Olbermann: "[U]nelected" Republicans "rushed to echo" Coulter's smears of 9-11 widows

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MSNBC's Keith Olbermann noted that many "unelected" Republicans have "rushed to echo" right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's recent smears against widows of victims killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but no top elected Republican has.

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During a segment on the June 9 edition of MSNBC's Countdown, host Keith Olbermann noted that many "unelected" Republicans have "rushed to echo" right-wing pundit Ann Coulter's recent smears against widows of victims killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but no top elected Republican has. Olbermann noted remarks defending Coulter by former White House adviser Mary Matalin, CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck and Republican strategists Karen Hanretty and Jack Burkman, each of which Media Matters for America documented at the time (here and here). In Coulter's book, Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown Forum, June 2006), she smears 9-11 widows as "millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis" and states that she has "never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."

From the June 9 edition of MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann:

OLBERMANN: So partisanship clarifies debates, keeps things mainstream, and opens the world to new ideas. Or, it can turn you in to Ann Coulter, or to those endorsing her by their silence, which seems to be every Republican politician except two New Yorkers.

[begin video clip, June 6 broadcast of NBC's Today]

MATT LAUER (host): This part is the part I really need to talk to you about. "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by grief-arazzis. I've never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."


LAUER: Because they dare to speak out?

COULTER: To speak out using the fact that they're widows. This is the left's doctrine of infallibility. If they have a point to make about the 9-11 Commission, about how to fight the war on terrorism, how about spending in somebody we're allowed to respond to? No, no, no. We always have to respond to someone who just had a family member die --

LAUER: But aren't they the people in the middle of the story?

COULTER: -- because then if we respond -- oh, you're questioning their authenticity. No, the story is --

LAUER: So grieve, but grieve quietly.

COULTER: No, the story is an attack on the nation.

[end video clip]

[begin video clip, June 6 edition of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson]

COULTER: If people are going to use a personal tragedy in their lives to inject themselves into a national debate, I'm sorry, you can't just say, "Oh, we're off limits. Oh, now we're going to invoke the fact that our husbands died, and you can't criticize us." They were specifically using their husbands' deaths, and there were, gosh, hundreds, in fact --

TUCKER CARLSON (host): That doesn't mean they're enjoying it --

COULTER: -- thousands --

CARLSON: -- I mean, presumably, they're going home at night, and their husband's gone, and their kids are there, and where's Dad, and it's -- jeez, it's so depressing.

COULTER: Yeah, and so are the thousands of widows who are not cutting campaign commercials for Clinton. These women got paid, they ought to take their money and shut up about it.

[end video clip]

OLBERMANN: No elected Republicans have rushed to echo her, but plenty of unelected ones have. Former White House adviser Mary Matalin: "People run around calling us extra-chromosome and Hitlers and Nazis, and nobody says anything. She calls someone a harpy, and you'd think that the whole world's on fire."

Radio host Glenn Beck: "What she said about the 9-11 wives, right, she's right. Those, those four women that she is specifically addressing, she's right about. Can't you say those things? Just because you lost somebody in a tragedy doesn't mean that you get a free pass for the rest of your life."

Republican strategist Karen Hanretty: "These are not just any old ordinary four widows, mind you. That should also be pointed out. These are political activists who have gone after -- they have attacked [Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice."

Republican strategist Jack Burkman, quote: "These women exploited the deaths of their husbands. That's what they did. They did it, they did it before the bodies were cold."

That remark in particular, ringing a little hollow. On the morning of September 13, 2001, literally before the bodies were cold, when the pyre still burned at the World Trade Center, Coulter wrote a column about her friend among the victims at the Pentagon, the Republican attorney Barbara Olson. After 10 paragraphs about Ms. Olson, Coulter wrote: "This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone, anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson." And she concluded, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity." Using that relationship to a victim to advocate a viewpoint was OK. Making money, reveling in status, appearing on TV, enjoying a death, to use Coulter's own term, that was OK. But the actual widows of victims are not entitled.

There has been backlash. The manager of a Long Island bookstore says he may have made a mistake when he invited Coulter to sign copies of her book there; there were protests. And two New York Republicans did speak up. Governor George Pataki wrote, "I was really stunned, and I don't think it's all fair or accurate." And Republican Representative Peter King, who has himself criticized the 9-11 widows from New Jersey, called Coulter disgraceful and said her words, quote, "went beyond all limits of decency."

But from the rest of his peers on Capitol Hill, the Republican silence is, as the cliché goes, deafening. Not a word of support, not a word of condemnation either, prompting Democrats to now ask whether Ann Coulter is the new spokesperson for the GOP.

REP. RAHM EMANUEL (D-IL) [video clip]: Lest Ms. Coulter forget, more than 3,000 Americans were killed simply because they lived in the United States. That doesn't matter to Ms. Coulter, because she's doing it to enrich herself. But there's something more sinister in Ms. Coulter's words. The hate she spews is the same kind of hatred we're battling in the war on terror. As a country of thought and reason, I urge all of us to reject it. And I must ask my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, does Ann Coulter speak for you when she suggests poisoning Supreme Court justices or slanders the 9-11 windows -- widows? If not, speak now. Your silence allows her to be your spokesman. She should apologize to all of us who've lost our fellow citizens on 9-11.

