The shingle-style house straddles a hillside, its windows offering sunny views in three directions. Games, books and DVDs topple from living-room shelves. In the kitchen, a young mom helps her 7-year-old daughter feed fabric through a sewing machine.
The place seems more all-American home than hideout, but fewer than 20 people know that Michelle Malkin, mother of two young children, loyal wife of 15 years -- oh, and scourge and sometime nightmare of liberals in her newspaper columns, TV spots, books and writings on the Web -- moved to this place in the Baltimore area a year and a half ago.
If you're seeking a living symbol of America's rancorous political divide, look no further than Malkin, one of the most popular and provocative voices on the modern right. The only daughter of first-generation immigrants from the Philippines, Malkin, 37, began blogging on politics nine years ago after a successful run as a newspaper columnist and has become a menace out of proportion to her Size 0 frame.
Two years ago, in the midst of an Internet contretemps over military recruiting on college campuses, left-leaning activists posted her home address and phone number -- and photos of her house and neighborhood -- online. They apparently were trying to exact revenge because she had published information they felt she shouldn't have.
The Malkins found a new home. For now, only a few friends know exactly where to find them.
"Sadly enough, it comes with the territory," says Malkin, whose most recent book, Unhinged: Exposing Liberals Gone Wild, argues that the political left, far more than the right, suffers the presence of "moonbats" -- Malkin-speak for those fated to play out life's hand with a less-than-full deck. "I'm used to it. But when you have kids, you have to be cautious."
As she makes snacks for her daughter and 4-year-old son, helps her husband, Jesse, get ready for a run and steals glances at an open laptop on the dining-room table, it's hard to conjure the right-wing menace who inspires hundreds of venomous e-mails a week. "[You] ought to be shot between those Viet Cong eyes," reads one. "How does it feel to be a paid prostitute for the Republicans?" says another. "Go get some collagen injected in your lips, it makes you look more the part."
"Stirring arguments, aren't they?" says Malkin with a roll of her eyes. "That's what you resort to when you're losing the debate -- name-calling and ad hominem attacks."
A snippet of news flashes across her Mac. "Excuse me a minute, I need to check this," she says, her brow furrowing. She sits down for a few minutes' work.
Boys on Bus?
A visit to the nerve center of the Malkin media empire is enough to unnerve the crustiest journalist or political junkie. The Boys on the Bus? This is more mom in the playroom. Climb a back staircase, step over a SpongeBob toy or two, hang a left at the master bedroom, and stumble into the walk-in closet with the skylight in the ceiling, and you're in what might equate to the newsroom of the future. Or is it the present?
Malkin, spry in jeans and a black ballcap, clears a spot on a desk between some hanging coats. "I like it in here," she says, gesturing to the TV monitor, speakers and oversized laptop on her workspace. "I miss the hum of a newsroom, but other than that, I have everything I need."
Malkin honed her skills as a columnist with the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times in the 1990s, turning herself into what Rick Newcombe, her longtime editor at Creators Syndicate, calls "a brilliant writer and extremely articulate conservative. She is exciting, not staid."
Malkin reminds him of no less an eminence than William F. Buckley, who passed away last month, but even Buckley might have envied Malkin's reach. She connects with millions without ever leaving home. She monitors world events on a passel of Weblogs, swaps messages with news sources around the world, writes a column picked up by 200 newspapers and Web sites each week, and taps out updates to the pieces she has written for her own blogs, MichelleMalkin.com and HotAir.com (as many as a dozen posts a day).
She started working online in 1999, she says, before modern blogging software came along. "You built the whole site from scratch every time you added a post," she says, a state of affairs a blogger might equate with carving hieroglyphics in stone.
Her sites attract 15.1 million page views per month, both of them among the top three blogs on the political right. Pajamas Media, a California blogging conglomerate, pays her and two fellow HotAir writers.
Her writing blends in-your-face defiance and cheek. After Thursday's pre-dawn blast that damaged a military recruiting center at Times Square in New York, Malkin wrote, "Will any on the left and in the Democrat Party raise their voices -- loudly and clearly -- to condemn the ongoing, militant anti-recruiter campaign? Will they urge the Code Pinkos and their ilk to halt their intimidation and obstruction efforts?"
