USA Today is often dismissed by critics as the “McPaper”; it is apparently considered risible in some circles that, like McDonald’s and unlike, say, the New York Times, a newspaper should serve up something that people across the country actually want. For those on the go, USA Today provides a concise and to-the-point approach to the news that its more prestigious competitors lack. (In last Friday’s reports on the 9/11 panel, for example, USA Today got to the panel’s most important recommendation, a new national intelligence director, in less than 80 words; it took the Times over 250.)
So it’s somewhat of a surprise that the paper that bills itself as “The Nation’s Newspaper” would offer a forum to someone who believes the nation in question “is known for bringing sadness and misery to places around the globe.” But this they are doing; left-wing agitprop filmmaker Michael Moore, who thus described the United States before a British audience, will be writing a series of columns from the Republican Nation Convention in New York for the paper’s op-ed page. To balance Moore with a right-wing counterpart, USA Today settled on Ann Coulter; she’ll be writing from the Democratic Convention in Boston this week.
This news first broke publicly on my blog over the weekend, but it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. In fact, an ad in the Friday edition of the paper was meant to announce the stunt. It never ran. Apparently, either Moore or Coulter wouldn’t appear in the ad.
Now, which party might have objected?
It’s well known that many people who have attempted to work with Moore have encountered such difficulties. Said representatives of Mother Jones, which Moore edited for a short time, “He was impossible to work with. He was arbitrary; he was suspicious; he was unavailable. He ignored deadlines.” Moore declared that he was “too much of a journalist” for the magazine, sued for two million dollars, and used the $58,000 settlement as seed money for his debut Roger and Me — made just after he was fired from Ralph Nader’s organization, once again for difficulty working with others (he remained a Nader supporter through 2000). A producer of his ’90s television show, TV Nation, once said that “If you had … a reunion of people for whom working for Michael was the least pleasant professional experience of their lives, it might be necessary to rent a large stadium.”
Coulter, of course, has had her own prima donna moments, as with the bitter end of her relationship with National Review Online: rather than cooperate to fix a problematic column — one following up on her infamous post-9/11 call to “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity” — she instead went on television and denounced her editors. But my newsroom source tells me that Coulter has been “very very nice with us.”
USA Today‘s editors must have been annoyed with whoever was responsible for killing Friday’s ad; that delayed the buzz that the stunt was meant to generate. The kind words about Coulter lead one to conclude, even if it can’t be confirmed on the record, that it was Moore who refused to appear with her, and not the other way around.
USA Today has had a rough year; the staff was reshuffled last spring after a scandal broke in which star foreign correspondent Jack Kelley turned out to be a serial fabricator. One certainly wouldn’t wish upon them any serious difficulties with Moore. If they do encounter them, though, there’s an apt old adage about lying down with dogs.
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