Buckets of Data

National Post, 9 August 2003: Canada’s ‘Republican Babe of the Week’

Review
Canada’s ‘Republican Babe of the Week’: Rachel Marsden is a sharpshooting political pundit with a sex-kitten image who made headlines in the past over a controversial sexual harassment complaint
Brian Hutchinson
National Post
1611 words

National Post, 9 August 2003, A21

Suddenly, they are everywhere: scores of beautiful young women, intelligent and sharp of tongue, peddling arch-conservative views in print, on radio and on television.

Their most famous member is Ann Coulter, author of the controversial neo-con screed Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, excerpted recently in this newspaper. Coulter is the leading poster girl of the American right.

Other conservative babes include blonde bombshells Debbie Schlussel (author of such articles as “How the Saudis Run America”) and Kirsten Andersen (“My Hero, Nancy Reagan”).

They pose provocatively on their own Web sites and on other appreciative Internet showcases, including “Republican Babe of the Week” and “ConservaChicks.” They do not discourage solicitous labelling; indeed, they invite it.

While their posturing can appear contrived, their opinions are often well-crafted and are welcome diversions from some of the predictable blather served up by cheerless media leftists.

There is now a Canadian in their ranks. Rachel Marsden is a 28-year-old conservative sharpshooter with most of the requisite babe-pundit features: stunning looks, good writing skills, a rapier wit and her own Web site.

She is friends, she says, with Ann Coulter; they both attended the conservative National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C. Marsden suggests she is a Republican party insider, claiming to have attended “strategy meetings with members of the Bush administration.”

Her various biographies indicate she has a wealth of journalistic experience, in United States and Canada.

If her name seems familiar, however, it is not likely to do with any piece of commentary she may have written. In 1996, while attending Simon Fraser University near Vancouver, Marsden alleged the school’s swim coach had raped her. In 1997, following an internal SFU inquiry, the coach, Liam Donnelly, was fired.

He was soon reinstated, however, after putting forward evidence that cast doubt upon Marsden’s credibility. Marsden admitted to having frequently sent Donnelly gifts and sexually explicit e-mails. She claimed they were intended to draw him into a discussion of his alleged sexual harassment. According to Donnelly, Marsden had been stalking him for months.

It was a dark episode in SFU’s history. The school’s president resigned over it, citing depression. Several cases of false accusations by other SFU students subsequently came to light; compensation to teachers previously disciplined over false harassment claims totalled hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Marsden was later accused of harassing the former head of SFU’s own harassment office, Patricia O’Hagan, and, later, SFU criminology professor Neil Boyd.

Last fall, Marsden was charged with criminal harassment of former Vancouver radio personality Michael Morgan, 52.

None of this appears on rachelmarsden.com, Marsden’s personal Web site. Her homepage does feature a sexy self-portrait; Marsden is shown reclined on a chair, her bare legs dangling from a flimsy pink dress.

Her online opinions are presented in the form of editorial columns, most of them apparently written from Washington. D.C., where she spends much of her time. While positioning herself as a Coulter-esque commentator on American life and politics, Marsden frequently refers to Canadian issues, such as the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling on same-sex marriage.

“There is nothing more disturbing than watching gays flitting around Toronto with rainbow-coloured ‘just married’ signs, and flashing matching groom wedding bands,” she wrote recently. “Maybe people can start dragging their cats and dogs to the alter [sic] in order to legitimize the special relationship between pet and pet-owner? Give me a break.”

Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, is a frequent target. “Chretien has held federal office considerably longer than I’ve been alive,” Marsden wrote in a column she posted in May. “He’s a dust-farting holdover from the Pierre Trudeau regime of the late 1960s…. Canada’s very own Godzilla-with-a-French-accent still has more damage to inflict before his time in office runs out.”

Strong stuff. Marsden’s essays are tough, at times even nasty, but they are undeniably lively, and for the most part, they read well.

In June, she launched a tart defence of uber-frau Martha Stewart, whom she felt was unfairly targeted by securities investigators and members of the public in wake of the ImClone insider trading scandal:

“If men hate Martha because she’s managed to wedge herself into a prominent place at their business table, women hate her because she represents an unattainable standard of domestic utopia and career/professional overachievement. She’s everything they could never be — no matter how hard they tried…. Martha is being strung up for speaking out and steadfastly proclaiming her innocence when faced with serious allegations of insider trading…. I’ve noticed that people want Martha to go down in flames.”