She could make a living blogging, she says, though it hasn't yet made her rich. Commentator Juan Williams, a colleague at Fox News, wonders whether this is the same journalism he grew up learning. "Her background is certainly nontraditional, isn't it?" he says. "She seems to be doing a very good job of creating herself."
Not everyone's so impressed.
"I can't say her contributions are enriching the public dialogue. She favors a 'Shoot first, ask questions later' strategy, popular among conservative bloggers," said Bill Scher of the Liberal Oasis blog.
"She is a flame-thrower by choice," he says. "She is capable of sober dialogue, and you can find more of that in her earlier work as a columnist. But clearly, she feels she makes a greater impact with her present approach."
Malkin grew up painfully shy, the daughter of Reagan Republicans in Absecon, N.J. She dreamed of a career as a concert pianist. At Oberlin, the Ohio college she chose for its music program, she found she was "fourth-rate" on the keyboards. On a campus known for liberal politics, the socially conservative Michelle Maglalang met Jesse Malkin, a student one year her senior who had started a right-of-center newspaper.
Once a self-described "Dukakis liberal," Malkin had an interest in affirmative action. The two teamed on an article in which they came to the conclusion that using racial preferences in admissions harmed those who arrived on campus without enough academic training. "We interviewed a lot of very embittered people," she says.
The piece caused a firestorm. They were called "Hitler and Eva Braun." Minority groups shunned them. No critics, they noticed, engaged with the story's facts.
The crushing of dissent from the left "was life-changing for me," says Michelle Malkin, who married Jesse in 1993. It galvanized her conservatism, and his.
"It was such a profound and simple lesson to learn at Oberlin, and it has lasted me a lifetime. I've lived among many different kinds of people in this country, and it has always been the case -- in life or on the Internet -- that the most vicious attacks I've faced have not come from the archetypal red-necked bigots on the right. It's always been the people who profess to have the best intentions for me and my race and my gender. The loudest cheerleaders for tolerance are the most intolerant of all."
The downtown coffee shop is empty when Malkin arrives, which is just as well. She has been a talking head on Fox for eight years now, and twice has hit The New York Times bestseller list (even though, she points out with a snort, the paper has never reviewed her books). Last year, she became a regular guest host on The O'Reilly Factor, and as she tangled with liberal guests, her celebrity grew.
"It's a bit of an ego stroke at first" to be spotted in public places, she says, opening the laptop on a table. "Now, when somebody approaches, I wonder, 'Does this person like me or hate me?' It's never indifference."
That's partly due, of course, to her taste for striking sparks against the flints of political correctness, whether the subject is affirmative action, illegal immigration or the meaning of jihad.
It's also due, truth be told, to the way she looks. Malkin does belie the stereotype of the conservative-as-middle-aged-white-male, leading some to compare her to the blond firebrand Ann Coulter.
"As a woman and an ethnic minority, people demand a certain viewpoint from Michelle, but she has her own mind and her own opinions," says Ed Morrissey, creator of Captain's Quarters, another conservative blog. "That threatens their concepts of gender and ethnicity."
It also amuses her that so few of her critics realize "I actually believe what I believe." Why, she says, should being born "with brown skin and a uterus" confine her to any particular set of beliefs?
After an hour of conversation, she walks down the block to a TV studio, spends a half-hour in makeup and enters a soundproof booth, where she fields questions on the presidential primaries for 90 seconds.
The superficiality of live television used to bother her, she says afterward. Now she gets a kick out of it. "If it draws attention to my other work," she says, "that's a plus. I can always go home later, get comfortable and blog to my heart's content. After all, there are no space limits."
Nor should there be limits on her or on the next generation of Malkins, she says.
"What's funny is that minority conservatives are almost universally accused of being self-loathing," she says. "That needs to be turned on its head. We're the ones who love what this country has allowed us to do. There's nothing self-loathing about me. I love my life. I love my family. I love this country."