Media Matters; by Jamison Foser

››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

In 1996, MSNBC hired Ann Coulter as a contributor. The Washington Post later quoted an MSNBC official describing Coulter's performance: "What she said was so outrageous she was immediately put on probation, and the next one was even worse." Coulter has acknowledged: "They kept firing me, but then they'd rehire me." Coulter barely lasted a year before MSNBC fired her for good for on-air comments she made to Vietnam Veterans of America founder Bobby Muller.

Why pay the bigot when you can get the bile for free?

In 1996, MSNBC hired Ann Coulter as a contributor. The Washington Post later quoted an MSNBC official describing Coulter's performance: "What she said was so outrageous she was immediately put on probation, and the next one was even worse." Coulter has acknowledged: "They kept firing me, but then they'd rehire me." Coulter barely lasted a year before MSNBC fired her for good for on-air comments she made to Vietnam Veterans of America founder Bobby Muller.

In 2003, less than five months after it began broadcasting his show, MSNBC fired Michael Savage for telling a caller he should "get AIDS and die." An MSNBC spokesperson explained: "Savage made an extremely inappropriate comment and the decision to cancel the program was not difficult." Just a few months earlier, then-NBC chairman Bob Wright had declared: "We strongly defend his new show as a legitimate attempt to expand the marketplace of ideas."

Earlier this year, MSNBC fired Don Imus after he made racist and sexist comments about the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

It may be tempting to conclude that, despite the ridiculous decisions to hire the likes of Coulter and Savage in the first place, the firings indicate that MSNBC understands that their violent and hateful rhetoric adds nothing of value to the public discourse.

But maybe MSNBC has simply decided that it doesn't make much sense to pay the bigot when you can get the bile for free.

On Tuesday, for example, MSNBC's Hardball featured Ann Coulter as the sole guest for the entire hour. MSNBC continues to provide a platform for Coulter's hate; the network's just stopped paying her.

During Coulter's last appearance on Hardball, in July 2006, host Chris Matthews told her, "You write beautifully," and, "You have a brilliant brain." He described her as "the picture of heaven." Then Coulter called former Vice President Al Gore a "total fag," and Matthews ended the interview by saying of Coulter, "We'd love to have her back."

Earlier this year, Coulter called Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot" during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). During an appearance on CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck this week, Coulter defended that comment, claiming, "I wasn't saying it on TV. I was saying it at a right-wing political convention with 7,000 college Republicans. I didn't put it on TV." Like much of what Coulter says, this wasn't true, and wouldn't be particularly meaningful even if it was. Coulter's speech was broadcast on C-SPAN, which extensively covers CPAC speeches. (Host Glenn Beck didn't point out Coulter's lie; nor did he point out that she used the same epithet to describe Gore "on TV.")

During her Monday appearance on ABC's Good Morning America, Coulter responded to a question about her CPAC description of Edwards as a "faggot" by saying, "Bill Maher was not joking and saying he wished Dick Cheney had been killed in a terrorist attack. So I've learned my lesson. If I'm gonna say anything about John Edwards in the future, I'll just wish he had been killed in a terrorist assassination plot."

Those comments prompted the Edwards campaign to denounce Coulter, and Elizabeth Edwards called into Hardball the next day to confront Coulter.

Coulter and her defenders have criticized the Edwards campaign for omitting the Maher portion of her comments about wishing Edwards was killed by terrorists, claiming that her comments were taken out of context. But the context she claims is missing is itself false.

Coulter misrepresented Maher's comments about Cheney. In fact, Maher didn't say he wished Cheney had been killed; he said "if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn't be dying needlessly tomorrow. ... I'm just saying that if he did die -- other people -- more people would live. That's a fact."

During the March 5 broadcast of his show, MSNBC host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough (FL) debunked his fellow conservatives' attacks on Maher: "Conservatives accuse Bill Maher of calling for Dick Cheney's assassination, but he didn't, and I should know. I was there." But Scarborough didn't correct Coulter when she appeared on Morning Joe, even though he and Coulter did discuss her reference to Maher.

During that same appearance on Morning Joe, Coulter falsely accused Elizabeth Edwards of lying about Coulter's November 19, 2003, column:

SCARBOROUGH: Now, I will tell you the part of that Elizabeth Edwards interview that jarred the most people -- jarred me, jarred just about everybody I spoke with -- was the part where she brought up the fact -- she said that you had written some column where you had made light of John Edwards' dead son. What's the story behind that?

COULTER: Needless to say, that is not true. And coming from people who have done what we have just seen them do in the earlier segment, I don't think they deserve a lot of credibility on this. You can look it up. It's all over the Web. It's a fabulous column, titled "The Party of Ideas," written in 2003. I had to go back and get the full gist of the column. It was about all of the Democratic primary opponents.

In the column in question, Coulter wrote of John Edwards: "If you want points for not using your son's death politically, don't you have to take down all those 'Ask me about my son's death in a horrific car accident' bumper stickers?"

Again, Scarborough did not challenge Coulter or confront her with what she had actually written; he simply accepted her assertion that Elizabeth Edwards had lied about the column.

On Thursday, MSNBC Live host Chris Jansing asked Elizabeth Edwards, "There are people who support your opinion, I'm sure you know, who say, 'Why even dignify it with a response? Why give Ann Coulter more publicity?' "

That same day, Jansing's network gave Ann Coulter publicity by hosting her on Morning Joe. Two days earlier, Jansing's network had given Ann Coulter publicity by hosting her -- alone, for a full hour -- on Hardball.

This week alone, Coulter appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, MSNBC's Hardball, MSNBC's Morning Joe, CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, and Fox News' Hannity & Colmes. (On Fox, she took a swipe at Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: "I do think anyone named B. Hussein Obama should avoid using 'hijack' and 'religion' in the same sentence.")

