At a time when left-wing Bush-haters regularly call the President a “liar” and a killer, ABC and NBC on Wednesday night pegged stories to the controversy over Ann Coulter’s criticism of the very political 9/11 widows, with NBC anchor Brian Williams adding a nice touch by harkening back to Joe McCarthy as he promised a look at “why some are now asking, 'Have you no shame?'" But while the NBC Nightly News focused solely on Coulter, on ABC’s World News Tonight Jake Tapper suggested “our democracy has always been messy and vulgar” and he cited some anti-Bush slams.
The opening teaser from Williams: "And is it crossing the line? A conservative author's attack on 9/11 widows. This time, has the debate in this country just gone too far?" Williams set up the last story of his newscast by pleading: “Just when you think it seems like there are no limits on anything, someone comes along and makes a comment that goes over the line.” Reporter Mike Taibbi turned to the media’s favorite conservative-basher, David Gergen, to answer whether Coulter had “gone too far?” Over on ABC’s World News Tonight, anchor Charles Gibson cited the “uproar” over Coulter, but conceded “there is a lot of what passes for commentary these days on both sides of the political spectrum that many people find despicable.” Tapper cited how the New York State Comptroller referred to putting “a bullet between the President's eyes” and how Harry Belafonte charged that Bush is “no better” than Osama bin Laden. (Transcripts follow)
On Wednesday’s Countdown on MSNBC, Keith Olbermann devoted a segment to his lecture about the “shameless” Coulter.
For a full transcript of the Tuesday Today show exchange between Coulter and Matt Lauer which fueled the current media upset, check Geoff Dickens’ NewsBusters posting which also features an audio/video clip. In another Tuesday NewsBusters item, Tim Graham provided a rundown of examples of how, as Coulter contended, the networks promoted and frequently showcased the most vocal and ant-Bush widows. My Wednesday MRC CyberAlert combined both postings into one unit with video.
The MRC’s Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning for the Wednesday, June 7 stories against the video:
NBC Nightly News. Brian Williams, in opening teaser:
"And is it crossing the line? A conservative author's attack on 9/11 widows. This time, has the debate in this country just gone too far?"
Williams, before a commercial break:
"And later, perhaps you've watched it unfold this week on TV. Why is one controversial conservative author attacking the widows of 9/11? Why some are now asking, 'Have you no shame?'"
Williams, before another commercial break: "We'll take another break here. When we come back after a break, did civility in this country just a take a turn for the worse?"
Williams set up the eventual story:
"Tonight we're going to go off the air with a report on civility in American life. The explosion in our media, our deafening national noise level and our changing mores have made this a much different era in America than the one our parents grew up in. And just when you think it seems like there are no limits on anything, someone comes along and makes a comment that goes over the line. The line that is shared by just about everybody because some things, it turns out, are still sacred. The story tonight from NBC's Mike Taibbi."
Mike Taibbi: "Conservative pundit Ann Coulter was front-page news today [picture of front page of New York Daily News "Coulter the Cruel"] for what she's written about some 9/11 widows, that 'These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities,' and for what she said about them to the Today show's Matt Lauer."
Matt Lauer, on Tuesday’s Today: "If you lose a husband, you no longer have the right to have a political point-of-view?"
Ann Coulter on Today: "No, but don't use the fact that you lost a husband as the basis for your being able to talk about it."
Taibbi: "Coulter was on the Today show to push her latest anti-liberal book."
Coulter on Today: "There's an important book that comes out today."
Taibbi: "Already an Amazon.Com bestseller. But the interview kept returning to Coulter's attacks on the 9/11 widows. She called them 'harpies' and wondered whether their husbands had been planning to divorce them. From a statement from four of the widows, 'there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive,' 'no happiness in telling our children that their fathers were never coming home again. We adored these men and miss them every day.' Coulter says she believes everything she says and writes. But had she gone too far? Former White House advisor David Gergen:"
David Gergen: "It's the ugliness of the charge that she's making, the ugliness of the words that she's using that are drawing attention to her. But it's almost as if she's a figure in a circus. And you're saying, 'Oh, my God, can you believe that?'"
