The Power Issue: Joseph Maguire

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Hey may not be a homo, but Joseph Maguire definitely shares a common enemy with those of the same-sex persuasion: Ann Coulter.

Known far and wide for her zealous right-wing views (including her rabid opposition to gay-marriage), Coulter ranks as one of the most influential conservative pundits of our time. Spouting slanted hatred and manipulated facts, she’s become a household name and one of America’s leading voices of the right.

Hoping to dispel some of Coulter’s mythical arguments, Maguire’s Brainless: The Lies and Lunacy of Ann Coulter examines Coulter’s rise to prominence and cuts through everyone of her myths, lies and conjecture with precision at once hilarious and illuminating. While being lauded by the left-wing, Maguire’s bosses at Reuters – the famous news agency – had a bit of a different reaction: they fired him.

Find out what Mr. Maguire had to say about the Reuter’s debacle, America’s waning debate culture and a little thing called “truth”, after the jump.

Queerty: We’re always curious to know about people’s childhoods. So, how was your particular childhood? Did you always plan on becoming a writer, or were there other dreams along the way?

Joseph Maguire: I had a fairly normal upbringing, I think. And it certainly lent itself to becoming a writer. My parents are devoted readers of the newspapers – in fact, my mother is a voracious reader of everything. And when you read a lot, as I do, the transition to writing seems pretty natural. That said, I didn’t really plan on becoming a print journalist — I wanted to write for television. But after college, when I found out that I’d have to take a job for literally no money, I figured I’d better do something that could help pay my bills. Not that writing for a weekly newspaper was ever going to make me rich. I mean, a handful of peanuts and a pat on the backside every payday is hardly the kind of remuneration every kid dreams of. But I found that I loved the work. Simply put, I love words and the power they contain.

QT: How long did it take you to write Brainless?

JM: About six weeks. Which makes it sound like I dashed it off in between “Seinfeld” reruns. But a lot of what I use in the book is stuff that I’d already thought about and researched. It was a matter of getting it all down on paper – er, my laptop, that is. And reading the rest of the Coulter canon, naturally – which someone compared to a stunt worthy of the Jackass movies. But I assure you, it was more painful than anything those nuts come up with. Stapling my elbow to a 2×4 seems like a walk in the park compared to reading Slander with its 780 endnotes (about seven of which are meaningful).
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QT: In Brainless, you aim to tear apart the myths surrounding Ann Coulter’s conservative arguments. Do you find [that approach] to be too reactionary?

JM: Is the book too reactionary? I don’t think so. If everyone understood that Ann Coulter is a scourge on the American political landscape an treated her accordingly – i.e., ignored her – then I might think it’s too reactionary. Granted, writing a book whose theme is that someone is dangerous to you because of her lies might seem a bit…I don’t know…priggish.

But the fact is, this is not just a book about Ann Coulter. It looks at the issues she lies about, as well. It’s about lifting the political discourse from the unfathomably low levels to which it has sunk. And if that sounds too high-minded, then read it for the laughs. I kept the tone pretty jokey to make it more palatable. It is called Brainless, after all.

QT: Other writers would take a more “serious” (read: boring) approach to politics. What’s the appeal of writing comedic political pieces?

JM: The same, I suppose, as the appeal of The Daily Show compared with the evening news. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. And the appeal for me, of course, is that I get to be a wise-ass. You know, Bob Woodward’s book will undoubtedly be more edifying than Brainless, but you’ll giggle more reading my stuff.

QT: In the book, you lament the loss of America’s once thriving political debate culture. How can we get that back?

JM: Tough one. I think we can start by changing the channel every time you see someone like Ann Coulter on television. Either that, or standing up when Rush Limbaugh says something stupid (yet again) and saying, “Wait a minute, that’s not right. Here’s the truth.” And, don’t get me wrong, the lunacy spans the political divide. People on the far left can be as nuts as the people on the far right. I just think that the antidote to extremist lunacy is not equal and opposite extremist lunacy, it’s the truth. And that’s what I tried to do in Brainless: speak the truth about issues to show just how misleading and dangerous Ann Coulter’s “arguments”, such as they are, can be.

QT: Wouldn’t [ignoring Coulter] just stifle political debate? Do you think we need people like Coulter to bolster debate and flush out the so-called “truth”?

JM: Ah, a free-speech question. I love it. I’m a big defender of everyone’s right to say what they want. But that doesn’t mean we have to stick them on TV. There’s a guy at the 50th Street subway station who spouts the most unbelievably misogynistic stuff. And that’s fine — he has every right to do so. Does that mean we should have him sitting next to Katie Couric on the nightly news? Of course not.

I don’t mind letting Ann Coulter say whatever she wants. The point I was trying to make is that the political discourse in this country — while lively — is filled with muck and lies. I find it hard to see how cleaning it up will hurt.

QT: One thing that comes up in your book is the ways Coulter manipulates citation and sentence structure to manipulate her particular message. In light of that, do you think Americans are -and forgive me for being blunt – stupid?

JM: No, I don’t think Americans are stupid. I think we’re too busy – and, in some cases, lazy – to spend the time thinking about all the issues that affect us. And so we rely on those who do it for a living to inform us. The problem starts when it’s people like Ann Coulter who are the sources for people’s opinions. As a journalist who has seen the importance of accurate and authoritative sourcing, it’s her phony and misleading citations that really get my knickers in a twist. It’s just so insidious. Clever, yes, but really troublesome.

QT: You say that you write to “speak the truth”. Obviously “truth” remains a largely subjective concept. How can we know that what you say is, in fact, the truth?

JM: I’ll try to steer clear of a debate about the objectivity/subjectivity of “truth” here, but suffice it to say that I think there is an objective truth – not in every aspect of life, but in certain places. Two plus two equals four. The Earth revolves around the Sun. Ann Coulter is a pompous blowhard. All of these things are true.

Seriously, though, if you want to find out if I’m telling the truth, check my endnotes and attribution. I think you’ll find a big difference in the disputability between Ann Coulter’s and mine.

QT: Any word from Ann?

JM: Ann and I are going to Coney Island for hot dogs and a spin on the Tilt-A-Whirl this weekend!

No, she hasn’t called. Nor do I expect her to.

QT: What’s the best compliment and worst criticism you’ve received about the book?

JM: The good news is that the compliments come from people who have read the book (and not just my friends), and the nasty stuff comes from people who haven’t but are simply knee-jerk defenders of all things right-wing.

I love when people tell me they appreciated the way my arguments and refutations are constructed – that it’s levelheaded and reasonable. Then again, I really swell when someone tells me I made them laugh.

Again, the worst criticism – e.g., “Maguire is an idiot” – comes from people who haven’t read the book, so it doesn’t bother me.

QT: It’s no secret you were fired from Reuters over your opinions of Ann found in the book. How do you feel about that? What’s the next step?

JM: Well, obviously, I’d rather have a job than not have one. And I really enjoyed working at Reuters. It’s unfortunate that it ended the way it did.

The good part is that I now get to spend an hour on a weekday morning answering these questions for you, or doing a series of radio spots for talk stations around the country, or sitting around in my skivvies playing guitar. I’m getting used to being a man of leisure, which is the nice way of saying “shiftless lay about”, but I suppose at some point my bank account will start dwindling too quickly to be ignored.

I’m planning to do some freelance writing for the time being. And, obviously, I’d love to write another book. Of course, should a syndicate come calling asking me to write a weekly political-humor column, I’d be able to extend this pajama-clad career a bit…