On-air tiff may hasten ‘View’ exit

Times Staff Writer

Rosie O’Donnell has only a month left on “The View,” but after engaging in a bitter on-air clash Wednesday with co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck, she appears ready to leave the ABC daytime program any day now.

The two women have sparred about politics all season. But their debate erupted into a heated quarrel Wednesday when O’Donnell complained that the younger woman has failed to defend her against conservative critics. Hasselbeck, in turn, let loose, saying O’Donnell needed to better explain herself.

During the 10-minute argument, each accused the other of being “cowardly.” The fight ended only when co-host Joy Behar demanded that the director take the show to commercial.


A spokesman for “The View” had no comment on the row between the two co-hosts, who until now have insisted that they are friends off-air.

But on her personal blog, O’Donnell responded to a fan who expressed her sympathy about the fight by writing: “i am glad 2 b out.” She called the show’s use of a split screen during the on-air brawl “sickening” and indicated, in her usual free verse, that she’s ready to move on: “it may be time / to be done / endings r hard 4 all / emotions r high / talking is tough

Cindi Berger, O’Donnell’s spokeswoman, said the talk show host will be off today to celebrate her partner Kelli’s birthday, she but had no other comment. It remains to be seen whether O’Donnell will return to the program next week. (Taped versions of the program are airing Friday and Monday.)

Wednesday’s fight capped a tumultuous season on “The View,” which has garnered headlines ever since O’Donnell joined the program in September. Her criticisms of the Bush administration triggered passionate rejoinders from Hasselbeck and helped buoy ratings.

But last month, O’Donnell said that she is leaving when her contract ends June 21, saying that she and ABC couldn’t agree on terms for a new deal.

In the weeks that followed, O’Donnell initially appeared more relaxed, saying she didn’t want to debate Hasselbeck anymore, especially since the 29-year-old is pregnant.

But in the last several days, the two have tussled over a rhetorical comment O’Donnell made about the death toll in Iraq that appeared to equate U.S. military actions with terrorism.

On Wednesday, O’Donnell said she was upset that Hasselbeck didn’t defend her against critics who claimed O’Donnell had called American troops “terrorists.”

“Every day since September, I have told you that I support the troops,” O’Donnell said. “I asked you if you believed what the Republican pundits were saying. You said nothing, and that’s cowardly.”

“No, no, no!” Hasselbeck shot back. “You will not call me a coward, because, No. 1, I sit here every single day, open my heart and tell people exactly what I believe.”

“So do I!” O’Donnell responded.

“I’ll tell you what’s cowardly,” Hasselbeck retorted. “Asking a rhetorical question that you never answer yourself. That is cowardly.”

Former co-host Debbie Matenopoulos, who now hosts a show on E!, said Wednesday that such unfettered honesty is “what made the show so groundbreaking and compelling.”

“But it’s a double-edged sword,” she added. “At one point or another, someone’s feelings are going to be hurt.”