The notion that the targets of Ann Coulter's hateful speech should ignore her and she'll go away is absurd. Coulter was booked on Good Morning America and Hardball long before Elizabeth Edwards confronted her. Time magazine put Coulter on its cover long before Elizabeth Edwards confronted her. NBC's Today hosted her -- repeatedly -- long before Elizabeth Edwards confronted her.

It isn't Elizabeth Edwards who gives Ann Coulter publicity. It is the nation's leading news organizations. They may claim to find her distasteful, but they keep promoting her.

And they not only provide a forum for her hate speech and let her lie and dissemble without consequence, they repeat her false attacks on progressives as though they are true.

On Today, for example, David Gregory pretended that Ann Coulter has a point:

GREGORY: You said rather pointedly that you think Ann Coulter is guilty of hate speech against your husband and others as well. If you strip away some of the inflammatory rhetoric against your husband and other Democrats, the point she's trying to make about your husband, Senator Edwards, running for the White House is in effect that he's disingenuous, especially on the signature issue of poverty, whether it's a $400 haircut or taking big money to speak in front of a poverty group. If you, again, strip away the inflammatory rhetoric, is that a real point of vulnerability that you have to deal with in this campaign?

This is complete and total bunk.

There's simply no reason to pretend that Ann Coulter calling John Edwards a "faggot" and musing about him being killed by terrorists is about anything other than Ann Coulter being a contemptible human being and a national disgrace. There's no deep point there; she's just a sad and pathetic little person.

But that isn't all: Gregory made the nonsensical suggestion that John Edwards is "disingenuous" about poverty because he paid a lot of money for a haircut. It doesn't matter how often pundits keep saying that, it's still dumb. Gregory's statement that Edwards took "big money to speak in front of a poverty group" repeated Coulter's own false claim that he "charge[d] a poverty group $50,000 for a speech." This falsehood is apparently a reference to a paid speech Edwards made at the University of California-Davis, not "in front of a poverty group." So, obviously, he didn't "charge a poverty group" (in fact, his speaking fee was offset by ticket sales.)

Ann Coulter is not only a remarkably unpleasant person, she's a serial liar. And yet NBC's David Gregory -- among other journalists -- pretends that she has a meaningful point and makes false assertions about progressives based on her lies.

That's why it would be folly for progressives to ignore Coulter in hopes that she goes away: because the media don't ignore her. They promote her. They parrot her false claims. It's also why progressives should not only denounce Coulter, but MSNBC and ABC and CNN and Time and every other news organization that gives her a platform and doesn't challenge her lies and repeats them as though they are true.

During the Wednesday edition of Scarborough Country, MSNBC viewers got a hit of another reason why it would be folly to let Ann Coulter's hate and lies go unchallenged. An MSNBC contributor said of Coulter: "I don't think she's peddling hate. And if she -- and MSNBC certainly doesn't ... because if they did, they would never put her on the air for an hour, would we, Dan?"

The MSNBC contributor? Pat Buchanan.

The same Pat Buchanan who called Martin Luther King Jr. "one of the most divisive men in contemporary history."

The same Pat Buchanan who called Adolf Hitler "an individual of great courage" and wrote a column questioning whether World War II was "worth it" and wondered, "[W]hy destroy Hitler?"

There was Pat Buchanan, paid contributor to MSNBC, repeatedly vouching for Ann Coulter:

JOAN WALSH (Salon.com editor in chief): Ann Coulter had a whole hour to herself on Hardball, and she was going to sell her books and peddle her hate on Hardball pretty much unchallenged.

[...]

BUCHANAN: Joan, let me tell you where you're wrong here.

WALSH: Yes, Pat, sure.

BUCHANAN: I don't think she's peddling hate. And if she -- and MSNBC certainly doesn't --

WALSH: "Faggot"? "Faggot"?

BUCHANAN: -- because if they did, they would never put her on the air for an hour, would we, Dan?

WALSH: Well, she wasn't on for quite a while after she called --

DAN ABRAMS (MSNBC general manager): Oh, come on, Pat. Come on.

BUCHANAN: Well, come on! I mean --

WALSH: -- after she called Al Gore a "total fag."

ABRAMS: Pat is misusing his MSNBC analyst moniker there.

WALSH: Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS: Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN: Look, she is very, very -- look, she's a very good debater, and she's very good on TV and good on her feet, and she's a conservative, and she's an excellent writer. [New York Times columnist] Maureen Dowd's an excellent friend on the other side.

WALSH: No. No, Pat. You're -- Pat, you know what? You're a good debater.

[crosstalk]

BUCHANAN: She's good --

WALSH: You're a good debater.

ABRAMS: [Congressional Quarterly columnist] Craig Crawford -- wait. Wait.

WALSH: She peddles hate.

ABRAMS: Let's at least admit something, Craig Crawford.

BUCHANAN: Oh, cut it out.

WALSH: No, seriously.

[...]

ABRAMS: But that glosses over -- hang on. Hang on a second. That glosses over -- Pat. Pat, what you're doing is you're cherry-picking the pure politics stuff out of what she says and ignoring the sort of unnecessary hateful words that she uses, as well.

BUCHANAN: What hateful word did she use?

ABRAMS: You know, she described him as a gay person, but using a different term.

BUCHANAN: A what? Oh, you mean, that thing?

Pat Buchanan hasn't suffered from his own history of inflammatory comments: He has repeatedly been hired to host television shows on CNN and MSNBC; he currently works as a contributor to MSNBC, where he defends Coulter from charges that she peddles hate.

If people look the other way when Ann Coulter lies and smears and insults, it will only be a matter of time before Coulter will have her own cable television perch from which she can defend the next generation of right-wing hate merchants.

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