Who’s Really Looking Out for You? Peter Hart unspins Bill O’Reilly (Part I): An original transcript from theExperiment

The Fox News

Channel caters to a conservative audience. It’s no

surprise and it’s no secret. But Fox and O’Reilly are very defensive about this, and Bill O’Reilly claims to in fact not be a

conservative. It’s sort of implied in his slogan, and I think that’s the biggest spin about his show. He’s a

passionate advocate for Bush’s tax cuts, war with Iraq, drilling for oil in Alaska, nuclear power, prayer in school,

Reaganomics—he said Ronald Reagan ran huge deficits and then in the 90s it all whiptailed into a great economy. It’s hard to

find areas where O’Reilly actually disagrees with the Bush administration, and in fact at one point he said that, “George W. Bush is the closest modern president to what the

founding fathers had in mind,” which, you know, is certainly an arguable point, but I think it’s kind of absurd to

contend that you don’t have politics when you’re saying things like that.

2004.01.03

[Peter Hart is a co-host and producer of Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting’s radio show CounterSpin. He also handles

administrative duties and coordinates FAIR’s media activism work. He was a member of the Paper Tiger Television

collective in New York City for a number of years. The following remarks are from his presentation of 2003.10.21, in New York

City.]

Thanks for coming and I hope you can hear everything. The subject of the book [The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel’s Bill

O’Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003)] is Bill O’Reilly. I assume everyone here is familiar with him. If you’re not,

this is a strange place for you to be tonight, but play along and hopefully you’ll continue avoiding him as you’ve done so

far.

The O’Reilly Factor is the number one show in cable news. Bill O’Reilly also has a radio show and he writes syndicated

newspaper columns. He has a new book. I’ve read it so you don’t have to—very expensive but well worth it. And my book which

is also on sale, and probably selling at a slower pace than Bill O’Reilly’s, is an attempt to catalogue the inaccuracies and

the inconsistencies and some of the deceptions that are served up every night on the O’Reilly Factor.

Part of the trick of doing something like this is that you hope that the flow of misinformation continues after you write the

book so you’ll have new examples to talk about, and thankfully O’Reilly has not disappointed. A couple nights ago on his

show he was talking about a double standard. The LA Times was investigating the allegations against Arnold

Schwarzenegger—sexual assault and groping, that sort of thing—and O’Reilly said, “Do you think the LA Times sent a squad

of reporters to Arkansas to investigate Bill Clinton’s problems with women? No, it did not.” That was October 8. Now

this would be a great example of a double standard if it were true. The LA Times did investigate what became known as the

Troopergate story, the Clinton sex stories in Arkansas. They did a 4000 word piece on the front page of the paper in

December, 1993.

This is sort of par for the course on the O’Reilly Factor. The show has a clever marketing scheme. The show’s called the No

Spin Zone. The idea is that guests who come on, who try to pull a fast one or are deceitful, are stopped cold by O’Reilly,

and he’s guided by truth. The reality of course is much different. To give you one example, this time from the book, there

was a fellow from the Economic Policy Institute who came on the show to talk about bush’s tax cut—the dividend tax cut—and he

said to O’Reilly, “Most of the people who benefit from this are going to be those people in the upper 20 percent,

perhaps even the upper 5 percent [incomes].” And that’s a factual statement. I don’t think anyone would disagree with

it. O’Reilly’s response was, “Listen, you’re either lying or can’t read, one of the two.” That’s sort of how the no

spin zone works. O’Reilly’s usually not correcting falsehoods or people who are trying to pass off misinformation. He’s

arguing with people he doesn’t agree with.

The No Partisanship Zone

The biggest spin about the whole show is probably about O’Reilly’s politics. If you know Fox News Channel, if you watch

it—I’m sorry first of all—but you know that the channel caters to a conservative audience. It’s no surprise and it’s no

secret. But Fox and O’Reilly are very defensive about this, and O’Reilly claims to in fact not be a conservative. It’s sort

of implied in his slogan, and I think that’s the biggest spin about the show. You know: the line of what O’Reilly is for,

what he advocates. We’re talking about a passionate advocate for Bush’s tax cuts, war with Iraq, drilling for oil in Alaska,

nuclear power, prayer in school, Reaganomics—he said Ronald Reagan ran huge deficits and then in the 90s it all whiptailed

into a great economy. It’s hard to find areas where O’Reilly actually disagrees with the Bush administration, and in fact at

one point he said that—and people think I made this one up, but it’s true—he said that, “George W. Bush is the closest

modern president to what the founding fathers had in mind,” which, you know, is certainly an arguable point, but I think

it’s kind of absurd to contend that you don’t have politics when you’re saying things like that.

Some of O’Reilly’s opinions I think border on the bizarre—they’re not exactly politically partisan but they’re certainly very

conservative. O’Reilly tried to defend his support for a congressional ban on flag burning this way: he said, “Freedom

of speech does not allow a person to intentionally inflict pain on someone else. Flag burning is disrespectful to Americans

and seems to be an intentional infliction of emotional distress.” Now, if your position is that first amendment rights

are suspended when you inflict emotional distress on someone, I think you could make a pretty compelling argument that Bill

O’Reilly doesn’t deserve to have first amendment rights himself, that he inflicts emotional distress every other night.

These are the opinions that he has and these are the ones that I think come through loud and clear. He supports the

privatization of Social Security. He doesn’t think the government should be in that, but the reason he gives is kind of

interesting: he thinks the money can be diverted, and he said, “The actual money that they take out of the Social

Security fund flows right into the general fund and it’s spent on Jesse Jackson’s tax exempt organizations.” Now what

does Jesse Jackson have to do with Social Security? Very little, but it does bring up another point about O’Reilly: that the

show is sort of defined by his animosity and the targets that he picks. Jesse Jackson is probably the most prominent one.

