Rosie v. Elisabeth: The gloves are off!

In the umpteenth round between the “View” co-hosts, the war of words over Iraq reaches a feverish height.

By Matea Gold, Times Staff Writer
The building war of words between "The View" co-hosts Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck exploded Wednesday into a heated on-air exchange when O'Donnell charged her younger co-host with failing to defend her against conservative critics — and Hasselbeck let loose.

The impromptu dispute, which occurred during the show's "Hot Topics" segment, lasted for nearly 10 minutes and led to both women calling each other cowardly. The fight ended only when co-host Joy Behar demanded that the director take the show to commercial.

A spokesman for "The View" did not immediately comment on the bitter exchange between the two women, who until now have insisted that they are friends off-air. But on her personal blog, O'Donnell responded to a fan who expressed sympathy about the fight: "i am glad 2 b out." To another, the talk host wrote in her usual free verse:

"it may be time
to be done
endings r hard 4 all
emotions r high
talking is tough

Later in the afternoon, O'Donnell posted a poem titled "ceasefire" in which she said her partner Kelli's birthday is today and that she will not be at work.

The argument capped a tumultuous season on the ABC daytime program, which has been rocked with controversy ever since O'Donnell joined the program in September. Her outspoken views, especially about the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, have triggered frequent debates with Hasselbeck, the only conservative on the panel.

Their back-and-forth has helped buoy ratings, but O'Donnell announced last month that she is leaving when her contract ends in June, saying that she and ABC couldn't agree to terms about extending her relationship with the program.

In the weeks that followed, O'Donnell initially appeared more relaxed on the program, 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 number of civilian deaths in Iraq that appeared to equate U.S. military actions with terrorism.

On Monday's show, O'Donnell complained that conservative critics had twisted what she said by claiming that she called the troops "terrorists." She asked Hasselbeck if she thought O'Donnell believed the soldiers were terrorists. Rather than answer, Hasselbeck urged her to clarify what she had meant, at which point O'Donnell reiterated her support for the troops.

On Wednesday, O'Donnell initially appeared reluctant to be dragged into the debate again.

"Because here's how it gets spun in the media: 'Rosie, big fat lesbian loud Rosie, attacks innocent pure Christian Elisabeth,' " she said.

Hasselbeck called that "unfair," adding: "I just don't understand why it's my fault if people spin words that you put out there or phrases that suggest things. And I gave you an opportunity two days ago to clarify the statement that got you in trouble on all those things."

"That got me in trouble?" O'Donnell repeated sarcastically. "As a friend, you gave me the opportunity. That was very sweet of you. I was asking if you, who actually knows me, do you believe I think our troops are terrorists, Elisabeth?"

Hasselbeck hesitated.

"Do you believe that, yes or no?" O'Donnell pressed.

Hasselbeck raised her finger in the air. "Excuse me. Let me speak."

"You're going to doublespeak," O'Donnell said. "It's just a yes or a no."

"I am not a double speaker, and I don't put suggestions out there that lead people to think things and then not answer my own question, OK?" Hasselbeck shot back. "I don't believe that you believe troops are terrorists. I have said that before. But when you say something like 650,000 Iraqis are dead, we invaded them ... "

"It's true!" O'Donnell responded.

"Let me finish!" Hasselbeck said.

"You don't like facts!" O'Donnell retorted.

Hasselbeck's tone grew angrier: "I am all about facts. You know that. You tell me not to use facts because you want me to go only on emotion. Guess what? I like facts."

As the tone grew more heated, Behar and guest co-host Sherri Shepherd fidgeted uncomfortably and finally pretended to get up from the table to break the tension.

But the two kept at it, and the producers switched to a split screen to showcase their back-and-forth.

O'Donnell said she was hurt that Hasselbeck didn't defend her.

"I am certainly not going to be the person for you to explain your thoughts," Hasselbeck retorted, pointing her finger at her co-host. "They're your thoughts. Defend your own insinuations! Defend your own thoughts!"

"Frankly, every time I defend them, it's poor little Elisabeth that I'm picking on," O'Donnell responded. "That's why I'm not going to fight with you anymore, because it's absurd. So for three weeks, you can say all the Republican crap that you want. I'm not going to do it."

"It's much easier to fight someone like Donald Trump, isn't it?" Hasselbeck spat, alluding to O'Donnell's much-publicized feud with the real estate magnet. "Because he's obnoxious."

The audience oohed in surprise and O'Donnell looked shocked.

"I think it's sad because I don't understand how there can be such hurt feelings when all I did was say, 'Look, why don't you tell everybody what you said?' " Hasselbeck continued. "I did that as a friend."

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

"No, no, no!" Hasselbeck said furiously. "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 said.

"Do not call me a coward, Rosie."

"It was cowardly."

"It was not cowardly, it was honest."

Behar broke in: "Is there no commercial in this show?"

Hasselbeck continued: "I'll tell you what's cowardly. Asking a rhetorical question that you never answer yourself. That is cowardly."

Behar had had enough. "Who is directing this show?" she said. "Let's go to commercial!"