The last thing you’d expect Michelle Malkin to be is charming, funny, or vulnerable.
As an agent provocateur of the hard right—blogger, newspaper columnist, Fox News contributor and, for the past six weeks, queen of the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list—she can project a certain grim, off-putting intensity. In recent appearances on The View and the Today show to hype her latest anti-liberal screed—Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies—she was, by turns, shrill and smug, occasionally disciplining an unruly interrogator with a schoolmarmish “Read the book!” And unlike Ann Coulter, whose more outrageous remarks are usually mitigated by a sly grin, nobody ever wonders if Michelle Malkin is for real.
She is, unmistakably, dead serious.
The recipient of occasional death threats, Malkin has twice felt the need to move her family to undisclosed locations. “I limit the amount of traveling and speaking that I do, but you just never know,” she says.
So who is this softspoken, self-deprecating woman talking to me on the phone?
“I’m a human being,” Malkin says from her home in tranquil Colorado Springs (tranquil, except for the shrieking of Air Force jets—“the sound of freedom,” Malkin says), far, far away from the media-political complex. “I mean, every once in a while it might get under my skin. But I can't stop ad hominem attacks against me.”
I’ve just asked if it ever bothers her that so many people dislike her—even worse, despise her. She did, after all, once write a book defending the World War II internment camps for Japanese-Americans, and calling for racial profiling of Arabs in the war on terror.
The recipient of occasional death threats, she has twice felt the need to move her family to undisclosed locations—and in recent years decamped from suburban Washington to the flyover wilds of Colorado. When she goes on book tour or lectures on college campuses, she is accompanied by a private security guard. “I limit the amount of traveling and speaking that I do, but you just never know,” she says.
The 38-year-old Malkin recounts how, a few years back, someone photo-shopped her head onto a sexy body in a string bikini and posted it on the Web site Wonkette, which presented the snapshot as genuine and captioned it: “Malkin doing the Girls Gone Wild semi-boob flash.” Here was evidence of rank hypocrisy on the same day Malkin had published a column lamenting the abundance of “skanks” and the dearth of “wholesome” role-models for young girls.
“It was ridiculous,” says Malkin, a mother of two. “I’m open with my kids about my job and what I do. They’ve seen the photo-shop of me in the bikini. I told them: ‘This is what I’d look like if I didn’t have stretch marks.’ ”
Malkin is pretty and dark-skinned, a first-generation American whose parents left the Philippines in 1970—in search of economic opportunity, not political freedom, she says—and settled in southern New Jersey. Young Michelle Maglalang absorbed the conservative social values of her striving, Ronald Reagan-admiring parents—her mother a schoolteacher, her father a physician—and received a Catholic education while diligently studying to be a concert pianist.
Alas, when she arrived at Oberlin College—a music- and arts-oriented campus in Ohio—she quickly learned she wasn’t talented enough at the piano keyboard; at the computer keyboard, though, it was a whole different story. Writing for an alternative publication edited by a fellow student, husband-to-be Jesse Malkin, she discovered a virtuosic capacity for riling people up. Her essay attacking affirmative action set the campus in an uproar. Outraged undergraduates took stacks of the magazine and tossed them in the trash. Her detractors called her “the Eva Braun of Oberlin.” Having tasted first blood, Michelle couldn’t get enough: She had found her vocation: Conservative Controversialist.
But unlike like her blond, blue-eyed sisters in right-wing punditry—Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley et al—Malkin has been forced to grapple personally with the issue of race. “I mean, look at me,” she once told a college audience. “I’ve been called a Jap, Chink, Gook, Dog-eater.” One day in kindergarten, she came home sobbing after being the target of racial insults from other children. “My mom wiped my tears...and told me everyone has prejudice,” she recounted. “I am eternally grateful for this [lesson].”
Today Malkin says this anecdote— highlighted in her Wikipedia entry —has been largely mischaracterized by the mainstream media. “It's strange to me that this is what people would seize on,” she tells me. “The point of the story was to contrast overt racism with liberal racism and holier-than-thou, sanctimonious, this-is-not-racism racism. Overt racism, to me, was always easier to deal with. After a while it gets stultifyingly boring to me. I blog every day, I break news, I’ve written four books—and people just want to harp on the fact that I’ve been very open and candid about race and conservatism. I just think it shows you there is no such thing as post-racial America.”
She goes on: “I think that the racism and the sexism, particularly of liberal bloggers, is really something to behold. I think that so-called progressives who think it's funny to make Filipina barmaid jokes and somehow use my maiden name as some sort of cudgel or proof of hypocrisy—it’s completely ridiculous. But I get that on a daily basis—you wouldn’t believe the crap in my email box. It doesn’t stop me from doing what I do.”
Today Malkin runs two political Web sites—her blog www.Michellemalkin.com and a video aggregator, www.Hotair.com –writes a column for Creators Syndicate, lectures, churns out books, and appears on Fox (though not The O’Reilly Factor: She has stubbornly refused to go on cable television’s highest-rated show ever since Bill O’Reilly gave Fox’s house liberal, Geraldo Rivera, a forum to make what she considered an insincere, mocking apology for telling The Boston Globe he’d like to “spit on” her).
Malkin also likes to get out of her house and do shoe-leather reporting, albeit with ideological intent. She traveled to Denver for the Democratic Convention and even got herself embedded with U.S. soldiers in Iraq. She says she’ll use good information from left-wing sources—even Salon and ACORN—and had dedicated her latest book to whistleblowers who helped her flesh out the alleged corruption of Michelle Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Tom Daschle and other associates of the president.
“To me that’s what makes this a compelling book,” Malkin says. “A sincere commitment to good government makes for some strange bedfellows. But I’ve been in bed with strange fellows – I shouldn't say that, ha ha ha—for my entire professional career.” She adds: “I like a good story. I think one of the misunderstandings about who I am and what I do is that somehow I do it because I just want to get on TV or it’s about the fame, or it’s about the ‘bomb-throwing.’…I’ve always thrived on digging up stories and shedding light on information that’s not getting out there.”
And if she’s getting rich in the bargain, so much the better. “I think that every good conservative capitalist pursues the profit motive.”
Lloyd Grove is Editor at Large for The Daily Beast. He is also a frequent contributor to New York magazine and was a contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio. He wrote a gossip column for the New York Daily News from 2003 to 2006. Prior to that, he wrote the Reliable Source column for the Washington Post, where he spent 23 years covering politics, the media, and other subjects.