Secularists, the Clintons—that would be Bill and Hillary, he doesn’t have anything against Chelsea for all I know—the

Hollywood Left, the ACLU, Amnesty International, the liberal media, Tom Daschle…and these are opinions that are expressed

with a certain amount of nastiness. One of his early insights into Jesse Jackson’s career is that Jesse Jackson never had a

job, according to O’Reilly. He thought tom Daschle should be excluded from an investigation into the September 11 attacks

because he, “has a major ax to grind and is a champion of partisan bickering. So with all due respect Senator, shut

up.” And he actually does wonder why Daschle doesn’t come on the show.

This would be understandable if conservatives and Republicans got similar treatment on the show, and in fact they don’t. He

did comment recently—again this is another one that is too recent for the book—but he was commenting on the stories about

Arnold Schwarzenegger and he said, “I cringe when I hear some woman claim a man verbally offended her 25 years ago.

There isn’t a man on this earth who hasn’t done something inappropriate in his life, not one.” So, you know, a novel

description of sexual assault I suppose. O’Reilly also I think copped to this when he was on NPR one time. A caller called

and wondered why Judicial Watch, which traditionally was sort of a conservative legal group, wasn’t on the Fox News Channel

anymore—primarily because they were now criticizing the Bush administration, which doesn’t serve Fox very well—and O’Reilly

explained it this way: “It’s hard to give a balanced report when the other side is unavailable. You can say, ‘Oh, when

Dick Cheney was at Halliburton and he did X, Y and Z.’ Well how do I know? I’m not there. I know I’m not going to get Cheney

on to back it up, so it’s almost irresponsible for me to just put on one side.” Now, it’s a very inventive description

and definition of what journalistic ethics are, but nonetheless you have to wonder why when the subject is Dick Cheney the

rules are this, and when the subject is say, Jesse Jackson, the rules are very different.

The No Racism Zone

There are a host of other incidents you can talk about when you want to think about where O’Reilly is coming from. The fact

that O’Reilly used the term ‘Wetbacks’ on the air, and actually did the same in a speech shortly prior to that. O’Reilly did

have the decency to blame it on the guest, which I thought was courageous of him. O’Reilly commented that you can’t bring

Western reasoning into Africa at one point. He does sort of have an interest in the African American community, so much as he

can point out the flaws in that community, saying at one point, “I don’t understand why in the year 2000, with all of

the media that we have, a certain segment of the African American community does not understand that they must aggressively

pursue their child’s welfare. They have to stop drinking, they have to stop taking drugs and boozing. And whites do it

too.” This was a nice addition. O’Reilly also has suggestions on how the black community can improve itself, which you

know again is nice to hear, and one of those ideas is new leadership. And O’Reilly recommended to one guest that African

Americans should follow a new leader and he chose J. C. Watts, the Republican congressman. No word yet on how that’s going.

O’Reilly also I think kind of meets the dictionary definition of homophobic, in the sense of being afraid of gay people in

some way. O’Reilly did tell one guest, a lesbian activist, that he wouldn’t let her anywhere near his children, and has gone

on and on about that sort of thing from time to time. He did say on one show, “My advice to all homosexuals, whether

they’re in the boy scouts, or in the army, or in high school, is shut up. Don’t tell anybody what you do. Your life will be a

whole lot easier.” For O’Reilly that passes for just common sense, wisdom, but other people might see it differently.

O’Reilly actually also has flirted twice with the idea of running for office as a Republican. In 1989 the first Bush

administration—certain officials from the administration—wanted to talk to O’Reilly about running against Barney Frank as a

Republican from Massachusetts. And then, in 1994, when he left Inside Edition—his previous journalism experience—he talked

openly about wanting to move back to Long Island and run as a Republican. So I think all of this kind of sets up a pretty

clear idea of where he’s coming from. You can kind of see through the marketing and I think some of the bluster, but O’Reilly

goes to pretty great lengths to deny he’s a conservative. On one show he was complaining that the Boston Globe called him a

“conservative attack dog” in the newspaper that day. In fact, they just call him an “attack dog,” he

invented the accusation against him.

Tim Russert one time asked him whether or not he was a conservative and O’Reilly told him, “If you want to think that go

ahead, our audience, according to the Pew Research Center, is 47 percent Democrat on the O’Reilly Factor.” Now if you

actually took the time to find the research in question, it’s almost the opposite of that. The study wasn’t about party

affiliation. It was actually about whether viewers considered themselves conservative, moderate, or liberal. Fox’s audience

was 46 percent conservative, 32 percent moderate, 18 percent liberal. The O’Reilly Factor was a little bit more to the right,

actually—56 percent conservative and 5 percent liberal. And this kind of struck us as odd behavior, you know FAIR [Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting] is a

media watchdog group and part of our job is to do this sort of thing, and these seemed rather flagrant errors and they were

always errors that were made with the intent of convincing the audience that O’Reilly’s position was correct. So, in the

book, we run through a number of cases where he does just that.

He was trying to drum up more support for his boycott of French goods before and during the war with Iraq and one of the

reasons he gave: he did a little bit of history and said that France opposed bombing Serbia and didn’t back us in that. And

this is strange because France participated in that bombing. They were the second largest air force behind the United States.

So it would be hard for them to oppose it when they were doing it.

Author: Peter Hart

News Service: theExperiment

URL: http://theexperiment.org/articles.php?news_id=1992