On the October 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources, while discussing Ann Coulter's recent comment that "we" Christians "just want Jews to be perfected, as they say," as documented by Media Matters for America, host Howard Kurtz noted, "[S]he can say whatever she wants, but there's no constitutional right to appear on a television show." Kurtz made that statement in response to TVNewser columnist Gail Shister's question: "Is this a chicken-and-egg thing? because does she get a lot of media attention because we give it to her or does she say things so she'll get the media attention? At some point, why don't shows just not book her?"
During the segment, CNN special correspondent Frank Sesno also said: "I think we have a responsibility to challenge her when she says these things, to force her into a corner, and at some point to say, 'You know what? This is not credible anymore. You don't deserve this real estate because all you're trying to do is outrage.' "
Additionally, National Public Radio media correspondent David Folkenflik asserted that "Donny Deutsch," host of CNBC's The Big Idea -- where Coulter made her controversial comments on October 8 -- and "CNBC" are "looking for viewers like everybody else on CNBC and the cable dial. But I think there is a question of pushing the envelope, and I think there is a question of exploding it. And she [Coulter] clearly seems capable again and again in doing that." Folkenflik added: "The question is, you know, whether news organizations should imbue her with some standing to comment on public affairs."
Later, Kurtz noted that Coulter has not only been featured on cable networks: "The Today show gave her a platform." As Media Matters documented, Coulter last appeared on NBC's Today on October 2. An Internet advertisement for Coulter's new book, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (Random House, October 2007), noted that it is by Coulter "as seen on the Today show:"
From the October 14 edition of CNN's Reliable Sources:
KURTZ: Up next, we'll keep our guests here, and I'll get to ask the questions. Ann Coulter shoots off her mouth again -- this time about Jews. Is it time for the media to stop giving her a soapbox?
KURTZ: It's like clockwork. Ann Coulter has a new book to promote, and she says something so horrifying, the media obsess on her and give her the publicity she craves. This time, with CNBC's Donny Deutsch, Coulter was talking about Jews -- that is, why America would be better off if everyone were Christian.
[begin video clip]
COULTER: [W]e just want Jews to be perfected, as they say.
DEUTSCH: Wow, you didn't really say that, did you?
DEUTSCH: Ann Coulter, author of If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans, and if Ann Coulter had any brains she would not say Jews need to be perfected. I'm offended by that personally.
[end video clip]
KURTZ: David Folkenflik -- good for Donny Deutsch for taking Coulter to task, but why did he put her on in the first place? What did he think he was getting? A polite discussion of the issues?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I mean, Donny Deutsch and CNBC, you know, want certain kinds of aggressive, brash, almost confrontational conversation on that show. After all, they're looking for viewers like everybody else on CNBC and the cable dial. But I think there is a question of pushing the envelope, and I think there is a question of exploding it. And she clearly seems capable again and again in doing that. The question is, you know, whether news organizations should imbue her with some standing to comment on public affairs.
KURTZ: Frank Sesno, this is the woman who went on the Today show and called a group of 9-11 widows "witches" and "harpies who benefited or were enjoying their husbands' death." And the producer of the Today show said, "Well, you know, she's entitled to say what she wants. It's good TV." And yet the talk shows continue to put her on.
SESNO: She has discovered that the more gas you throw on the fire, the higher the flames. And that works for her or it has worked for her so far. The question is, does she ever step over the line or has the culture of sort of outrageous commentary gotten so imbued in what it is that the media do that she's untouchable? It's --
KURTZ: OK, but what about our responsibility? She's also the woman --
SESNO: Well, I think we have a responsibility. I think we have a responsibility to challenge her when she says these things, to force her into a corner, and at some point to say, "You know what? This is not credible anymore. You don't deserve this real estate because all you're trying to do is outrage."
KURTZ: Gail Shister, Ann Coulter also talked about John Edwards, made a joke about him being gay, using a slang term beginning with "f," then she said she was just kidding. Is there a line that you can cross in our society where you don't get invited back on TV or can you insult Jews and gays and widows and still get booked if you deliver ratings?
SHISTER: First of all, I have to apologize because I forgot my yellow star today. I was going to wear it in honor of Ann. Yes, I would hope that within the context of civilized discourse there would be some kind of line. I don't see it yet. The fact that she can go on and say the kind of things she does, I think part of it that nobody has really addressed that I've seen, is she talks so fast that when -- a fast car is much more difficult to control than a slow car. People that talk that fast invariably blurt out things they don't mean to say. I'm thinking of -- Chris Matthews comes to mind. These people who are on -- these speed-talkers are setting themselves up and it's only a matter of time before they --
FOLKENFLIK: Chris Matthews --
KURTZ: You're not putting him in the same category as Ann Coulter?
SHISTER: Absolutely not, but if you, as Frank said, you put enough gas on the fire, there'll be a bigger flame, and that's what they're all about.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I was going to say at least Matthews, you know, has a fair amount of knowledge of the political world both as a former congressional aide and speechwriter, and as a journalist and talker. But, you know, the other thing is that this was a conversation that didn't have to go into religion at all. I mean, they were talking about what the post-9-11 world would look like, and she dragged it there very intentionally and very quickly.
You know, the real question is, talk. The problem with cable a lot of times is that talk allows for explosive talk to take up all the oxygen, and that's what Ann Coulter does again and again and again.
SESNO: The only problem with cable is that, in its grab for ratings -- because the audience is diced and sliced so narrowly -- people have found that the more outrageous, the better. And outrage pays. And that's why Ann Coulter and others have gotten as far as they have. And the question is: Does the market correct this?
KURTZ: Well --
SESNO: Does the public say, "Hey, we're going to email. We're going to blog you the way we emailed and blogged Dan Rather"?
KURTZ: Well, it's not just cable. The Today show gave her a platform. Ann Coulter happens to be a very smart lawyer who knows -- who has figured this out. That you can sell a lot of books by being incendiary, and I just question -- this seems to happen again and again and again. All right, Gail, last comment.
SHISTER: I would just say, Is this a chicken-and-egg thing? because does she get a lot of media attention because we give it to her or does she say things so she'll get the media attention? At some point, why don't shows just not book her?
KURTZ: You mean, just say no? Well, there's no constitutional -- I mean, she can say whatever she wants, but there's no constitutional right to appear on a television show. Gail Shister, Frank Sesno, David Folkenflik, thanks very much for joining us, and for your skillful questioning of me.