Reading that, it is easy to imagine that if there is one person with whom Rachel Marsden identifies, it is much-maligned Martha.

– – –

“I always say exactly what I honestly think,” Marsden told me this week, in the course of an e-mail exchange. “I refuse to pull punches.”

It would be nice to believe her, but that is not easy.

Marsden is happy to rail against feminists and liberals, but she is less than forthcoming when it comes to her own activities.

Granted, she is under court order not to discuss her recent criminal harassment charge, which alleges she continually telephoned and e-mailed Morgan, once her casual lover, after their breakup last year. Her 15-day trial is scheduled for January in a B.C. provincial court.

She avoids any discussion of Liam Donnelly, although after Donnelly’s reinstatement at SFU, she stood by her allegations of rape. A criminal complaint was made to police in Vancouver, but charges were never laid. Donnelly continues to coach swimming at SFU.

She dismisses any suggestion she and her fellow female pundits are using their physical attributes to capture attention.

“No, we don’t have to,” she noted. “Women with model-like good looks who can wrestle their male political counterparts to the floor in political debate are such an anomaly, anyway. When a few of us do pop up, it’s such a phenomenon that people just have to stop and take note, whether they really want to or not.”

This does not jibe with the sex-kitten image she promotes on her Web site and on others. When Web site JerseyGOP.com named Marsden its “Republican Babe of the Week,” the site was plastered with pictures of a scantily clad Marsden.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she chided, when the discrepancy was brought up in her e-mail interview. “I could be wearing a burlap sack or a nun’s habit and some people such as yourself would say it’s ‘provocative.’ ”

“Hopefully,” she continued, “we can focus on my work instead of delving into the kind of tabloid, lowest-common-denominator journalism that tends to prevail in the Canadian media.”

Fine. About her work, then: Biographical information posted on various Web sites notes her “writing has appeared in Macleans magazine and the National Post.

That’s a stretch. Marsden once had a letter to the editor published in the National Post. She once had a letter to the editor published in Macleans. And that’s it.

Marsden’s various biographies note she “has worked at BCTV News (Global TV’s national flagship station) in Vancouver.” Technically, yes. Years ago, while pursuing a college degree in broadcast journalism, Marsden spent a month at BCTV as a volunteer student researcher.

Then there is the widely distributed claim that Marsden once worked with ABC Television News in New York City as an assistant to former anchor Connie Chung.

“Nobody by the name Rachel Marsden has ever been employed here,” says an ABC News spokeswoman. “She might have been an intern, but she was not on our payroll. She is not in our data base.”

Marsden ignored queries about her contributions to Macleans and the National Post. Regarding ABC News, Marsden wrote that her “official title was ‘Production Assistant,’ which included assisting then-anchor Connie Chung at one time.”

After a bit of prodding, she was a little more forthcoming about her “strategy meetings with members of the Bush administration.” These did not entail Marsden sitting in the White House, discussing world affairs with Colin Powell, the U.S. Secretary of State.

“I’ve participated in meetings in Washington, D.C.,” she eventually explained, “whereby members of the Bush administration (ie. chief advisor Karl Rove, Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, etc.) have elaborated on their strategies with some of their key grassroots supporters, and have asked for honest, no-holds-barred feedback.”

Marsden also “attended the January Council for National Policy Meetings in Naples, Fla.,” where such speakers as Judge Kenneth Starr (“who worked out beside me on the bike at the resort gym”) addressed a group of Republican members.

So much for casting a shadow in Washington’s inner sanctum. But Marsden’s mission is not all about rubbing shoulders with politicians. Her real goal, she says, is “to give conservatism a more widespread, mainstream appeal.” Conservatism, she adds, “isn’t just for old, angry white men in stuffy suits.”

Apparently, it is also for babes with liberal imaginations.

bhutchinson@nationalpost.com;News

Black & White Photo: JerseyGOP.com recognized Vancouver journalist Rachel Marsden on its Web site. Her own Web site features an equally glamorous photograph.

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