November 30, 2004
Bill's Talking PointsBy Edward L. Daley
I used to enjoy watching Bill O'Reilly on his primetime news/opinion program The O'Reilly Factor. In spite of his somewhat pompous demeanor (now that I think about it, I actually like that in a person) he seemed to be genuinely concerned with being fair to his guests and the subjects of his commentary.
Sure, he's been known to cut off more than a few babbling nitwits who've refused to answer his questions directly, but for the most part, he's always tried to give everyone their say, and for that I've admired him... or at least I did before last summer.
Mr. O'Reilly is often called a right—winger, especially by the liberal press, a characterization which I never thought was particularly accurate. He's generally more conservative than liberal, that's true, but he's certainly not some right—wing ideologue. As a matter of fact, he always struck me as being more like a Bobby Kennedy Democrat than anything else.
But whatever labels anyone wishes to place on the man, one thing is certain, he definitely has a way of aggravating people on both sides of the political aisle from time to time, and I for one am no exception.
Yes, Big Bill has managed to really get my Irish up a couple of times over the course of the past six months or so, and I've decided that it's about time I pointed out what a complete jackass I think he's been, even though I'm sure he's used to people doing that by now.
I guess the first thing Mr. O did, which made me wish I could jump through my TV screen and swat him across the knees with a broom handle, was to mindlessly take sides against the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth organization several months ago.
Back then, as many of you will remember, O'Reilly had referred to some of the ads that the Swift Vets created about John Kerry's military service as "brutal attack ads", denouncing them outright, and stunning many of his regular viewers with his blatantly prejudiced attitude toward them.
At no time thereafter did he treat the Swift Vets with any respect, or act as if the numerous accusations they'd made were at all credible. Yet he was more than happy to mention that Senator Kerry had volunteered to fight in Vietnam, which was not exactly the truth, and then went on to add that he had served his country honorably, which was anything but the truth.
While it's a fact that John Kerry did enlist in the Navy during the Vietnam era, he only did so after having been denied a deferment, which he'd sought in order to remain in college for another year. At that point, it was either join up or be drafted, and John Kerry chose the safest route available to him, short of fleeing to Canada. He did volunteer to serve of Swift Boats, but at the time he volunteered they were patrolling offshore. Only after he volunteered were the Swift Boats assigned to river patrol duty actually in Vietnam.
Furthermore, he did not serve his country honorably, and to claim otherwise is to dispute Kerry's own words:
"There are all kinds of atrocities, and I would have to say that, yes, yes, I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed in that I took part in shootings in free fire zones. I conducted harassment and interdiction fire. I used 50 calibre machine guns, which we were granted and ordered to use, which were our only weapon against people. I took part in search and destroy missions, in the burning of villages. All of this is contrary to the laws of warfare, all of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions..." — Quoted by Crosby Noyes of the Washington Evening Star during an interview on April 18, 1971
Beyond that, those "Swift Boat guys", as O'Reilly has been known to call them, weren't a bunch of crackpots, or rabid Vast Right—Wing Conspirators out to get a Democrat presidential candidate for purely political reasons. That is pretty much what has been implied by Bill O'Reilly and many other members of the popular media, even though the organization's spokesman, John O'Neill, was himself a Gore supporter in 2000, and many of his fellow Swift Boat Vets are registered Democrats.
The fact is that they were (and still are) hundreds of highly decorated war veterans, several of whom once served side by side with John Kerry in Vietnam. They are, by and large, heroic men with diverse political beliefs, and some of them claim to have witnessed certain incidents involving then—Lieutenant Kerry which they claim he later lied about in order to get out of the war. They have even produced documented evidence to support a good number of their claims, and the Senator himself has been forced to admit to the "mistakes" he's made in recalling how a couple of those events actually unfolded.
So why was Bill O'Reilly so quick to besmirch them earlier this year? Well, to put it in the simplest of terms, part of the man's job is to interview prominent political figures in order to boost his ratings, and angering John Kerry would have destroyed any chance he might have had to get the Senator on his show.
From a business standpoint, that sort of strategy makes perfect sense, but I have no respect for the way Mr. O'Reilly chose to handle the situation, and neither should anyone else who values truth in journalism.
Don't get me wrong here, it is not now, nor has it ever been, my contention that every claim made by the Swift Boat Vets should have been accepted at face value by Bill O'Reilly or anyone else. All I'm saying is that he condemned them without a fair trial, which is kind of ironic when you consider that Mr. O'Reilly just wrote an opinion article published in the Boston Herald wherein he decries that very practice.
