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Correction

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The Arizona Daily Star received 60 letters objecting to columnist Ann Coulter and 20 letters supporting her between March 19 and April 27, rather than since April 28, as last week's column stated. My apologies to Star editorial page editor Dennis Joyce and to our readers for the mistake.


COULTER SLAW AND SLICED IVINS

We told you last week that Ann Coulter posts her new column to her Web site, anncoulter.com, on Thursdays. Last week's Media Watch also noted that the Arizona Daily Star frequently cuts Coulter's column to fit an assigned space.

Coulter wrote a 1,012-word column for the week of May 5, of which the Star ran 513 words on May 7. For the record, the Star ran 533 words May 7 of Molly Ivins' 742-word column for the week of May 5.

What this should tell anyone of any political philosophy (except maybe Luddites) is that the Star's political leanings had nothing to do with the need to cut either column. Newspaper page design has always had a kind of Procrustean "make it fit, whatever it takes" feel, and it's often at its worst on the editorial page. When a columnist hooks up with a syndicate, the contract includes the word count and frequency (for example, 700-800 words, three times a week). And few, if any, columnists have "no-cut, no-change" contracts; while the newspapers have some leeway in cutting a column to fit, the changes must be context-sensitive.

I'd suggest reading both columns on the Internet and deciding for yourself every week if the Star's editors got it right. You've already got Coulter's Web site. To see Ivins' column, point your browser to www.creators.com/opinion.html and click on Ivins' picture.


COULTER'S CRED

As noted above, newspapers cut columns to make them fit the space.

Now, what if I told you that sometimes columnists get a little weird on their own, and sometimes, what you see on the Web isn't quite what the newspaper got?

I could understand why an editor would pass on what you're about to read. It's titillating stuff, but because the Star wasn't carrying her at the time, it wasn't all that relevant to Tucsonans. In her Feb. 27 column, which dealt with the unmasking of Talon News' Jeff Gannon as a possible GOP softball pitcher on a day pass in the White House press room, Ann Coulter took a potshot at longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, now employed with the Hearst-owned King Features Syndicate. What made it weird was that what the editors saw wasn't what showed up on her Web page.

Editors saw: "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that dyspeptic, old Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president."

The Feb. 27 column posted on anncoulter.com: "Press passes can't be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president."

As it turned out, the "old Arab" version was what she sent to Universal Press Syndicate, where it was changed.

As we suggested earlier, you can imagine what would happen if conservative readers compared the Web version with what appeared in their local newspaper--potentially a lot of groundless allegations from conservatives that Coulter was being censored, and equally groundless allegations from liberals that editors were covering up overt racism.

(Thomas is of Lebanese descent, and if you want to get really crazy, you can always ponder the issue of whether Lebanese people are Arabs. Google that question, and you'd be amazed at the discussions.)

Meanwhile, about 10 days after the incident, Editor and Publisher magazine carried a story that said Coulter would remove any reference to a Universal Press Syndicate copyright on any column that differed from what the syndicate sent out.

The story also says that Coulter promised to post a disclaimer on the Feb. 27 column that it differed from the version sent to newspapers, and to remove the Universal Press Syndicate copyright note from the column. The E&P story, dated March 8, notes that Coulter had not yet honored the agreement, but quotes a Universal spokeswoman as saying ""We fully expect it will be removed."

As of May 8, Coulter still hadn't complied with the agreement.

Surprised?

You shouldn't be, when you consider her unwillingness to back up her facts a couple of weeks ago when the Star pointed out that her story didn't match what their reporters knew. We can probably all imagine what that did for the attorneys who'll represent the two men accused of throwing pies at Coulter last fall at the University of Arizona. Even though misdemeanor assault and felony property damage don't rank very high on the scale of crimes (think of Arlo Guthrie's line in "Alice's Restaurant" about being sent to the Group W bench), I wouldn't be surprised if the defense attorneys asked for a jury trial, and then a change of venue because of the pre-trial publicity.

And, if Coulter is willing to come back for the trial, we can hope that the folks out at Tucson International Airport and the folks who do courthouse security send her a bill for the added security that her visits seem to require--including any pie-sniffing dogs.


NO, MOM, NOT THE SOAP!

Newspapers are busting their rumps trying to attract new readers these days--especially the 18-24 age group.

We wonder if that's the spirit behind the Tucson Citizen's new rack cards--the black-on-yellow numbers that read "Polly Higgins said the band sounded like @#$%!"

With promos like that, they're a cinch to capture the Bart Simpson crowd.

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