Taibbi: "Still, the tempest was a trigger for a red-blue debate today on MSNBC, with criticism for Coulter from both sides. A conservative radio voice:"
Dom Giordano, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia: "I think it was shameful what she said, Chris, but I do think that these widows have attacked President Bush."
Taibbi: "And a liberal counter-voice."
Sam Greenfield, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia: "I think she's a sad, pathetic unhappy person."
Taibbi: "All the fallout from a television exchange."
Coulter to Lauer on Tuesday’s Today: "You're getting testy with me."
Lauer: "No, no, I'm just, I think it's a, I think it's-"
Taibbi concluded: "Likely to be remembered well beyond the impact of some ill-tempered sentences in print. Mike Taibbi, NBC News, New York."
ABC’s World News Tonight. Charles Gibson’s tease:
“War of Words: When a best-selling author accuses 9/11 widows of enjoying their husbands’ deaths, has a line been crossed? Or is now all fair in political warfare?”
Gibson introduced the second segment piece:
"We are going to take 'A Closer Look' at questions that many people are asking today. When does political commentary go too far? And what has happened to civility? One conservative commentator, Ann Coulter is her name, has triggered an uproar by attacking, in very raw terms, many of the 9/11 widows. But there is a lot of what passes for commentary these days on both sides of the political spectrum that many people find despicable. Here's Jake Tapper, our senior national correspondent."
Jake Tapper: "In her new book, best-selling author Ann Coulter calls the 9/11 widows 'self-obsessed' and charges they act 'as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them.' 'I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much,' she writes about the widows whom she calls the 'Witches of East Brunswick.' 'How do we know their husbands weren't planning to divorce these harpies?'"
Unidentified woman at a bookstore: "So the 9/11 widows are witches and harpies?"
Ann Coulter at the bookstore: "Uh, yes."
Tapper: "The response has been forceful. 'We have been slandered,' five of the 9/11 widows wrote in a statement. 'Contrary to Ms. Coulter's statements, there was no joy in watching men that we loved burn alive.' Senator Hillary Clinton called Coulter's remarks 'vicious' and 'mean-spirited.' But Coulter's tone also bothers conservatives."
David Hogberg, The American Spectator: "It crosses the line into incivility and stuff that's nasty when she refers to them as 'self-obsessed' or 'enjoying their husbands' deaths.'"
Tapper: "Coulter today remained undeterred."
Coulter at bookstore, to FNC’s Sean Hannity, for interview which aired later on Hannity & Colmes: "They're cutting campaign commercials for Kerry, but we can't respond because their husbands died. No, I've had it with this liberal infallibility, and I think a lot of Americans are seething with anger that we can't respond."
Tapper: "Incivility, at some level, is nothing new. This month, the Democratic New York state comptroller said this at a commencement address:"
Audio of New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D-NY): "The man who, how do I phrase this diplomatically, will put a bullet between the President's eyes if he could get away with it."
Tapper: "He later apologized. But heated comments fill the book stores and the air waves."
Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s The Situation Room, January 25: "Are you saying that President Bush is worse than Osama bin Laden?"
Harry Belafonte on the CNN show: "I'm saying that he's no better."
George Will, ABC News: "Television is the survival of the briefest. And the way to get maximum wallop into the minimum amount of time is to ratchet up the rhetoric."
Tapper: "Such rhetoric drove partisans in the past to call President Andrew Jackson's mother a prostitute. Our democracy has always been messy and vulgar. In the Capitol in the 1850s, one South Carolina Congressman beat a Senator nearly to death."
Will: "So, by those standards, our problems today are rather tame."
Tapper concluded over video of Coulter signing books: "Tame historically, but critics call it an unseemly attempt to sell books at the expense of 9/11 widows. Jake Tapper, ABC News, Washington."