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Coulter: No walk in the park

A recent gay-slur quip has some news shows skittish about booking her. Others can't resist a loose-cannon righty in leggy-blond trappings.

March 12, 2007|David Bauder | Associated Press

NEW YORK — Ann Coulter has been a reliable name for years among people who plan television news shows -- an attractive, articulate blond conservative who's made a living lobbing verbal bombs.

After her use of a gay slur about Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards this month during remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference, some on TV are wondering whether her shelf life is expiring.

Many were angered by her use of the "f-word." Coulter later said she considered it a "schoolyard taunt." She said it was a joke about "Grey's Anatomy" actor Isaiah Washington saying he would seek counseling after using the word to refer to a fellow actor.

At least four daily newspapers have dropped Coulter as a columnist, citing her comment about Edwards.

Head-turning remarks are hardly anything new for the author of "Godless: The Church of Liberalism" and "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)." In "Godless" last year, she wrote of a group of World Trade Center widows: "I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

"It's a world of 'are you talking about me? Are you talking about me?' " said Steve Friedman, executive producer of "The Early Show" on CBS. "And eventually you have to get more and more outrageous to be talked about. One day you cross the line and become persona non grata. I think she's getting close. I think Bill Maher is getting close."

Friedman has no plans to book Coulter on his show, but said he had no plans even before her Edwards comment.

Some people on NBC's "Today" show didn't want to see Coulter before she was booked to talk about "Godless" last summer, said Jim Bell, the show's executive producer.

He overruled them. Having only certain points of view would make for a bland program, he said. Because Coulter is a bestselling author, clearly there's an audience that responds to her. Coulter also appeared on a "Today" segment last month, debating a university professor.

Bell said last week that Coulter's legitimate points of view are beginning to get lost in the noise of being outlandish.

"She sometimes goes out of her way to push some buttons and tends to generate more heat than light," he said. "We love a lively debate, but we would tend to get people who would generate more light."

Several conservatives criticized Coulter for her Edwards remarks. Fellow columnist Michelle Malkin lamented that Coulter had tarred the work of people at the Washington conference. She called Coulter's humor "tired old shtick." Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center, said some conservatives envy the attention she gets and dislike how she distracts from legitimate arguments.

"If you got the sense that she was saying things you thought she believed, it would help," he said.

Still, Graham said it would be "outrageous" if Coulter is blacklisted by networks but Maher isn't. The HBO comic angered some by recent remarks suggesting more people would live if an assassination attempt against Vice President Dick Cheney had been successful.

The liberal organization Media Matters for America, which has long campaigned against Coulter, hopes this is a "defining moment" that causes TV networks to turn their backs on her, said spokesman Karl Frisch.

MSNBC once fired Coulter as a regular contributor after a remark she made to a Vietnam veteran. But Coulter has appeared there as a guest on shows and the network has no policy against her.

The remarks "won't stop conservatives from buying her books, and her ability to sell books is what drives her bookings on TV," said MSNBC's "Hardball" host Chris Matthews.

CNN had scheduled Coulter to appear with Paula Zahn last Monday. The network said Coulter canceled her appearance.

"We have and will continue to interview provocative guests and ask them tough questions," CNN spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. "We don't have overall bans about anyone. We will book them when we think it is appropriate to do so, on a case-by-case basis."

The changing nature of cable news may limit Coulter's ability to speak to those who don't already agree with her. Cable talk shows used to be built upon fiery debate, while now there are more shows that take a point of view and depict world events through that prism. Think Lou Dobbs, Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck.

A spokeswoman for Coulter did not return a call for comment. Coulter, however, did appear on Fox News Channel's "Hannity & Colmes" three days after the Edwards remark and belittled the idea that it would do lasting damage to her. It's a cycle, she said: She says something, the same people become hysterical, and that's the end of it. It's about her 17th allegedly career-ending moment, she said.

"It happens about every six months," Coulter said, "and you're always there to put me on TV, Sean."

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