The Donald And Rosie: Pas de Dreck

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 12, 2007

It has been appalling, entertaining and perverse witnessing the public mud-wrestling of Rosie O'Donnell and Donald Trump, two people who through hyperbole and bloviation have transformed themselves into pop culture personalities.

There is nothing particularly astonishing about two adults lashing out and having it captured for the public record. Read the filings in divorce proceedings or peruse gossip columns for abundant evidence of just how common grown-up temper tantrums can be. People attack each other's integrity, professionalism and intelligence all the time. But rarely do they so publicly go for the jugular of self-esteem: appearance.

Trump and O'Donnell have attacked each other over quirks of style, genetic fate and physiological riddles. But their blows and thrusts have not been equal. She mocked his hairstyle. He called her fat. That's when the row turned nasty and childish.

O'Donnell threw the first handful of mud back in December. Trump held a news conference to announce that he would give Miss USA, Tara Conner, who had been accused of underage drinking and was in danger of losing her crown, a second chance. Trump, who owns the pageant, said Conner would be sent to rehab, after which he had every confidence she would be the best Miss USA ever as well as a wonderful role model for other young women dealing with substance abuse. (As it turns out, Conner might be so great that Trump has been considering letting the tiara-topped role-model-in-the-making pose for Playboy magazine.)

While serving as the moderator on the "The View," which should be renamed "Rosie and the People Who Try to Get a Word in Edgewise," O'Donnell spewed a self-righteous tirade about Trump's lack of moral authority and the hypocrisy of his offering anyone a second chance. She detailed his divorces, mocked his business acumen and belittled his reality show "The Apprentice." She sputtered and fumed and, as a visual aid, flipped her hair to one side of her head in a parody of Trump's signature hairstyle -- a modified comb-over that combines both the airiness and stiffness of an overcooked meringue.

Trump responded in the media with a bombastic detailing of O'Donnell's professional failings: a lawsuit over her now-defunct magazine, the demise of her talk show. He called her "a slob" and "disgusting." He said she was "fat" and that she talked "like a truck driver."

As 2006 turned to 2007 and the rest of the world made resolutions about self-improvement and brotherly love, the two continued to hurl insults like schoolyard bullies. Everyone gathered around to watch the brawl and duly noted that it was an excellent way for them to draw attention to their respective television shows.

In the beginning, the two blowhards seemed to be fighting fair -- even when O'Donnell mocked Trump's hairstyle. After all, he chooses to treat his hair like it's a whipped confection. His hairstyle has become a signature aesthetic statement. Trump has even chuckled over the public fascination with it. He has said that he likes his hair. If he has suddenly become sensitive to comments about the style, any hurt can be avoided with the help of a pair of scissors and a skilled barber.

Calling someone a "comb-over bunny," as O'Donnell described Trump, is not an attack on baldness -- a condition a man can't easily control -- but rather the way in which he has chosen to conceal his naked pate.

But then Trump called O'Donnell "fat." While some would insist that being overweight is a choice and not necessarily even bad, there is abundant evidence that neither assessment is true. Trump then connected the dots to all the unfair cliches associated with being obese: unattractive, slovenly, unsuccessful. Trump's was the kind of playground taunt not intended to make a point but simply to make an opponent cry.

It's possible to offer a defense of one's business failures, justify an eccentric hairstyle or disagree about morality. Those can be topics for lively, amusing or stirring debate. Perhaps a lesson or two can be learned.

But what's the endgame when assaults are aimed at the physical nature of someone's body, something over which the person has a questionable amount of control? One person ends up bruised. And the other one is disgraced.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company