much to make the case that this is in fact the motivation, but the conclusion is not inconsistent with the rest of the piece.

(3) Lastly, re: criticisms of Roper. In the earlier post, you say
"But as far as I know, no conservative has criticized Justice Kennedy on the ground that Roper 'attempted to divine the will of the majority of the people.' Rather, conservatives have criticized Roper on the ground that it ignored the will of the people as expressed in state law, and its analysis of the emerging national consensus was quite plainly unconvincing."

Looking at pages 1 and 2 of Justice Scalia's dissent in Roper, I think both criticisms are plainly present. The criticisms are obviously related, as your post suggests--what's the substantive difference between a criticism of "divin[ing] the will of the majority" and a criticism that "analysis of the emerging national consensus was quite plainly unconvincing." Seems to me that those really get to the same thing.

Of course, that means that to the extent your criticism of the piece rests on Lithwick drawing an insignificant distinction, I agree. But I don't agree that conservatives have not criticized Kennedy's Roper opinion for trying to ascertain the national moral judgment. Scalia seems to be taking him to task for just that.
6.9.2006 11:42am
Bruce:
Orin, I think part of the problem here is that "zing" tends to bear an inverse relationship with accuracy. That's why cable news channels suck and why good scientists make horrible witnesses. It's also, to a lesser extent, why good academic or legal writing is so hard.
6.9.2006 12:36pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
If Ann Coulter’s books are written by her breasts then does that mean Dahlia Lithwick’s columns are written by her arse?
6.9.2006 12:59pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
Didn't you know, if she actually were striving for accuracy in her columns instead of being zippy, no one would read the columns?

In fact, Coulter has perfected this — gather attention by saying a few utterly ridiculous things, and continue to do so every so often, and people will continue to pay attention to you, read your columns, buy your books. It's the Howard Stern principle — people who like you will continue to pay attention, but you get even more attention by getting some people to hate you because they will pay attention to see what you'll do/say next, and then make a big stink. Presto, free publicity!
6.9.2006 1:06pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I agree with Spoons. Much of Lithwick's work (from what I have read) deserves harsh criticism. I couldn't find her stellar academic credentials either. She has an English degree from Yale and a law degree from Stanford and she clerked for some judge somewhere, but has she published any academically respectable original work?
6.9.2006 2:06pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If Ann Coulter’s books are written by her breasts then does that mean Dahlia Lithwick’s columns are written by her arse?

I dunno, Thorley, is Lithwick's bottom featured prominently on the cover of anything she's written? I had a bit of a crush on her for a while, but must confess to ignorance on the state of her bottom. Whereas there is all too little to imagine about Coulter's anatomy.

As for Spoons's curiosity about measured responses to Lithwick, she's a good writer, almost always entertaining, whose coverage of Supreme Court oral arguments has been a must-read. I'm sure that the good profs would just like to see her put a little more thought into her writing, which she is well-able to do.
6.9.2006 3:17pm
Eh Nonymous (mail) (www):
Schlafly: you're not a fan. We get it. Why are you complaining about her? She has a fan site already. Go start up an anti-fan site, where you can collect articles, books, papers, and blog comments slamming Dahlia's reason or rhyme.

Patrick: So if a woman prominently puts her cleavage on the cover of a book, it's off limits to notice it, unless one is a liberal and the woman is a conservative? Come back now? We're noticing what she's selling. It's not our fault she's using the way she looks in addition to what she has to say (and how she says it) to sell copies. It's her fault, or to her credit, or whatever. Objectify Ann? I would never.

See my latest post for some commentary on her, if you like that kind of thing.

I agree with Shake-n-Bake. Nice point! Zippy = fun.
6.9.2006 3:27pm
Splunge (mail):
Very cheeky, Thorley Winston.
6.9.2006 4:28pm
hey (mail):
Now compared to the cover of a law text, maybe Ann is flaunting her assets, but a conservative, black cocktail dress isn't "flaunting" one's cleavage prominently. If she was really trying to do that, I'd suggest somethign out of Dangerous Liasions. It just seems to be bitterness from left identified people, with the intensity increasing as one goes further left and with a definite predominance amongst the distaff side of the left.

As mentioned above, a book that was seriously trading one her sexuality would prominently highlight her legs, and would have gone for much more light on her face and hair (see the Time pictures for examples). Ann has said some exceptionally distasteful things, but I find it funny to see how her opponents focus on trivialities (her breasts) rather on her arguments (or the lack thereof).

If you can't beat Ann in print (she's very hard to beat live, not so much in print), then you need to work on your arguments as you simply have not thought them through enough.
6.9.2006 5:39pm
Christopher Cooke (mail):
Yes, this is all much ado about nothing. A columnist in Slate (hardly the Harvard Law Review in terms of its legal scholarship) tries to make some snappy, denigrating legal points about people who, themselves, feel no compunction about distorting the facts to make their arguments. In the process, she herself misstates (in two sentences) the arguments of those whom she is criticizes. Perhaps the situation is a tad ironic, but I am not sure why this is a big deal.
6.9.2006 5:54pm
wm13:
Roger, by "stellar academic credentials" I just meant graduating from Yale and Stanford, plus Lithwick must have done pretty well at Stanford to land an appellate court clerkship. Many law professors would consider someone like that to be permanently superior to someone like Harriet Miers, regardless of what Lithwick and Miers did in the whole rest of their lives. After all, it doesn't make sense for an academic to say that what law school you go to, and what grades you get when you are there, isn't important.
6.9.2006 8:42pm
Lev:

It also sneaks in another mention of Ann Coulter's breasts,


What breasts?
6.10.2006 12:20am
biu (mail):
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6.10.2006 3:47am
Huh:
False? I think this statement is firmly in the area of opinion or conjecture. Yeah she said "clearly", but she didn't say the "only reason is..." and I didn't see a cite to authority. This kind of statement is, almost by definition, impossible to verify or disprove. Unless you've got a device that reads the minds of all "conservatives", I don't think you can say that sentence is "false."

Orin, I'm not saying it's not a flawed column. And if you frame Lithwick's thesis the way you did, it's easy to say it's a seriously flawed column. But it's also an editorial. I don't think she's making any serious warranties of objectivity.

More generally, I note that Slate is catching hell from you guys lately. I guess that can be a good thing. It's shows you're reading it. But there are other popular news (and opinion) outlets on the Web. Salon, for example, would kill to get equal time on Volokh. :)
6.12.2006 12:32am