|Putting issues of social and political content aside, what the rabid conservative attack dog has accomplished in the last few weeks during a raft of TV appearances to promote her new book is both masterful marketing and terrific theater. It also underscores that, on certain levels, media manipulation works as well for the manipulatee as the manipulator.
Pitching her book, "Guilty: Liberal 'Victims' and Their Assault on America," Coulter is the quintessential television guest: intelligent, articulate, attractive, controversial. Those are the basics, but there is much more to her high-octane success formula.
To achieve Coulter's level of talkshow kitsch, a guest must enjoy getting slapped around while appearing to fight back. She requires mainstream interviewers who relish the chance to take free shots without fear of seriously bothering anyone.
I've yet to hear Ann Coulter advance so much as a syllable of opinion that I personally support, but as a marketer she is a marvel. She's got the stage style of D-List comic Kathy Griffin; plus the marketing savvy of financial guru Suze Orman and late-night TV pitchman Billy Mays ("It's not a glue, it's a flexible bonding agent!").
Coulter's interviews all seem to begin with a wink, since the parties know exactly what to expect. The choreography resembles what might be discussed before a professional wrestling match. "I'll point at you and shout something about your mother, then you bounce me off the ropes, and I'll fall out of the ring, where I'll pick up a folding chair and break it over your head."
Some audiences actually enjoy this sort of thing because it's overtly violent, yet clearly a game in which no one ever really gets hurt.
Coulter has so refined the pitching process that she appears to have written her new book by following a blueprint for the promotional tour that was to follow. For example, she attacks Harry Smith, host of "The Early Show" on CBS, for an interview with Ted Kennedy in which Smith suggested that Barack Obama is at greater risk of assassination than, say, a white conservative. Using this to support her thesis about liberals painting themselves as victims, Coulter wrote: "Kennedy may be a drunken slob, but unlike CBS News anchors, he is not certifiably insane."
As soon as the book was published, Smith was among the first to interview Coulter. He could barely contain himself during the promo: "She says some nasty things about me ... we're going to find out why."
After proudly announcing, "I read 150 pages of your book last night," Smith really let her have it: "You're a whiner ... you're the one who's claiming victimhood here ... you should have a cross. You should put yourself up on a cross!" I imagine Coulter's press agent was on a phone backstage saying, "As soon as Harry breaks the chair over Ann's head, we can get over to 'The View.'"
On "The View," the five female hosts were understandably appalled by Coulter's chapter on single mothers. "Single motherhood is like a farm team for future criminals," she declared. This was too much even for perky conservative Elizabeth Hasselbeck who demanded, "Why don't you come down as hard on the fathers who aren't there?" Wild applause confirmed that as soon as Coulter writes her next book she'll be back on "The View." As Barbara Walters reminded us, "No one can ignite a media firestorm like Ann Coulter."
At NBC, it was hardly a "firestorm," but Coulter's appearance on the "Today" show was an incendiary work of art. After being bumped on a Tuesday by serious news from the Middle East and a lengthy interview with Britain's Tony Blair, word somehow got out through the conservative Drudge Report that Coulter had been banned for life from all NBC programs.
Naturally, CBS and Fox couldn't wait to book Coulter for a discussion of author banning. The "ban" itself lasted only until Wednesday, when Coulter appeared on "Today" to be summarily slapped by Matt Lauer. "Do you think," asked Lauer, "maybe you helped fan the fire here a little bit (holds up book) to make a controversy to sell the book?"
Coulter cooed that Lauer's motives were in question, not hers. She moved to a more general attack on "liberal media," thereby insuring numerous additional bookings by other shows eager for a turn at interrogating a controversial author without leaving any marks.
The more venomous Coulter manages to be on the morning talk shows, the more likely her appearances are to be recapped and discussed on evening cablecasts - with the same attention that would be given a presidential news conference.
“I think if this book does well, I can buy NBC,” she told Sean Hannity on Fox. That would create a delicious scenario for her next book tour during which Coulter could ask the questions, provide the answers, hit herself over the head, and announce that she has banned herself for life.
© Peter Funt. This column first appeared in The Monterey Herald.