By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2007
Michelle Malkin has seen her head electronically grafted onto a photo of a bikini-clad body.
She had to cancel a Berkeley book signing in the face of 200 shouting protesters.
YouTube banned one of her videos. And she felt compelled to move after critics posted online her Gaithersburg area address and pictures of her home.
Clearly, this is a woman who arouses strong emotions.
"They'll ridicule my looks, ridicule my ethnicity, go after my family," the 36-year-old blogger says of her critics. "They've attacked my husband relentlessly. There's a strong sexist strain among my liberal critics, who think it isn't possible I could have gotten anywhere without my Svengali husband, or some white man, embedding ideas in my head."
Make no mistake, though: This daughter of Filipino immigrants plays pretty rough herself. Whether on her blog, her Internet talk show or her Fox News appearances, Malkin delights in sticking her finger in the eye of the liberal establishment. And she is convinced that her detractors don't play fair.
"Particularly when you're a minority conservative," she says, "you get a lot of ugly, hysterical, unhinged attacks, because you're challenging so many liberal myths about what people of color should think."
Plenty of folks find Malkin's rhetoric overheated as well. "The donkey party," she wrote last fall, "is led by thumb-sucking demagogues in prominent positions who equate Bush with Hitler and Jim Crow, call him a liar in front of high school students and the world, fantasize about impeachment and fetishize the human rights of terrorists who want to kill me. Put simply: There are no grown-ups in the Democrat Party."
Andrew Sullivan, a conservative blogger who has turned on the Bush administration, regularly bestows a "Malkin Award" for excessive attacks. "Sometimes you just can't believe what she writes -- it's so out there, and in certain respects quite disgraceful," he says.
At the same time, says Sullivan, "she's been subjected to some pretty horrifying bigotry from the left, based on her gender and ethnicity and ugly stereotypes. You can't engage in the kind of rhetoric she does and not expect some blowback."
Is this merely how the war of ideas is waged in an anything-goes digital culture? Or is Malkin an especially inflammatory practitioner, torching her targets with such books as "Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild"?
Over lunch at a Filipino cafe at Union Station, Malkin, who has two young children, is charming one moment and pugnacious the next. She says she loves the intellectual freedom of the blogosphere, where "you can respond, you can reveal people to be the liars and slanderers they are."
Between bites, though, you can catch a glimpse of amazement that "a small-town girl from South Jersey," as she puts it, can have such an outsize impact. Even if she makes plenty of enemies in the process.
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Malkin has been relentlessly critical of the media's coverage of Iraq. Last month, she went to see for herself.
"I really wanted to go to Ramadi, but my husband wouldn't let me," Malkin says. Instead, she spent a week embedded with an Army unit in Baghdad and returned more hopeful about a war effort she had increasingly begun to doubt.
Part of Malkin's self-assigned mission was to check out a much-debated Associated Press dispatch. It quoted an Iraqi police captain, Jamil Hussein, as saying that Shiites had burned or blown up four mosques -- and at one of them, doused six Sunnis with kerosene and burned them alive while nearby Iraqi soldiers did not intervene. After the widely published November report, Malkin and other conservative bloggers mounted a campaign questioning whether Hussein existed.
When the Iraqi government belatedly confirmed that Hussein was a police official -- and said that he faced arrest for speaking to the press -- Malkin reported the news and expressed regret. But she now questions Hussein's very account, saying she found little damage at the mosques.
"We quoted people saying [the victims] had been bombed and burned," says John Daniszewski, international editor at the AP, which acknowledged last week that the mosques are still standing despite some damage. "It was a moving news story. We said these were allegations and not confirmed by police."
In the wake of her Iraq trip, Sullivan has softened his criticism of Malkin. "You've got to give her credit that she has actually gone there," he says. "And she has criticized the administration on this and other things. She may be shrill, but she's not a shill."
Malkin bristles at the notion that she is "some Republican Kool-Aid drinker." She has lambasted President Bush -- whom she views as insufficiently conservative -- on such issues as immigration reform, the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court and the failed Dubai ports deal. Malkin was frustrated when the president agreed to seek court warrants for domestic eavesdropping, after she had doggedly defended his earlier position that judicial approval was unnecessary.
"There is a feeling that every time we go to bat for the Bush administration, they pull the rug out from under us," she says.
Malkin's campaigns have had mixed results. She helped lead the charge against two liberal bloggers who resigned under pressure from John Edwards's presidential campaign after being castigated for anti-Christian writing. But she apologized last month for linking to a photo of John Kerry sitting alone during a visit to Iraq, and adopting accounts by a blogger and a radio host that he had been spurned by the troops there. It turned out that the Massachusetts senator was waiting for an interview with reporters.
