A short history of meanies

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Throughout history, there have been women who achieved a kind of fame for being nasty. There was Medea, the child-slaying mom. There was Dorothy Parker, wielding her acid pen. And Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess, who, according to media expert Stuart Fischoff, bathed in the blood of slaughtered virgins so as to improve her complexion.

But in the cutthroat world of modern media punditry, says Dr. Fischoff, professor emeritus of media psychology at California State University, "No woman has had the success Ann Coulter has had. She is unique."

Men, for sure, have been known to excel at verbal mudslinging, from Father Coughlin to Joe Pyne to Morton Downey Jr. to Rush Limbaugh to Al Franken. But among women, Coulter is unique, mainly because she is utterly shameless.

"There's no superego there," Dr. Fischoff said, referring to Freud's description of that part of our conscience that represses uncivilized thoughts or acts. "She goes off and says things which may or may not be true, but that doesn't seem to bother her. That's kind of unusual. You'll see other women trying to back off or equivocate or apologize when they're confronted, but she doesn't."

Another factor, says Robert Thompson, a media expert and professor at Syracuse University, is her appearance. Ms. Coulter, non-feminist that she is, seems eager to project an image as lissome blonde -- she's frequently found posing, legs crossed, in little black cocktail dresses -- thus heightening the surprise factor.

"She's young, she's pretty, she's articulate, and then she opens her mouth," he says. "People are attracted by the dissonance."

Jerry Bowyer, a local conservative commentator, decries Ms. Coulter's "anger and lack of civility." Mr. Bowyer also doesn't think there's any one female commentator on the left who can match Ms. Coulter. While liberals can be outrageous and vitriolic, "you'd have to put together a composite of things lefties say to equal her."

Nonetheless here's our list -- based on suggestions from people across the political spectrum -- of women on television and radio who probably follow the daily routine prescribed by Dorothy Parker: "I wake up in the morning and brush my teeth, and then I sharpen my tongue."

Laura Ingraham: Another conservative, brainy, Connecticut-born blonde. Has her own radio show. Once posed on the cover of The New York Times Magazine in a leopard-skin skirt.

Janeane Garafolo: Another Air America Radio stalwart when she's not doing stand-up comedy and acting in movies and TV shows, such as "The West Wing." Often cited by conservatives as the Ann Coulter of the left, she calls her opponents "fascists" and "hacks."

Randi Rhodes: Air America Radio's talk show host. Smart, like Ms. Coulter, and nasty, too. Ms. Rhodes' broadcast once simulated shooting President Bush with a shotgun for his Social Security policies. She later apologized.

Mary Matalin: Outspoken Republican strategist, onetime flack for Vice President Dick Cheney and wife of equally outspoken Democratic strategist James Carville. She declined to criticize Ms. Coulter's remarks about the 9/11 widows on Don Imus' radio show June 9, saying she agreed with her "larger point."

Julianne Malveaux: Economist and syndicated columnist with strong liberal (her Web site says "progressive") views. Professor/author Cornel West called her "the most iconoclastic public intellectual in the country." Once suggested that Clarence Thomas' wife feed him "lots of eggs and butter [so that] he dies early, like many black men do, of heart disease. He is an absolutely reprehensible person."

Victoria Toensing: Washington lawyer, staunch GOP supporter, she is, according to Dr. Fischoff, "well-coiffed, well-connected and well-spoken about things she's passionate over." Not given to verbal belligerence, although she laughed out loud on C-span at the suggestion that a special prosecutor be hired to investigate the Bush administration's alleged violation of wiretapping laws.

Nancy Grace: True crime, not politics, is her beat. Best known for flaring nostrils and curled lip while denouncing various perverts, criminals and lowlifes. A blonde, but "about as perky as a roach bomb," said Joy Press of The Village Voice.

Dr. Laura: Her profile is lower these days. But she was first on the airwaves with hard-nosed, moralizing, belittling "therapy." Her television show was a bust, but she's still going strong on the radio, excoriating working mothers, gay people and anonymous Amazon.com reviewers of her books.

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949.


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