Titled "Guilt No Longer Needs Proof", O'Reilly begins his op—ed thusly:
"The ordeal of Dan Rather goes far beyond the man himself. It speaks to the presumption of guilt that now rules the day in America."
While I have to agree that many folks, perhaps even most, do judge people in high profile cases to be guilty before their guilt has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, that is hardly what happened in Mr. Rather's case. No, Dandy Dan was judged to be a gigantic hack by most reasonable people based upon the fact that he behaved in a completely irresponsible manner.
O'Reilly mentions in his piece that he has known Dan Rather for many years, and opines, "There is no way on this earth that he would have knowingly used fake documents on any story." That may be true as well, but it's not the primary point that most of Rather's critics have made.
Even if he didn't know the documents he used were fake (and that question is still up in the air) Dan Rather was responsible for airing a totally bogus story based upon "evidence" so easy to discredit that a bunch of amateurs with home computers managed to do just that within hours of viewing Rather's broadcast.
And just in case anyone is wondering, I don't give a damn how long Bill O'Reilly has known Dan Rather, or what he thinks his former co—worker is capable of. What I do care about is the complete lack of respectability and neutrality exhibited by the people who bring us the news every day.
No matter how O'Reilly tries to spin it, the person who was ultimately responsible for authenticating the documents that Dan Rather used to besmirch the president was Dan Rather. After all, he was the man who surely would have taken credit for breaking the story if it had turned out to be true. As a professional news man, he should have asked the right questions and waited to get the right answers before running with that story. Instead he went on national TV and allowed the fantasies of God—only—knows who to be peddled as fact.
Moreover, once it had become clear that Rather's sources were questionable at best, and the documents most likely fake, he was then obliged to at least admit he had made a huge mistake as soon as possible. Yet, he failed to do even that, deciding instead to stick by his story for more than a week. Is there any doubt that Mr. Rather went out of his way to avoid coming clean with the American people, after having committed a blunder so monumental that the National Enquirer would have considered firing him over it?
I think it's fair to say that Dan Rather really screwed—up in just about every way possible back in September, and as far as I'm concerned, Bill O'Reilly has got some explaining to do himself when questions of journalistic integrity are raised, especially since he has chosen to make comparisons like the following one, which also appeared in his article:
"Kitty Kelley put out a book defaming the entire Bush family. The allegations were primarily made by anonymous sources, but that didn't stop the media from gleefully recounting all the sordid accusations. Some newspapers put them on Page 1. That smear came on the heels of the Swift Boat Veterans' attacks on John Kerry, an ordeal that may have cost him the election."
Such a statement can only lead the reader to believe that the two sets of claims were, at least in Bill's mind, equally lacking in believability. They were not! As O'Reilly himself points out, the assertions in Kelley's book were based primarily on anonymous sources (aka crapola).
Yet the Swift Boat Vets' claims were based upon the accounts of many credible individuals, who were begging to come forward with their stories on shows like O'Reilly's. Those same men were then relentlessly ground down by every sprocket in the left—wing political machine, and that happened precisely because they chose to stand up and be counted instead of remaining anonymous.
Bill O'Reilly knew that fact before he wrote his latest article, which is, in my opinion, little more than an eight—paragraph—long excuse for bad behavior, written by a guy who has recently been accused of bad behavior himself.
He goes on to write, "I believe Rather, along with Andy Rooney, Walter Cronkite and other guardsmen of the old CBS News, are liberal in their thinking. But holding a political point of view is the right of every American, and it does not entitle people to practice character assassination or deny the presumption of innocence."
He is absolutely right when he asserts that holding a political viewpoint is the right of all Americans. However, once a news reporter's political bias begins to cloud his judgment to the point where he is unable to distinguish between right and wrong, he deserves to lose his job.
Mr. O'Reilly is also absolutely wrong when he states that embracing a political point of view doesn't entitle other people to try and assassinate your character. As much as we may hate the idea of it when it doesn't serve our individual interests, attacking a person's character, if you honestly believe them to be unethical or immoral, just happens to be a right guaranteed to all Americans under the U.S. Constitution.
You may not think it's a particularly nice way to behave, but as long as people don't actually commit the crimes of slander or libel, as the law defines them, they are free to be as offensive as they like toward anyone they happen to find objectionable.
I myself am usually very offensive when I express my opinions of people like Bill O'Reilly, but it's not because I'm a wicked man hell—bent on destroying people's careers. I write the things I do because I feel it's important to point out hypocrisy and dishonorable behavior whenever I see them. But then, that's just me.
What say you?
Edward L. Daley is the owner of the Daley Times—Post