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Ann Slanders

Well, say this for Ann Coulter: She knows how to keep herself in the news. Speaking at the gathering of right-wing true believers known as the Conservative Political Action Conference, Coulter threw out this rhetorical bomb: ""I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, but it turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word 'faggot.'"

The statement was, of course, good news for the press corps, even one that has grown a bit weary of Coulter's antics. An unrepentant and polarizing national figure making an outrageous and offensive comment about a presidential candidate and earning cheers from conservatives for doing so? Stories don't come much more nicely wrapped than that. (OK, sometimes.) Coulter herself is probably also pleased with the dustup – comments and coverage like this just sell more books. (She wrote this on her Web site: "I'm so ashamed, I can't stop laughing!" More charming Coulterisms here.)

Edwards is a winner as well, since his base can't stand Coulter, something the Edwards campaign quickly tried to exploit by appealing for "Coulter Cash" in the wake of the comments. The only losers are the Republican candidates who appeared at CPAC. They need to appeal to their base, but they don't necessarily want their association with folks like Coulter widely publicized. Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, the two Republican frontrunners, quickly repudiated Coulter's comments.

There are those who argue that Coulter should be ignored. I'm not sure that's the right approach. Journalists seem to have tired of Coulter, at least a little bit – in the first 24 hours, as Howard Kurtz points out, her comments were met with a "collective shrug." They did eventually jump on the story, however, and rightly so. Coulter is an important figure in the far-right movement, a bestselling author who inspires reverence in one portion of the population even as she inspires disdain in another. If she were a lone nutjob – Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church springs to mind – the press corps would have no justification beyond sensationalism for paying attention to her. But she has a not-insubstantial following, as her CPAC invite illustrates, and reporters thus have an obligation to hold their noses and report what she has to say.

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