Malkin also serves as an early-warning system, such as when she wrote about protests (by what she called "Islamist p.c. bullies") against a Danish newspaper for publishing cartoons making fun of the prophet Muhammad. When violent demonstrations later broke out, Malkin posted all the cartoons as a free-speech gesture.
"She's a very tough lady," says Bryan Preston, her business partner in the daily video blog Hot Air. "You've never met a happier person than Michelle when she's in the thick of a fight. She enjoys the combat of ideas."
That persona is a far cry from the self-described "geek" of her youth. Michelle Maglalang grew up outside Atlantic City in a Reaganite, conservative Catholic family, was not politically active, and failed a fifth-grade public speaking class. As a college student, she was so naive that when a married Republican congressman invited her to live in his home during her internship with then-Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), she thought it was a generous offer until her parents straightened her out.
It was at Oberlin College that she began working on an alternative newspaper founded by Jesse Malkin, her future husband. When they co-authored an article questioning the value of affirmative action -- and outraged students dumped bundles of papers in the trash -- "it was an awakening" for Michelle, says Jesse. She soon converted him from a Michael Dukakis supporter to the conservative side.
"She's always been hard-hitting," says Jesse, now a stay-at-home dad and health-care consultant. "She doesn't have a lot of tolerance for mealy-mouthed platitudes."
After seven years as an editorial writer for the Los Angeles Daily News and the Seattle Times, Michelle Malkin moved to Washington in 1999 to work for the Competitive Enterprise Institute. She launched her blog, http://Michellemalkin.com, in 2004. Last month it drew 388,000 visitors, and it's complemented by a syndicated column that appears in 150 papers.
Her newspaper experience was crucial because "you see what a lot of crackpots and cranks are out there," says Mark Cunningham, the New York Post opinion editor, who has known Malkin for years. "She learned a long time ago to deal with sticks and stones. People read her, even if they're infuriated by her."
Malkin's detractors -- whom she derides as "moonbats" -- were further riled by her book "In Defense of Internment," in which she said the confining of Japanese Americans during World War II was justified, and backed racial profiling as a vital tool against terrorism.
She was also denounced for posting the phone numbers of three antiwar protesters at the University of California at Santa Cruz who chased military recruiters off the campus. Malkin says the contact numbers were listed on a press release put out by the students' group.
Not surprisingly, it gets pretty hot in her kitchen. The liberal blogger Atrios (Duncan Black) called Malkin a racist over her views on immigration and said anyone who promotes her site "may as well be promoting the Klan." A Web site called Malkin Watch runs a cartoon of her in a Nazi uniform. In comments on her own blog -- a feedback loop she has since restricted -- one person called her "lyin' pond scum" and another asked why she believed "she will be treated as white when God chose to make her yellow?"
When Malkin posted a video about Islamic violence -- set to religious chanting -- on YouTube last year, the Web site promptly removed it as inappropriate. She fought back with an online video criticizing YouTube, which the site also deleted, posting a one-line explanation that Malkin herself had withdrawn it. That, she said on her blog, was a lie.
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After a few liberal sites posted her home address and phone numbers last year, Malkin received a wave of harassing calls. She responded with a defiant post, headlined "I AM NOT AFRAID OF YOU." Malkin and her family have moved elsewhere in Maryland.
"No one likes to receive the kind of attacks she gets," Preston says. "She has had to take some security precautions to make sure it doesn't rise to the level of threatening her family."
Sometimes, though, Malkin seems to use the same howitzer against every provocation. After she started crusading against the "Girls Gone Wild" culture as a "liberal assault on decency," the satirical site Wonkette received -- and posted -- a picture of Malkin's head on the scantily-clad body of a college student, whose image had been plucked from the Web. Malkin denounced what she called the "hate-filled cowards" at Wonkette's parent company for "repeatedly smearing and attempting to humiliate me."
After being contacted by Malkin's lawyer, Wonkette ran a snarkily worded semi-retraction. The site's West Coast bureau chief, Ken Layne, says he doesn't know or care whether the picture is real and calls Malkin "incapable of getting a joke."
"People send us dumb stuff all the time, and if it makes us laugh, we post it," he adds. "Malkin responds in such a predictably psychotic way whenever we mention her."
What some might have dismissed as a prank became another salvo in the culture wars. It is as though eternal vigilance is the price of being Michelle Malkin: No slight can go unanswered, no insult allowed to stand. Blogging is an addiction, she says, but not one she is looking to kick.
"You have to accept that you'll never have many friends," Malkin says. "It's a lonely existence."