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Crass public discourse: Time to push back?

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The Rutgers women's basketball team has forgiven Imus. But media watchdogs say they'll be on alert. "Don Imus has an opportunity to show the American people that he's learned from this experience, that the bigoted insults he once leveled on a regular basis have no place on the public's airwaves," says Karl Frisch, a spokesman for Media Matters. "It's our sincere hope you can teach an old dog new tricks."

The reaction to Ms. Coulter's latest remarks – that the nation would be better if Jews converted and became "perfected" as Christians – spurred a rash of indignant editorials, as well as debate about whether it would be best to simply ignore her and deprive her of the controversy she thrives on.

Her remarks have also cost her vital support in the conservative community. Initially, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly had Coulter on his show and told her: "I don't even care, to tell you the truth" about her comments. Three days later, conservative commentator Bernard Goldberg called Mr. O'Reilly to task on O'Reilly's own show, accusing him of doing "a kissy-poo" interview with Coulter. O'Reilly eventually called her comments "just dumb."

The conservative media watchdog group Accuracy in Media (AIM) has also made efforts to distance itself from Coulter, calling her the "Britney Spears of the right" last March. "I said Coulter must be a liberal infiltrator whose purpose is to give conservatism a bad name," says Cliff Kincaid, editor of the AIM Report. "She's just hurting the people she claims to represent."

But some media analysts are skeptical that such public reproaches will make much difference – in part, because of the way the media world has changed over the past 20 years.

"There's no doubt that the line of what you can get away with in public discourse has moved," says Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project on Excellence in Journalism. "It's moved not simply because there are a couple of personalities that have been willing to challenge it, but a lot because of how the media itself has changed."

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