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CBS anchor Harry Smith tangles with Ann Coulter on "The Early Show"

January 6, 2009 |  1:19 pm

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Conservative author Ann Coulter initially seemed pleased Tuesday to appear on CBS’ “The Early Show,” especially after an interview that she was set to do on NBC’s “Today” the same morning was canceled.

“You are the most brilliant person in the mainstream media, the most manly,” she told CBS anchor Harry Smith.

But by the end of the segment, she was no longer lavishing compliments on Smith, who aggressively confronted the controversial writer about the allegations in her latest book, “Guilty: Liberal ‘Victims’ and Their Assault on America.”

At one point, he suggested that she was crying victim herself and “should have a cross.”

“Here’s my problem,” Smith told Coulter at the outset. “Because you try to be funny, because you have this kind of sophomoric, sort of simplistic kind of view of so many things … who’s going to take you seriously?”

“I think any comedy writer will tell you that sophomoric is New York Times code for funny, so I thank you for that,” Coulter retorted.

Smith said afterward that he hadn’t planned for the interview to get contentious, noting that Coulter devotes much of her book to challenging the mainstream media.

“I was just going to challenge her back,” he said in an interview. “The thing is, there are things she says that have a real place in our ongoing political conversation in terms of issues of importance to everybody. The point I was trying to make to her was that if she was more serious, she would be taken more seriously.”

In an e-mail, Coulter said she was flattered by Smith's questioning. "He treated me like a Republican vice presidential candidate!" she wrote.

Their seven-minute exchange was the latest dust-up involving Coulter, a polarizing personality who is adept at generating attention for her bestselling books. On Monday, she cried foul when an appearance she was set to make on “Today” was canceled, telling Fox News’ Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes that NBC had only booked her as a “charade” to keep her from going on other shows.

NBC disputed that, saying that Coulter was bumped so the program could devote more time to covering the developments in the Gaza Strip, for which host Matt Lauer interviewed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“We’ve had Ann Coulter on ‘Today’ many times, but because of the news in Washington and the Middle East, we decided to cancel her appearance on Tuesday morning,” said NBC spokeswoman Megan Kopf. “Understanding the media as well as she does, we are sure she knows this happens from time to time.”

After Coulter’s complaints — and coverage on the Drudge Report, which reported that NBC had banned her for life, which the network denied — she was invited to appear on two segments of “Today” on Wednesday.

That adds up to a media bonanza for Coulter, who also appeared Tuesday on the Fox News morning program “Fox & Friends.” But it was her interview on “The Early Show” that has so far generated the most attention.

Smith, who is known for his even-keeled, affable demeanor, noted in his tease for the segment that Coulter called him “certifiably insane” in her book. “Perhaps I am, for having her on the program this morning,” he added.

In their interview, he objected to her criticizing him in her book for asking Sen. Edward M. Kennedy last year about whether Barack Obama was a target for assassination, saying, “That was a legitimate question to ask.”

When Coulter responded that all would-be or successful presidential assassins were “anarchists, communists, liberals, they were some form of basically Obama’s base,” Smith urged her five times to “take a breath.”

“I’m breathing fine,” she responded.

Smith said that as he read her book, “the more I kept thinking, well, you’re the whiner. You’re the one who’s claiming victimhood here.”

“You should put yourself up on a cross,” he added, extending his arms wide.

Later, Smith said he didn’t have any regrets about how he conducted the interview, but “I’m still not satisfied that we served any public good.”

“People sort of verbally wrestling with each other — you get a lot of heat and a lot of sweat, but I'm not sure there’s any particular satisfaction for either side,” he added.

— Matea Gold

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