OLBERMANN: John Kerry echoing that sentiment in an op-ed at the Huffington Post, exhorting the public to, quote, "make her a liability, and test whether the GOP is ashamed of Ann Coulter or just embarrassed by her." So Ann Coulter, political issue. Are the Republicans wise to stay quiet? Are the Democrats trying to turn her into Tom DeLay's successor as unofficial lightning rod? I'm joined now by Huffington Post contributor and political analyst Lawrence O'Donnell. As always, sir, thanks for your time.

O`DONNELL: Great to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Could the Kerry-Emanuel strategy here pay off? Do you think most Americans are as incensed as they seem to be?

O`DONNELL: Well, I don't think most Americans know about this story yet. It was huge in New York City, obviously, to cover the -- the cover of the New York Daily News, and I don't think Ann would be all that safe in signing books in a Manhattan bookstore at this point. But I don't think it's penetrated in most of the other media markets in the country. But the Democrats would love, would really love, Ann to step forward and become the Michael Moore of the Republican side. If they could possibly label her and use her as much as the Republicans used Michael Moore in the last election, they would love to. It's just she really hasn't, despite all of her coverage, including Time magazine cover and all that, she hasn't really made it up quite to the Michael Moore level. And so it's not an easy reference to make, except in the most liberal precincts, where you don't need to say anything to get the liberals on the side of the Democrats.

OLBERMANN: Well, it's kind of an uneven fight there. She's not as talented as Michael Moore, and she's not as attractive. But it does seem extraordinary that nobody from the Republican Party except Governor Pataki, and Representative King spoke out in response. [Former New York City Mayor] Rudy Giuliani's office wouldn't give us a statement, despite repeated requests --

O'DONNELL: Well, Giuliani -- specifically, Keith, Giuliani is in the very tightest box here of anybody. As we know, the Giuliani political career was going very, very badly as of September 10. On September 11, he instantly became a gigantic political hero in the United States and has been ever since. And he has never given a public speech since where he hasn't referred to 9-11 or he hasn't referred to the widows of 9-11 and the widowers of 9-11, people who've lost families. And he is close to a lot of those people, quite legitimately. For him to be absolutely silent on this means he is running for the Republican nomination for the presidency. He is the most liberal candidate to run for the Republican nomination in as long as we can remember, certainly since Nelson Rockefeller. He must not appear to be liberal. He must not do anything at this point to separate himself from a right-wing extremist like Ann Coulter, because that's exactly what the right wing of his party expects him to do. So his silence is particularly deafening on this, because he is the guy who would rush to the microphone to condemn this kind of language if it was coming from anywhere but the Republican right wing.

OLBERMANN: A question about hypocrisy on a big scale here. Ann Coulter criticized the widows for using their husbands. On 9-13, she clearly used Barbara Olson as a reason -- as an excuse for saying we should incinerate much of the Middle East. I never agreed with a word Barbara Olson said politically, but I liked her personally. I still have a baseball she signed that sits on my office desk, and I can't imagine using her name in that kind of extreme way. But given that, is there not, then, a second level of hypocrisy in making Ann Coulter into the political football? I mean, if you recoil from her attempt to silence the widows, don't you also have to recoil from an attempt to silence her?

O'DONNELL: Well, I don't think there's been an attempt to silence her. I mean, I mean, look at this corporation that we're appearing under today. I mean, she was on the Today show. She was on the biggest-rated news vehicle that NBC News has. And there's no attempt to silence her. When Hillary Clinton came out to criticize Ann Coulter, it was not to silence her, it was simply to criticize and disagree with what she said. Ann stepping out the way she did was a lucky thing for Hillary Clinton, because Hillary too needs to appeal to the left side of her party, having made some moves in the last few months that have bothered the left side of her party. And so, Ann is used now in politics simply as a way to identify who you are. In other words, if you're condemning Ann Coulter, then you must be comfortable with the left side of the Democratic Party. And so she's going to become very useful as time goes on this way.

But please, Keith, do not make the mistake of taking Ann Coulter seriously. She does fancy herself something of a comedian, a political comedian, and when you press her on a lot of these things, you find out that what's really underneath it is the intent to make a joke. Now, it's a joke that generally works only with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party. But she doesn't mean a great deal of what she says.

OLBERMANN: She's a barrel of laughs. I guess that's when they -- when she came on the air with the eye patch during the Clinton thing, because she couldn't stay away from the Clinton story for a week and had the conjunctivitis and had to wear the eye patch. I guess that was funny too. The political analyst at Huffington Post, contributor Lawrence O'Donnell, who has never appeared in an eye patch. Great thanks for joining us.

O'DONNELL: Thanks, Keith.

Ann Coulter
Countdown with Keith Olbermann
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