The Coulter Conundrum

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 12, 2006; 6:18 AM

Is it time for the media to stop lavishing attention on Ann Coulter?

In her latest book attacking godless liberals, the conservative author trashes as "witches" some of the women whose husbands were killed at the World Trade Center -- precisely the kind of ugly, over-the-top invective that she knows will produce a publicity storm that will carry her onto the bestseller lists.

Matt Lauer grilled her last week on "Today," which prompted the New York Daily News banner "COULTER THE CRUEL," which in turn led "NBC Nightly News" and ABC's "World News Tonight" to examine her remarks. The question, said NBC anchor Brian Williams, was "Have you no shame?"

But are news outlets being shameless in giving Coulter a platform for her inflammatory rhetoric, knowing it will boost ratings and circulation?

"She made news," says "Today" Executive Producer Jim Bell. "I think our audience is smart enough to figure it out and reach their own opinions. It's not our job to censor people." Besides, Bell says, "she's good television."

Coulter is a savvy constitutional lawyer and onetime Senate aide who rose to prominence as an advocate of Bill Clinton's impeachment. But she became increasingly incendiary in her books and TV appearances, a shtick that made her sufficiently rich and famous to warrant a Time cover story last year.

For those who missed it, Coulter writes of the widows: "These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9/11 was an attack on our nation, and acted as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. . . . These broads are millionaires lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities. . . . I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much. . . .

"And by the way, how do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies? Now that their shelf life is dwindling, they'd better hurry up and appear in Playboy."

Her one valid point -- that once widows turn themselves into political activists, their personal tragedies should not shield them from rebuttal -- is totally overwhelmed by the nastiness of her assault.

A number of conservatives have turned on Coulter this time around. "Most Americans reject that kind of vitriol because it is mean and counterproductive," said Fox's Bill O'Reilly. Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt called her remarks "beyond callous, beyond any notion of decency. It is disgusting."

But why would anyone expect anything different? This is a woman who responded to the 9/11 attacks by saying: "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." That persuaded National Review to drop her syndicated column; in response, she told this reporter the editors were "girly-boys."

MSNBC dumped Coulter as an analyst years ago, and USA Today dropped her as a 2004 convention commentator after she assailed "the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra-needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call 'women' at the Democratic National Convention."

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